The Ultimate Guide to the DOJ Title II Rule Making Government Digital Services Accessible

The Ultimate Guide to the DOJ Title II Rule: Making Government Digital Services Accessible

Published: July 5, 2024

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    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been a cornerstone in transforming public life for individuals with disabilities by ensuring equal access to physical spaces, services, and opportunities.However, as our society increasingly moves online, the digital landscape presents a new frontier of challenges. This article will guidethe DOJ Title II rule for making Government digital services accessible for individuals with disabilities.

    Despite the ADA’s groundbreaking impact, many government websites and mobile apps remain inaccessible. It creates barriers to essential information and services for people with disabilities. It limits access and undermines ADA principles of equality and inclusivity.

    The solution lies in web accessibility to foster a more inclusive society where everyone, irrespective of their abilities, can independently and equally access important information and services. It includes activities like applying for permits and engaging in community programs.

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) has played an integral role in enforcing ADA compliance for state and local government entities. Read on to learn more about this, and the new regulations to enhance web accessibility.

    Maintaining web compliance can be complex, but it is necessary for compliance and to create an inclusive digital environment. We at ADA Site Compliance can make web accessibility easier for you.

    We ensure your websites and mobile apps meet all legal requirements efficiently, bridge the accessibility gap, and demonstrate your commitment to inclusivity.

    Accessibility Standards – What You Need To Know

    The DOJ Title II Rule clearly defines accessible web content and mobile apps.

    The regulation adopts Website Compliance Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA to ensure digital content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for users with disabilities.

    These guidelines list the requirements for web compliance that include using alt text descriptions for images, providing keyboard accessibility for navigation, and using clear language to enhance comprehension.

    The state and local governments create truly inclusive digital platforms through the WCAG like:

    • Alternative text descriptions that allow screen readers to understand visual content
    • Keyboard accessibility for individuals with motor disabilities to navigate websites without a mouse.
    • Clear and straightforward language that makes information easier and more accessible to users with cognitive disabilities.

    Affected Parties

    The new DOJ rule majorly impacts United States state and local government entities. According to the Department, about 109,893 state and local government websites and 8,805 mobile applications face the impact.

    91,489 state and local government bodies manage these digital platforms that must review and upgrade their online content and mobile apps to comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards. This widespread impact ensures uniform digital accessibility across various governmental levels.

    The Implementation Process

    In addition to setting accessibility standards, the DOJ Title II Rule also outlines its implementation process. First and foremost, users with disabilities can legally file complaints with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division if they encounter inaccessible web content or mobile apps.

    The rule itself does not specify penalties.

    The DOJ investigates these complaints and accordingly pursues injunctive relief for compliance. So non-compliant public entities may be legally required to make their digital platforms accessible.

    The DOJ also provides the following support to help state and local governments implement new regulations for a smooth transition into compliant digital platforms:

    • Technical assistance
    • Online resources
    • Training sessions
    • Webinars to help entities understand and meet accessibility requirements.

    Key Provisions of the New Rule

    Adhering to the WCAG significantly enhances the accessibility of state and local government websites and mobile applications. This step to ensure all users have equal access to essential information and services fosters inclusivity and equity in the digital realm.

    All state and local government entities can’t achieve web compliance overnight. Knowing this, the DOJ has established specific deadlines for compliance varying depending on the size of the public entity. They are:

    • Entities with Fewer than 50,000 People / Special District Governments: These smaller entities have till three years of publishing the final rule to reach compliance. Their extended timeline provides them enough time to implement the required accessibility changes without much pressure, considering their limited resources and capabilities.
    • Entities with 50,000 or More People: Larger entities typically have till two years of publishing the final rule to reach compliance. They have a year shorter to meet compliance as their increased operational capacity lets them quickly adapt their web content and mobile apps.

    With these staggered deadlines, the DOJ provides a phased and manageable for public entities of all sizes to approach compliance with a smoother transition and better allocation of resources.

    Specific Exceptions from Compliance

    As entities begin to navigate this process, understanding the specific exceptions from compliance becomes crucial. Yes, it is after recognizing the potential challenges in some cases, that the DOJ has outlined five exemptions where compliance is not mandatory:

    1. Archived Web Content

    Websites containing archived materials like old meeting minutes or historical documents are often no longer actively used. So they are exempt from the compliance requirement unless someone with a disability makes a request.

    2. Preexisting Conventional Electronic Documents

    Any old documents created and stored for reference on a website are exempt from compliance. However, old documents presently used for application, gaining access to, and participation in any public entity’s service, program, or activity must meet accessibility requirements.

    3. Third-Party Content

    Any content posted by third parties is exempt from the compliance requirements unless posted on behalf of the public entity as per contractual, licensing, or other arrangements. This exemption is because public entities have no control over content generated on their platform by independent third parties.

    4. Password-Protected Conventional Electronic Documents

    Password-protected or secured documents, related to a specific individual, their property, or their account, are exempt from compliance. It is to protect sensitive personal information and the challenges in making such content accessible.

    5. Preexisting Social Media Posts

    Social media posts made before the new rule implementation are exempt from compliance. The exemption is because of the transient nature of social media content and the impracticality of making all historical posts accessible.

    Handling of Accessibility Requests

    The DOJ mandates that, if necessary, people with disabilities have the right to request public entities to provide accessible versions of exempt content. So someone with low vision needing to access some archived documents can make a request. It ensures visitors with disabilities can access critical information or services they require, even for exempted content.

    Estimated Costs for Digital Accessibility

    With substantial costs associated with implementing the new rule, the DOJ has provided estimates to help entities assess their potential financial burden of compliance. The annual costs over a decade are estimated to be between $3.3 billion and $3.5 billion, at 3% and 7% discounted rates, respectively.

    These costs include:

    Implementation Costs:

    The first three years of implementation costs to ensure digital platforms are accessible to everyone may approximately cost $16.9 million (undiscounted). These costs include cost for:

    • Updating websites and mobile applications to meet WCAG 2.1 standards
    • Staff training
    • The necessary tools and technologies

    Ongoing Maintenance Costs:

    In addition to the initial implementation period, the projected annual O&M costs for the next seven years, are $2.0 billion. These ongoing expenses cover the costs to ensure digital content remains accessible and compliant with WCAG 2.1 and include:

    • Regular audits
    • Updates to website and mobile app content
    • Continuous training for staff to maintain accessibility standards.

    The state and local government entities can better prepare and allocate their budgets now that they know the associated compliance costs. This proactive approach facilitates a smoother implementation and helps manage long-term costs to maintain compliance.

    Repercussions of Non-Compliance

    Digital accessibility is mandatory to ensure everyone can access digital content and mobile apps. It lets all internet users have no difficulties accessing essential information and services.

    With it playing such an important role, non-compliance comes with its repercussions. Web developers and website owners who do not ensure their digital content is compliant face the following consequences:

    1. Legal Consequences

    Public entities may face lawsuits from individuals or advocacy groups, making them meet accessibility standards. Non-compliance with the new DOJ rule can lead to significant legal ramifications resulting in:

    • Substantial fines
    • Legal fees
    • Exorbitant lawsuits
    • Other associated costs

    These legal actions can leave a considerable financial burden on public institutions.

    2. Financial Impact

    These legal penalties are not the only financial repercussions public entities face for non-compliance. The financial impact that makes non-compliance financially unviable includes:

    • Higher costs due to rushed remediation efforts
    • Expensive emergency spending to address accessibility issues under pressure
    • The cost of regaining lost public trust and reputation can be substantial

    3. Reputation and Trust

    Non-compliance can lead to public outcry and a loss of trust, thus severely damaging an entity’s reputation, especially among individuals with disabilities and advocacy groups. The loss of trust can have long-lasting effects, especially amongst people with disabilities and advocacy groups, as they lose confidence in the entity’s commitment to inclusivity and equal access.

    Besides, a damaged reputation can also impact the entity’s ability to serve its community.

    4. Operational Challenges

    Legal battles and the need for urgent compliance measures can disrupt the public entity’s operations. The diversion of resources and attention from other critical projects to address the accessibility issues can lead to operational inefficiencies and reduce the overall effectiveness of the entity’s services.

    In short

    The DOJ Title II Rule ensures digital accessibility and equality for individuals with disabilities. The clear standards and enforcement mechanisms set a national precedent for digital inclusion.

    However, the field of digital accessibility continually evolves as technology advances. The DOJ has to constantly update the guidelines and requirements per the latest practices and innovations.

    To stay compliant and foster an inclusive digital environment, state and local governments, web developers, and designers must remain informed about these changes.

    Regular reviews and updates for digital content and platforms according to the latest accessibility standards ensure everyone has equal access to their content. This dedication to accessibility contributes to creating a more inclusive society where everyone can participate fully in public life.

    Maintaining web compliance can be a complex task, but it is necessary for compliance and to create an inclusive digital environment. ADA Site Compliance makes web accessibility easier for you.

    We ensure your websites and mobile apps meet all legal requirements efficiently, bridge the accessibility gap, and demonstrate your commitment to inclusivity.

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