Businesses awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on accessibility of online content for places of public accommodation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were once again disappointed when the DOJ recently announced that it is pushing back the release of its proposed regulations until fiscal year 2018.
As we have previously reported, the DOJ’s proposed regulations on web accessibility for public accommodations (which include retail stores, restaurants, entertainment and sports venues, hotels, medical facilities, and more) have been subject to a series of delays dating all the way back to 2010, when the DOJ issued its original Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the subject. Throughout this time, little explanation had been given for the repeated postponements.
In its latest announcement, however, the DOJ shed some light on the reasoning behind the latest three-year delay, stating it will allow for the development of web accessibility regulations covering state and local governments subject to Title II of the ADA, which are currently slated to be issued in 2016. According to the DOJ, “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 [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking].”
In the meantime, public accommodations will continue to be forced to navigate a murky legal landscape in which advocacy groups, private litigants, and, indeed, the DOJ itself continue to demand that businesses’ websites and other online content be made accessible despite the lack of definitive guidance as to what such accessibility entails under the ADA. Given this situation, public accommodations are advised to consider conducting a technical accessibility review of their current web content pursuant to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”), which are the present industry standard for website accessibility and which have been cited by the DOJ in recent settlement agreements on the subject. Conducting a review now will help businesses evaluate their present level of compliance with the WCAG, determine what changes may be needed to achieve greater accessibility, and, in turn, reduce the risk of a lawsuit in the future.