On April 8, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released its Final Rule to revise existing regulations implementing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This Final Rule clarifies the obligations of state and local governments to make web content and mobile applications accessible.

The press release announcing the Final Rule described the impetus behind the rulemaking as, “[e]very day, people across the country use the web and mobile apps to access public programs and services, including emergency information, courts, healthcare providers, schools, voting information, parking, permit applications, tax payments, and transit updates. If these technologies are not accessible, it can be difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to access critical services.”

Among other provisions, the Final Rule requires public entities to ensure their websites and mobile apps comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA. An exception from this standard is available if the public entity can demonstrate that compliance with the standard would result in a fundamental alteration or would impose an undue financial and administrative burden.

According to the DOJ, WCAG 2.1 Level AA is a widely used and accepted industry standard. It has been implemented, tested, and shown to be a sound and comprehensive threshold for public agencies. Since WCAG 2.1 Level AA was published in 2018, web developers and public entities have had time to familiarize themselves with it. The WCAG standards were designed to be “technology neutral,” meaning they are designed to be broadly applicable to current and future web technologies. This allows web and mobile app developers flexibility and potential for innovation. The DOJ notes that at least ten states now use, or aim to use, WCAG 2.1 as a standard for their websites.

The DOJ claims that adopting WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the technical standard will have benefits that are important to ensuring access for individuals with disabilities to public entities’ services, programs, and activities. For example, this standard requires that text be formatted so that it is easier to read when magnified. This is important for people with low vision who use magnifying tools. WCAG 2.1 Level AA also includes success criteria addressing the accessibility of mobile apps or web content viewed on a mobile device. For example, the standard requires that page orientation not be restricted to just one orientation, unless a specific display orientation is essential. This feature is important for someone who uses a wheelchair with a tablet attached to it that cannot be rotated.

While these regulations apply only to state and local governments subject to Title II, it is important to note that regulations applicable to private businesses subject to Title III, such as banks and other financial institutions, may follow a similar form and substance in the future. Therefore, private businesses should consider reviewing their digital platforms for compliance with the WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessibility standards.