The DOJ Civil Rights Division is currently reviewing comments about a possible rule regarding website accessibility for people with disabilities. What might it mean to you?
The Small Business Authority made three attempts to speak with officials at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice about the rule. The public-affairs office did not respond to requests for an interview with an official. Instead, the public-affairs office said the department collected the information and is going through it.
For the first part of this two-part series, we trawled the Federal Register for information about the advanced notice and how it may affect you. In part two, we will speak with representatives from two groups (one that supports the guidelines and one that doesn’t).
Back in July 2010, The DOJ Civil Rights Division posted an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding website accessibility for people with disabilities. The ANPR was called “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations.” We could call it NBDAWISSLGEPA for short.
Now, an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking is different from a notice of proposed rulemaking. The department at that point hadn’t created a specific set of regulation revisions; it was “considering” revising regulations and wanted feedback on what those revisions should be.
With this notice, the department was looking for comments on how to revise Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act to make the “goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages offered by public accommodations via the internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web, accessible to individuals with disabilities,” according to the Federal Register.
The department was also seeking comments about a revision to the ADA’s Title II regulation, but that refers to state and local governments. Title III is what we’re interested in.
What Are Some Barriers to Accessibility?
Here are some of the ways that websites are not accessible to people with disabilities, as written in the Federal Register: Lack of captions, inability to change the font size, lack of support for keyboard alternatives, images without text that screen readers could “read,” lack of headings, no labels on input forms, and the presence of CAPTCHAs.
People who use assistive devices have difficulty navigating websites that have barriers like these.
The department wrote in the notice that removing certain barriers to website accessibility “is neither difficult nor especially costly.” (For example, putting alt text or tags in images so screen readers can “read” them, using form labels, incorporating voice recognition, and using headings.)
But the notice later said, “Since this is an ANPRM, the department is not required to conduct certain economic analyses or written assessments that otherwise may be required for other more formal types of agency regulatory actions.”
“If any proposed rule the department issues regarding web access is likely to have an economically significant impact on the economy, the department will prepare a formal regulatory analysis.”
Who Would Have to Comply?
Any business that is defined as a “place of public accommodation” by Title III of the ADA would be subject to website-accessibility guidelines. Here’s how “public accommodation” is defined in the Federal Register: “A facility whose operations affect commerce and that falls within at least one of … 12 categories.”
Examples of places of public accommodation are bakeries, convention centers, restaurants, bars, day-care centers, bowling alleys, and zoos. To see all of the categories, look in 28 CFR Parts 35 and 36 [CRT Docket No. 110] on this page.
After the notice appeared in the Federal Register, the department held a public-comment period that included town halls around the country. The comment period ended Jan. 24, 2011.