ZAG Interactive has recently authored several articles about impending website accessibility guidelines coming down the road in 2016 from the Department of Justice (DOJ). Now, it looks like the road just got a lot longer. The good news is that private businesses will not have to comply with proposed regulations until 2018. The bad news is that those with visual disabilities will have to wait quite a long time for website owners to be forced to comply with regulations that will make their web experience more accessible.
Why wait until 2018?
The DOJ has determined that it would like to understand the infrastructure and process needed to implement website accessibility for title II (public) sites before applying those learnings to title III (private) sites. This is further explained in this excerpt about regulatory priorities:
“The Department's 2010 ANPRM on web site accessibility, as previously pointed out, sought public comment regarding what standards, if any, it should adopt for web site accessibility … …The Department also solicited comments on the costs of making web sites accessible and on the existence of any other effective and reasonably feasible alternatives to making web sites accessible. The Department is reviewing the public comments received in response to the ANPRM and, as noted above, plans to publish the title II NPRM on web site accessibility early in fiscal year 2016. The Department believes that the title II web site accessibility rule will facilitate the creation of an important infrastructure for web accessibility that will be very important in the Department's preparation of the title III web site accessibility NPRM. Consequently, the Department has decided to extend the time period for development of the proposed title III web site accessibility rule and include it among its long-term rulemaking priorities. The Department expects to publish the title III web site accessibility NPRM during fiscal year 2018.”
Website compliance litigation
The DOJ’s desire to get this one right is admirable. They know they are not experts on the subjects of web design and coding. They also know that instituting unreasonable, ineffective and prohibitively expensive regulations could tie up accessibility in the courts for years to come.
But they aren’t sitting on their hands either. The past year has seen a significant uptick in litigation brought against private businesses. Last year alone, one Pennsylvania law firm filed 4 different ‘website ADA’ lawsuits.¹ In the past the DOJ has shown a willingness to join in on these cases, most famously in suits against H&R Block² and Peapod.com³. But in 2015, the DOJ themselves have settled 5 cases where the outcome has been some form of website compliance matching WCAG Level AA compliance⁴.
What should your private business do?
Although the DOJ isn’t going to regulate website compliance for private businesses, any private business could get sued for website compliance at any time if its website isn’t accessible to the visually impaired. ZAG believes that there will be a significant spike in the number of ADA website lawsuits brought in 2016, especially now since the DOJ has waded into the fight and set some informal standards of their own in the form of settlements. This was a green light to litigators and judges because it laid a framework of acceptability. The DOJ could choose to co-sign onto any private lawsuit, as they have done in the past.
The recommendation from a digital agency that specializes in website compliance? Design or retrofit your website now in accordance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards and you will have nothing to worry about when the guidelines become enforced.
To learn more about website compliance or conformance, reach out to ZAG Interactive.