As technology continues to advance, ensuring usability and accessibility for disabled users is an imperative that cannot be overlooked. Laws such as the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) promise that no person can be discriminated against in a physical location or environment due to a disability. According to the Department of Justice, digital accessibility is no exception to that rule. In recent weeks, the United States has adopted fixed accessibility standards that will help guarantee digital inclusion for all.
WCAG 2.0: Recap
What is it?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of standards written to help organizations create accessible websites, and provide best practices for web accessibility. Today, these guidelines are the most widely accepted ways to comply with accessibility laws monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). WCAG helps to create an inclusive internet with no barriers for those living with visual, auditory, cognitive, and tactile disabilities.
When created in 1999, WCAG 1.0 contained 14 guidelines. In 2008, WCAG 2.0 was published to expand upon the prior guidelines (with 61 testable criteria and redefined levels of compliance). WCAG 2.0 was declared the International Standardization Organization (ISO) standard for web accessibility in October 2012.
In a widely anticipated move to reduce confusion around web accessibility compliance, the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barrier Compliance Board (Access Board) adopted WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the national web accessibility standards this January.
What’s at risk?
2017’s newly adopted accessibility standards will impact every federal agency mandated by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and by association many government-subsidized organizations like universities. All covered organizations are expected to meet WCAG 2.0 AA compliance by January 18th, 2018. Since these regulations will not be effected until 2018, the DOJ and Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will continue to reach private settlements over compliance issues in the meantime.
The Web Accessibility Movement so Far
The ADA’s Title III, which enforces nondiscrimination for public accommodations – such as hotels, movie theaters, grocery stores, banks, etc. – has never specified a standard for websites to follow to ensure accessibility. This has caused a sense of uncertainty for organizations looking to make their digital experiences accessible in the United States. As a result, over 240 businesses have been sued in federal court over inaccessible websites, and thousands more have been sent demand letters by law firms representing disabled customers. A continued trend of changing and clarifying regulations may help to solidify the sense of urgency and social responsibility around accessibility for both physical and digital properties.
What’s on the Horizon?
Although the adoption of WCAG 2.0 by the US Access Board is a step in the right direction, most organizations in the US still won’t have a clear standard to reach to avoid fines and lawsuits around digital accessibility. The DOJ has suggested and even proposed changes to the ADA mirroring those of the Access Board, but they have been delayed. Strict compliance standards and the threat of litigation have pushed many companies to do the right thing for their consumers, but the adoption of WCAG 2.0 standards may make the path to accessibility clear and motivate all companies to embrace web accessibility.