Is Digital Accessibility a Legal Requirement?
Most organizations have a legal responsibility to provide accessible web content. Here’s how to create a strategy for compliance.
In the United States (and many other nations), almost every organization must consider people with disabilities when creating websites and digital documents.
From a legal perspective, the exact requirements for digital accessibility vary depending on the type of organization (public or private) and whether it receives government funding.
In this article, we’ll explain how non-discrimination laws apply to U.S. businesses and international organizations — and share tips on creating content that is accessible for people with disabilities.
Digital Accessibility Requirements for Public Organizations
In the United States, two laws explicitly require digital accessibility for organizations that receive government funding:
- The Revised Section 508 Standards of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applies to federal agencies and any organization that received federal funding — including certain government contractors.
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to “public entities,” including state and local government agencies.
Section 508 standards are based on the Level AA criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the de facto international standard for accessibility.
To learn more about the Revised Section 508 standards, read: Section 508 Compliance, Explained.
Title II of the ADA doesn’t contain precise specifications for digital accessibility. However, in 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its intention to provide technical standards — and since Section 508 incorporates WCAG by reference, any new Title II standards will probably use WCAG Level AA as a framework.
Digital Accessibility Requirements for Private Organizations
According to Title III of the ADA, all “places of public accommodation” must make reasonable efforts to accommodate people with disabilities. In 2022, the DOJ reiterated its stance that websites should be considered places of public accommodation.
Some businesses have argued — unsuccessfully — that web content is not covered under the ADA. In one notable case, Domino’s Pizza, LLC, argued that since Title III does not include technical standards for web accessibility, it isn’t enforceable against private businesses.
After years of litigation, the Supreme Court refused to hear Domino’s case, and the company settled with the plaintiff.
The takeaway: Title III of the ADA applies to websites, mobile apps, and web-delivered documents. And while the law doesn’t include technical standards, WCAG Level AA is excellent guidance for compliance.
International Digital Accessibility Laws
In this article, we’re primarily focusing on U.S. non-discrimination laws. However, it’s important to remember that other nations have their own requirements for digital accessibility.
If your business operates in more than one country, you’ll need to consider each nation’s laws when building your compliance strategy. You’ll also need to research any state, local, or provincial accessibility laws.
Fortunately, most laws have fairly simple provisions — and in many cases, the laws specifically mention WCAG. For example:
- The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires that public sector organizations and large private sector organizations follow WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
- New Zealand’s Web Accessibility Standards require government websites to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
- The European Union's Web Accessibility Directive requires public organizations to develop accessibility standards based on guidance from the European Standards Organization (ESO), which references WCAG Level AA requirements.
Although many nations have clear accessibility requirements for public sector organizations, laws for private businesses may not include technical standards. That’s why WCAG is so important — the guidelines provide a basic, universal framework for digital accessibility.
For more information about global non-discrimination laws, visit our International Accessibility Law Repository.
Using WCAG to Improve Digital Accessibility
WCAG is published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which also publishes the standards for HTML and CSS. Put simply, the W3C makes the rules for the internet — and WCAG is the international standard for digital accessibility.
No website can be 100% accessible for every user. However, WCAG Level A/AA addresses many of the most frustrating barriers that impact users.
- Text Alternatives - WCAG requires text alternatives for non-text content. Providing alternative text (also called alt text) for images makes content accessible for people who use screen-reading software.
- Color Contrast - WCAG requires websites to maintain minimum color contrast ratios. Following this guideline makes text more readable for users with certain vision disabilities (such as color vision disability syndrome).
- Closed Captions - WCAG requires closed captions for prerecorded multimedia, which can make content understandable for people with hearing disabilities. Closed captions must be accurate and synchronized with the audio.
This isn’t a comprehensive list. In total, WCAG 2.1 contains 78 success criteria, and WCAG 2.2 is expected to add nine new criteria.
So, how can you test your content against all WCAG criteria? You’ll need to use a combination of manual and automated audits, and you’ll need an effective remediation strategy. That’s where AudioEye can help.
Building for Digital Compliance with AudioEye
You have a legal requirement to provide your audience with accessible content. But accessibility isn’t just about compliance — every barrier you fix will make your website more predictable, operable, understandable, and robust.
By following the latest version of WCAG, you can enjoy the business benefits of accessible design: better brand positioning, enhanced search engine optimization (SEO), and an improved experience for all users, regardless of their abilities.
AudioEye’s web accessibility platform helps you develop a long-term strategy to realize those benefits. Our tools analyze content as the page loads, implementing many accessibility fixes instantly.
For issues that require human guidance, AudioEye provides guidance for making remediations. Our clients have access to a 24/7 help desk and active monitoring tools to track conformance.
Want to see where your website stands today? Enter any URL to get a free scan for accessibility issues on that page.
Is Digital Accessibility a Legal Requirement?
For most organizations, digital accessibility is a legal requirement. Here’s why.
May 09, 2023
What Is a VPAT? Tips for Filling Out a VPAT
A VPAT document helps users understand the accessibility characteristics and limitations of your product or service.
May 04, 2023
A Comprehensive Guide to WCAG Testing
Learn how to avoid common mistakes when developing your WCAG testing strategy.
May 01, 2023