International Accessibility Laws Affecting U.S. Companies

International Accessibility Laws Affecting U.S. Companies

Published: March 5, 2024

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    Approximately one billion individuals, or 15% of the global population, live with a disability, significantly influenced by national accessibility laws. The World Bank emphasizes that people with disabilities often encounter more employment challenges, higher poverty rates, limited educational opportunities, and poorer health outcomes compared to those without disabilities.

    An integral barrier for people with disabilities is inadequate accessibility, which limits their full participation in societal activities. Often, they face social and economic exclusion due to inaccessible environments, products, or services.

    In addition to their physical challenges, these individuals frequently encounter societal barriers where their needs are either overlooked or not addressed.

    Recognizing the need for equality, governments worldwide have been enacting laws to foster an equitable society for people with disabilities. These range from specific web accessibility laws to broader, more interpretive legislation. Their applicability varies, with some targeting public transport or telecom sector entities, others focusing on the private sector, and many others.

    Here is a compilation of the vital anti-discrimination laws, regulations, and standards related to digital accessibility from various countries. They are not just related to web and mobile accessibility directive, but also include workplace and anti-discrimination laws.

    Navigating the evolving and often ambiguous web accessibility laws can be challenging for businesses and organizations. We at ADA Site Compliance will assist you in achieving CCPA website compliance.

    Our skilled compliance professionals stay up-to-date with the latest trends and regulations to ensure your website meets the necessary standards. By prioritizing website accessibility, you can enhance your business’s overall performance and boost your bottom line.

    International Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – WCAG

    To leverage the potential of the web, the World Wide Consortium (W3C) is a global community committed to developing web standards and guidelines.

    In 1997, W3C launched the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to ensure consistent web experiences for all users and improve usability for individuals with disabilities.

    To enhance the accessibility of web content, the WAI established the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG) to produce technical reports and guidelines.

    It resulted in the 1999 implementation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This was a collection of standards ensuring the Internet is accessible to all individuals, including those with disabilities.

    WCAG 2.0, released in 2008 with more comprehensive web accessibility guidelines, succeeded its predecessor WCAG 1.0 as the international standard ISO/IEC 40500:2012 in October 2012. Subsequent developments culminated in the WCAG 2.1, which expanded upon the preceding standards. Both WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 continue to be relevant, with all-encompassing and consultable criteria for improving the accessibility of web content.

    The WCAG 2.0/2.1 principles are categorized into four fundamental domains:

    • Perceivable: Ensuring web content and interface components are identifiable to all users.
    • Operable: Ensuring that individuals with disabilities can navigate and interact with the user interface.
    • Understandable: Establishing clarity and comprehensibility regarding web content and functioning to accommodate many users.
    • Robust: Ensuring numerous user agents, including assistive technologies, can rely on interpreting web content.These guidelines are classified into three tiers of testable conformance criteria: Level AAA (the highest level of conformance), Level A (basic conformance), and Level AA (intermediate conformance).

    International Web Accessibility Laws for Digital Accessibility

    • 1. United States

      In the United States, nearly 45 percent of the population faces challenges related to hearing, cognitive, and ambulatory disabilities. The US Government has established several laws to address these issues and promote inclusivity.

      They guarantee equal access to opportunities for all citizens, including regulations focused on enhancing internet accessibility.

      • a) The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

        The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures accessibility in public spaces and services for individuals with specific disabilities. U.S. Courts broadly interpret this law to encompass digital environments, extending its mandate to online services and platforms.

        Structured into five titles, the ADA addresses various aspects of public life. These sections encompass:

        • Title I: Employment:
        • Title II: State and Local Governments:
        • Title III: Public Accommodation:
        • Title IV: Telecommunications:
        • Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions:
        • i) Title II:

          Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a vital legislative measure preventing disability-based discrimination by public entities at various government levels.

          It includes federal, state, and local (encompassing entities such as public schools, police departments, and public libraries). These governmental organizations must guarantee effective communication with the public, including providing assistive technologies or services as needed.

          State and local governments must:

          • Prohibit the exclusion of individuals with disabilities from services, programs, or activities because of disability.
          • Provide programs and services in an integrated setting to ensure equal opportunities unless specific measures are needed.
          • Offer auxiliary aids and services for effective communication, except where it causes undue burden or fundamental alterations.
          • Ensure that individuals with disabilities can access and use all programs.

          Title II also stipulates that all governmental media, electronic and information technology, including public or internal videos, must be accessible, incorporating features like closed captioning and audio descriptions. Moreover, all users and employees must be able to access all government websites easily.

        • ii) Title III:

          Title III of the ADA addresses anti-discrimination in places of public accommodation such as universities, museums, hotels, and restaurants. A place of public accommodation must:

          • Be operated by a private organization or entity.
          • Have operations that impact commerce.

          Places of public accommodation fall into one of twelve categories:

          • 1. Lodging establishments.
          • 2. Food or drink establishments.
          • 3. Exhibition or entertainment venues.
          • 4. Public gathering places.
          • 5. Sales or rental establishments.
          • 6. Service establishments.
          • 7. Stations for specified public transportation.
          • 8. Public display or collection venues.
          • 9. Recreational areas.
          • 10. Educational institutions.
          • 11. Social service centers.
          • 12. Exercise and recreational facilities.

          Title III ensures no individual faces discrimination because of disability, guaranteeing full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services provided by any business or organization.

        Initially applicable only to physical locations, the ADA’s scope now extends to the digital realm. This expansion signifies that the ADA encompasses the Internet and online businesses.

        The ADA underwent a revision in November 2016 with provisions for auxiliary aids and services for people with disabilities and incorporating accessibility requirements for closed captioning and audio descriptions in movie theaters.

      • b) Rehabilitation Act of 1973

        The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 includes Section 508 and Section 504.

        Section 508 requires all federal agencies to ensure people with impairments can access their information and communication technology (ICT.

        It includes the (WCAG) 2.0 AA in its legal framework, making it a remarkable example of web accessibility legislation in the United States.

        Section 504 mandates that any organization receiving federal funds or help must ensure their services are accessible to people with disabilities. It is necessary to ensure all individuals have equal access to their communication media, such as websites, and that people with impairments can access them.

    • 2. Canada

      • a) Accessible Canada Act (ACA):

        The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) is instrumental in shaping Canada’s accessibility landscape. It empowers the Canadian government to collaborate with stakeholders and individuals with disabilities to develop new accessibility regulations.

        These regulations are designed to be relevant in federal jurisdictions. The ACA mandates organizations to proactively identify, eliminate, and prevent obstacles to accessibility, fostering a more inclusive environment.

      • b) Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

        This pivotal law ensures the protection of human rights for all Canadian citizens, focusing on preventing discrimination based on disability. It serves as a legal framework upholding the rights and dignity of individuals with disabilities.

      • c) Canadian Web Accessibility Standards:

        The Canadian Standard on Web Accessibility stipulates all Canadian government websites and web applications comply with WCAG 2.0 AA standards. This compliance enhances the accessibility of web content and applications from federal government agencies. It thus improves digital access to government services for all citizens, including those with disabilities.

      • d) Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA):

        The AODA requires adherence to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA, with exemptions for audio descriptions and live captioning.

      • e) Nova Scotia Accessibility Act:

        Established in April 2017, the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act is Canada’s third provincial accessibility law. It requires public and private sector organizations to make their goods, services, and ICT (including websites and mobile apps) accessible to individuals with disabilities, adhering to WCAG 2.0 AA standards.

        Organizations can face significant financial repercussions, with potential fines of up to $250,000 for non-compliance with this Act.

    • 3. European Union

      The European Union, with member countries like Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, and Spain, has several significant national laws focused on enhancing accessibility:

      • a) Directive EU 2016/2102:

        The EU web accessibility directive mandates standards for all public sector websites and mobile applications across EU member states. It aims to make these public administration websites and digital platforms universally accessible to every user.

      • b) European Accessibility Act:

        This legislation harmonizes the rules across the EU to improve the accessibility of products and services. It streamlines trade and enhances accessibility throughout the Union, facilitating access to products and services.

      • c) EN 301 549:

        EN 301 549 is a vital standard in digital accessibility set by the European Union. It specifies requirements for information and communication technologies (ICT) crucial in public procurement across EU nations.

        Incorporating the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines in version 2.1.2, this standard covers multiple digital formats, including web and mobile applications, ICT products, related services, and telecommunication services.

    • 4. Australia

      a) Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992:

      The 1992 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in Australia is a pivotal law that safeguards individuals against discrimination due to disabilities. In 2010, the Australian Human Rights Commission issued guidelines to facilitate adherence to the DDA.

      Although these guidelines are not legally enforceable, they significantly influence the application of the DDA. They emphasize the importance of digital accessibility, recommending adherence to the WCAG 2.0 AA standards for both government and non-governmental websites and digital platforms.

    • 5. India

      a) India’s Disability Rights Legislation:

      India’s commitment to enhancing accessibility for its nearly 29 million people living with disabilities is embodied in two significant legislative initiatives:

      • i. Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPD):

        • Applicable to both the public and private sectors.
        • Addresses various areas like access to arts and culture, healthcare, judicial systems, infrastructure development, housing, educational institutions, and employment.
        • Enacted in 2016 by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, this Act is designed to fulfill the obligations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It’s a comprehensive law prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access and opportunities for all individuals, particularly those with disabilities.
      • ii. Guidelines for Indian Government Websites:

        • Developed in 2009 by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, these guidelines aim to make information and communication technology accessible for individuals with disabilities.
        • While they refer to BITV 2.0 and WCAG 2.0 Level A standards, they are advisory rather than mandatory. They offer an extensive checklist and resources to ensure websites comply with the recommended standards.
        • All Indian public institutions and federal agencies must follow these guidelines for all forms of web content.
    • 6. Israel

      Israel Standard 5568:

      Standard 5568 establishes the requirements for digital accessibility relevant to both the public and private sectors. It is a vital piece of legislation in Israel about improving web accessibility. It adheres to WCAG 2.0 requirements AA, guaranteeing web accessibility across various platforms.

    • 7. Japan

      Japanese Industrial Standard X 8413-3:

      Japanese Industrial Standard X 8413-3 provides a framework for web content development to enhance accessibility for seniors and individuals with disabilities.

      Although it aligns with the International Organization for Standardization’s Guideline 71 rather than the WCAG, there is a notable overlap in their principles and recommendations.

    • 8. United Kingdom

      • a) Equality Act of 2010:

        The UK’s Equality Act of 2010 is a robust framework against disability discrimination, covering employment and delivery of goods, facilities, and services. It applies to both the public and private sectors offering public services.

      • b) British National Standard (BSI 8878):

        Developed by the British Standards Institution, the BSI 8878 standard is a web accessibility Code of Practice. It outlines methodologies for developing web accessible and products, focusing on enhanced accessibility to a broader audience.

    • 9. New Zealand

      • a) New Zealand Human Rights Act:

        The Human Rights Act in New Zealand protects human rights and addresses and prohibits discrimination based on disability and other categories.

      • b) Web Accessibility Standard 1.1:

        The Web Accessibility Standard 1.1 in New Zealand requires all public sector bodies and non-public service organizations to comply with the New Zealand Government Web Accessibility Standard.

        This requirement applies to both public and private organizations. While it adheres to WCAG 2.1 AA requirements, it does allow for some exemptions. They include complex visual maps, time-based media alternatives, live captions, and audio descriptions.

    • 10. France – (Law N° 2005-102 Article 47)

      France has been at the forefront of ensuring rights and inclusion for people with disabilities, notably through Law № 2005-102, enacted on February 11, 2005. It requires all public online services to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

      Additionally, it necessitates creating long-term plans for enhancing accessibility, with penalties for non-adherence.

      • a) Framework for Web Accessibility in France:

        The operationalization of this law is further defined in the Order of the General Accessibility Framework for Administrations (RGAA), dated April 29, 2015. The RGAA is integral to the French government’s efforts to improve web accessibility for its disabled population. It establishes a compliance and verification structure in line with WCAG 2.0 and the EU-standard WCAG 2.1 AA of EN 301 549 V2.1.2.

      • b) Digital Governance Legislation in France:

        The 2016 Digital Governance law, Law No 2016-1321, was introduced to amend certain aspects of Article 47 of Law № 2005-102. This law brings additional elements like open access and data portability into focus.

        It governs the proliferation of digital technologies in both public and private sectors under the oversight of various ministries.

        Every French government entity and public online communication service must follow this rule.

        Organizations or agencies that fail to provide accessible internet communication services may face penalties of up to five thousand euros.

    • 11. Spain

      a) Spanish Law 34 of 2002:

      Law 34 of 2002 requires that public sector organizations adhere to the UNE 139803:2004, the established web accessibility standard in Spain. It was enacted in 2002 to enhance digital accessibility.

    • 12. Smaller European Union Nations:

      According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, few countries, including Austria, Belgium, Malta, and Spain, have implemented legal requirements for web accessibility applicable to both public and private service providers.

      Countries like Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland are noted for their all-encompassing anti-discrimination laws extending to both public and private sectors.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • 1. Is WCAG a legal requirement in the US?

      The WCAG is not mandated by law in the US. They are commonly employed as a standard for digital accessibility, especially under regulations like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

    • 2. Who needs to comply with international laws and standards for accessibility?

      To foster inclusivity and guarantee equal access for people with disabilities, educational institutions, government bodies, private sector companies, NGOs, nonprofits, web developers, and content creators must adhere to international accessibility laws and standards.

    • 3. Who does the European Accessibility Act apply to?

      Various entities, including public sector authorities, private sector businesses, and service providers in the European Union, are bound by the European Accessibility Act.

    • 4. Does Europe have a version of ADA?

      While the European Union lacks an equivalent to the ADA, it boasts laws and directives on accessibility and inclusivity for individuals with disabilities. There is the European Accessibility Act and associated regulations that help achieve similar goals.

    Conclusion

    Navigating compliance can be daunting, especially with the constant evolution of legal regulations, accessibility standards, and technological advancements. Rather than tackling these challenges alone, we at ADA Site Compliance will assist you in achieving CCPA website compliance.

    Our skilled compliance professionals stay up-to-date with the latest trends and regulations to ensure your website meets the necessary standards. By prioritizing website accessibility, you can enhance your business’s overall performance and boost your bottom line.

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