Finally. The guidance reviews the department’s ongoing work to advance website accessibility for people with disabilities through statements of interest and enforcement matters. For example, the department recently entered into numerous settlements with businesses — including Hy-Vee, Inc., The Kroger Co., Meijer, Inc., and Rite Aid Corporation to ensure that websites for scheduling vaccine appointments are accessible.
“We have heard the calls from the public on the need for more guidance on web accessibility, particularly as our economy and society become increasingly digitized,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This guidance will assist the public in understanding how to ensure that websites are accessible to people with disabilities. People with disabilities deserve to have an equal opportunity to access the services, goods and programs provided by government and businesses, including when offered or communicated through websites.”
The Department of Justice published new guidance on web accessibility and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It explains how state and local governments (entities covered by ADA Title II) and businesses open to the public (entities covered by ADA Title III) can make sure their websites are accessible to people with disabilities in line with the ADA’s requirements.
The guidance discusses a range of topics, including the importance of web accessibility, barriers that inaccessible websites create for some people with disabilities, when the ADA requires web content to be accessible, tips on making web content accessible and other information and resources. The guidance offers plain language and user-friendly explanations to ensure that it can be followed by people without a legal or technical background.
- Poor color contrast. People with limited vision or color blindness cannot read text if there is not enough contrast between the text and background (for example, light gray text on a light-colored background).
- Use of color alone to give information. People who are color-blind may not have access to information when that information is conveyed using only color cues because they cannot distinguish certain colors from others. Also, screen readers do not tell the user the color of text on a screen, so a person who is blind would not be able to know that color is meant to convey certain information (for example, using red text alone to show which fields are required on a form).
- Lack of text alternatives (“alt text”) on images. People who are blind will not be able to understand the content and purpose of images, such as pictures, illustrations, and charts, when no text alternative is provided. Text alternatives convey the purpose of an image, including pictures, illustrations, charts, etc.
- No captions on videos. People with hearing disabilities may not be able to understand information communicated in a video if the video does not have captions.
- Inaccessible online forms. People with disabilities may not be able to fill out, understand, and accurately submit forms without things like:
- Labels that screen readers can convey to their users (such as text that reads “credit card number” where that number should be entered);
- Clear instructions; and
- Error indicators (such as alerts telling the user a form field is missing or incorrect).
- Mouse-only navigation (lack of keyboard navigation). People with disabilities who cannot use a mouse or trackpad will not be able to access web content if they cannot navigate a website using a keyboard.
The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to state and local governments (Title II) and businesses that are open to the public (Title III).
State and local governments (Title II)
Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all services, programs, and activities of state and local governments. State and local governments must take steps to ensure that their communications with people with disabilities are as effective as their communications with others. Many state and local government services, programs, and activities are now being offered on the web. These include, for example, things like:
- Applying for an absentee ballot;
- Paying tickets or fees;
- Filing a police report;
- Attending a virtual town meeting;
- Filing tax documents;
- Registering for school or school programs; and
- Applying for state benefits programs.
A website with inaccessible features can limit the ability of people with disabilities to access a public entity’s programs, services and activities available through that website—for example, online registration for classes at a community college.
For these reasons, the Department has consistently taken the position that the ADA’s requirements apply to all the services, programs, or activities of state and local governments, including those offered on the web.
Businesses that are open to the public (Title III)
Title III prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by businesses open to the public (also referred to as “public accommodations” under the ADA). The ADA requires that businesses open to the public provide full and equal enjoyment of their goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to people with disabilities. Businesses open to the public must take steps to provide appropriate communication aids and services (often called “auxiliary aids and services”) where necessary to make sure they effectively communicate with individuals with disabilities. For example, communication aids and services can include interpreters, notetakers, captions, or assistive listening devices. Examples of businesses open to the public:
- Retail stores and other sales or retail establishments;
- Hotels, inns, and motels;
- Hospitals and medical offices;
- Food and drink establishments; and
- Auditoriums, theaters, and sports arenas.
A website with inaccessible features can limit the ability of people with disabilities to access a public accommodation’s goods, services, and privileges available through that website—for example, a veterans’ service organization event registration form.
For these reasons, the Department has consistently taken the position that the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web.
Businesses and state and local governments have flexibility in how they comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication. But they must comply with the ADA’s requirements.
The Department of Justice does not have a regulation setting out detailed standards, but the Department’s longstanding interpretation of the general nondiscrimination and effective communication provisions applies to web accessibility.
Businesses and state and local governments can currently choose how they will ensure that the programs, services, and goods they provide online are accessible to people with disabilities.
Existing technical standards provide helpful guidance concerning how to ensure accessibility of website features. These include the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Section 508 Standards, which the federal government uses for its own websites. Check out the resources section for more references.
Even though businesses and state and local governments have flexibility in how they comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication, they still must ensure that the programs, services, and goods that they provide to the public—including those provided online—are accessible to people with disabilities. Businesses and state and local governments should consider a variety of website features when ensuring that their websites are accessible.