By Lisa Soronen
Last May, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) asking for comments on the “potential application of technical requirements” to make state and local government websites accessible per Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
DOJ’s current regulations do not include specific requirements for web accessibility but DOJ has long held the position that Title II covers public entities’ websites.
Among many other things, DOJ is contemplating adopting WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), created by the World Wide Web Consortium, an international community where the public collaborates to develop web standards.
There are three WCAG 2.0 levels of accessibility: A, AA, and AAA. These standards cover various topics such as support keyboard navigability; text enlargement; minimum contrast ratios; limiting the use of color; text descriptions for audio, images, and headings; video captioning; and more.
DOJ is contemplating adopting the AA standard (except live video captioning) to be effectuated within two years of promulgating the final rule. For live captioning, DOJ suggests three years.
NCSL, through the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), joined the Council of State Governments, the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Management Association, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the National Association of Government Web Professionals (NAGW), and the National Association of Telecommunication Officers in submitting comments to DOJ explaining how state and local governments will be affected.
The comments recommend that at this point compliance with web accessibility standards should be voluntary for all state and local governments. To the extent the DOJ mandates compliance with a set standard, a tiered approach is warranted, which grants sufficient time for technology and support infrastructure to advance.
Also an indefinite exception with compliance should be made for smaller governments representing fewer than 200,000 people. For public entities that do not qualify for an exemption based on population, revenue, staffing and budgetary constraints should be considered in a process for granting special exceptions for public entities that are overly burdened by the compliance standards.
To ease the transition toward compliance, the comments recommend that DOJ assist in providing education on developing accessible websites and compliant web development tools.
Lisa Soronen, SLLC executive drector, Erik Rynko, SLLC legal intern, and Leslie Labrecque, president of the National Association of Government Web Professionals wrote the comments.