Latest Regulation and Finale Rule on Web Content and Mobile App Accessibility for State and Local Governments

Latest Regulation and Finale Rule on Web Content and Mobile App Accessibility for State and Local Governments

Published: May 2, 2024

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    In a significant advancement for digital inclusivity, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has enacted a critical update under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This new regulation compels state and local governments to ensure their websites and mobile app accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

    Considering the integral role of digital platforms in providing access to services such as emergency responses, healthcare, voting, and public transit, the lack of accessibility could significantly prevent disabled individuals from accessing necessary services.

    This rule clarifies governmental bodies’ responsibilities and highlights the imperative for businesses to adjust, even amidst evolving compliance landscapes.

    ADA Site Compliance works to help companies comply with regulatory mandates. With a dedicated team that monitors regulation updates, we ensure businesses confidently maintain websites that meet current accessibility standards.

    Statements from Justice Department Officials

    • Attorney General Merrick B. Garland: Emphasized the rule’s role in fulfilling ADA’s promise for equal participation. He stated that by establishing definitive digital accessibility standards for state and local governments, they support the ADA’s mission of ensuring full and equal participation for people with disabilities. He also commended the diligent efforts of the Civil Rights Division in implementing this rule.
    • Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer highlighted the commitment to making digital platforms usable for everyone to participate fully in society.
    • Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke described the rule as groundbreaking, noting that it removes barriers that have historically excluded Americans with disabilities, and ensures equal access to essential online government services like voting and public benefits.

    Importance of Web and Mobile App Accessibility

    As state and local governments increasingly digitize their services, the accessibility of their web and mobile platforms becomes crucial. Inaccessible websites and applications can exclude individuals with disabilities from accessing vital services.

    For example, visually impaired individuals often need screen readers to navigate websites and applications. Governmental sites posting crucial public information in images without alternative text (“alt text”), is inaccessible to blind users.

    Such digital barriers can prevent disabled persons from performing essential activities such as securing mail-in ballots, obtaining tax information, or engaging in community events.

    The latest regulation aims to guarantee individuals with disabilities have full access to state and local government online services, programs, and activities. This rule also clarifies steps governments take to adhere to ADA standards, ensuring inclusivity and equal access for every community member.

    Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

    Title II of the ADA mandates that all services, programs, and activities provided by state and local governments are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

    This extensive requirement encompasses everything from adoption services to zoning regulations and includes both online services and mobile applications managed by state and local authorities.

    The rule ensures that individuals with disabilities can fully access and benefit from public services, promoting a more inclusive society with an improved quality of life for disabled individuals nationwide.

    This includes:

    • Making public transportation details accessible to visually impaired users, Enabling the deaf or hard of hearing to participate in online educational courses,
    • Aiding those with manual dexterity issues in navigating web-based services.

    Overview of State and Local Government Functions:

    State and local governments are essential providers of numerous public services, including:

    • Offices administering social benefits like food assistance
    • Educational facilities
    • Law enforcement agencies at state and municipal levels.
    • Judicial systems of local and state courts.
    • Offices overseeing state and local electoral processes.
    • Public medical facilities
    • Community resources like parks, recreational facilities, and public transportation systems.

    Accessibility standards under Title II apply to all entities within state and local governments, including their various departments, agencies, special purpose districts, Amtrak, and commuter authorities.

    Furthermore, state and local governments contracting with third-party organizations, like non-profits managing drug treatment programs, must ensure these entities adhere to Title II’s accessibility standards.

    What Constitutes a Rule or Regulation?

    Rules or regulations are formal directives issued by a government agency, from laws enacted by Congress. Following the enactment of the ADA, the Department was authorized to develop regulations to articulate the responsibilities outlined in Title II and Title III of the ADA. Typically, these regulations consist of the regulatory text and an appendix.

    The Process of Developing a Rule

    The Department formulated this rule through a method known as “notice and comment rulemaking.” The process starts with declaring a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), serving the regulation’s initial draft and proposed requirements, and inviting public feedback.

    The Department modified the proposed rule based on the NPRM feedback. Detailed descriptions of the public feedback and rule adjustments are in the rule’s appendix.

    What are technical standards?

    Technical standards are detailed criteria defining accessibility requirements. For instance, the ADA Standards for Accessible Design include specifications like minimum width for doorways to ensure physical accessibility in buildings and ADA-compliant websites.

    Requirement for State and local government websites

    This regulation covers all web content handled by state or local governments and must conform to WCAG 2.1, Level AA, including content administered by external contractors.

    Example: If a county’s website displays a list of local parks and operating hours, it must adhere to WCAG 2.1, Level AA for accessibility, even if a third-party service provider developed and updated the site.

    Web content includes text, images, audio, videos, and documents on the internet.

    Requirement for State and Local Government Mobile Apps:

    Mobile apps used by state and local governments must conform to WCAG 2.1, Level AA standards. It includes all mobile apps provided or accessible by state or local governments, and external parties.

    Mobile apps are software applications specifically designed for use on smartphones and tablets. Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, WCAG standards make web content universally accessible.

    Example: Consider a mobile app developed by a city facilitating public parking payments. The app must comply with the WCAG 2.1, Level AA accessibility standards, no matter if the city or a private company manages it.

    Going Beyond Standard Compliance with WCAG 2.1, Level AA

    State and local governments have the leeway to adopt web content and mobile apps extending beyond the minimum requirements of WCAG 2.1, Level AA.

    This provision for “equivalent facilitation” allows using alternative designs, methods, or technologies, if they offer accessibility and usability equal to or greater than mentioned by the standard.

    This flexibility is intended to accommodate the adoption of future, potentially more stringent standards while ensuring continued accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

    Example: For instance, a state parks department might implement WCAG Version 3.0 for its new mobile app for booking campsite reservations, if it offers better or equivalent accessibility compared to WCAG 2.1, Level AA.

    Specific Exceptions to the Rule Explained

    There are various situations where there are exceptions to digital content conforming with the rule. They include:

    • Archived Web Content:

      This applies to outdated or unused content stored in archives, such as old reports or documents, that remain unchanged since archiving. However city council minutes and documents created after the compliance deadline must adhere to accessibility standards.

      Even PDFs with up-to-date data on county park maps must conform, regardless of archival status.

    • Pre-existing Conventional Electronic Documents:

      This applies to documents like PDFs or Word files on government digital platforms created before the compliance date and not updated or essential for current use.

      However, documents posted or updated after the established compliance deadline do not qualify for exemptions. Active-use documents for accessing government services, irrespective of publication date do not qualify either.

    • Third-Party Content:

      Content posted by third parties without a contractual or official arrangement with the government, which the government cannot modify is exempt. However, content directly posted or managed by the government like calendars developed by external companies, updates made by a government vendor, and message boards must meet WCAG 2.1, Level AA standards.

    • Individualized Documents:

      Applies to personal documents like water bills and documents about specific individuals or accounts available in a secure, password-protected format. They can be challenging for immediate accessibility, especially for recipients without specific disability requirements.

    • Preexisting Social Media Posts:

      This includes all social media posts made before the compliance date. However, if a visually impaired person requests information about a social media image from 2023, the government must provide an accessible description for effective communication.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • 1. Do state and local governments always have to make web content and content in mobile apps meet WCAG 2.1, Level AA if no exceptions apply?

      State and local governments must ensure their web and mobile app content adheres to WCAG 2.1, Level AA standards unless specific exemptions apply.

      They must integrate accessibility directly into the primary content rather than maintaining accessible and non-accessible versions. However, it is permitted to use conforming alternate versions if technical or legal issues prevent full accessibility.

    • 2. What if an individual with a disability cannot access web content and mobile apps meeting WCAG 2.1, Level AA?

      Web content and mobile apps compliant with WCAG 2.1, Level AA might still be inaccessible to some individuals with disabilities. In such cases, while no additional WCAG modifications are mandated, state and local governments must adhere to ADA standards.

      It can be done through effective communication, reasonable adjustments, and equitable service access. These obligations must be addressed based on individual needs.

      For instance, if a person’s disability hinders them from purchasing fair tickets through a county’s mobile app, the government must provide an alternate purchasing method.

    • 3. What Happens If a State or Local Government Fails to Meet WCAG 2.1, Level AA in a Minor Way?

      State and local governments might demonstrate that slight deviations from WCAG 2.1, Level AA standards do not significantly hinder access for individuals with disabilities.

      While substantiated minor non-compliances do not constitute rule violations, the provision cannot be used as a loophole to evade adherence to WCAG standards.

      For example, a state’s website has a color contrast ratio slightly below the requirement (4.45:1 instead of 4.5:1). It does not breach the regulations if they prove that the minor difference does not affect accessibility for those with vision impairments.

      Conversely, it is a violation if a web-based renewal process fails to comply fully, and disproportionately complicates the process for a person with a disability, even if the task is ultimately achievable.

    • 4. How Long Do State and Local Governments Have to Comply with the Rule?

      State and local governments are required to align their web content and mobile apps with WCAG 2.1, Level AA standards within two to three years from when the rule is issued, depending on the size of their population:

      • Governments serving up to 49,999 residents, with special district governments, have three years for compliance.
      • Governments serving 50,000 or more residents are expected to achieve compliance within two years.

      After these deadlines, ongoing compliance with WCAG 2.1, Level AA for all web content and mobile apps is mandatory.

    • 5. What is the compliance date for school districts?

      The deadline for a school district to comply with WCAG 2.1, Level AA is based on the population it serves:

      • County school districts follow county population statistics
      • Independent school districts refer to the most recent Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates.
    • 6. What is the compliance date for other parts of government, like city, state, or town police department or library?

      For city or town police departments and libraries, the compliance date is based on the population of the local government, often obtained from the 2020 Census Bureau data. Smaller departments or divisions lacking specific population figures use the population of the larger municipality they belong to.


    The new regulation marks a significant step forward in ensuring that all individuals, regardless of disability, have equal access to digital resources provided by state and local governments.

    This move aligns with the ADA’s long-standing commitment to inclusivity and modernizes public services to be more accessible, enhancing civic engagement and participation across the community.

    ADA Site Compliance works to help companies comply with regulatory mandates. With a dedicated team that monitors regulation updates, we ensure businesses confidently maintain websites that meet current accessibility standards. Get your FREE ACCESSIBILITY SCAN here!

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