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The (Potential) Policy Progress of Accessibility

Feb 9, 2024
Website Design and Development
by Sydney Frenkel
the potential policy progress of accessibility

Technology’s progression continues to prompt the formulation of new regulations and policies aimed at enhancing digital accessibility to ensure that everyone has the ability and opportunity to engage in online activities regardless of their impairments. This article explores the latest accessibility updates and delves into the implications of new policy proposals, while also addressing how they impact businesses and individuals alike.

The Significance of Digital Accessibility

Digital accessibility refers to the practice of creating digital content and tools in a way that makes them usable for individuals, predominantly those with visual and aural disabilities. It encompasses the need to ensure that websites, applications, documents, and other digital assets are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all users. A 2022 analysis found a 143% year-over-year increase in the number of companies that received multiple lawsuits and predicted a 200% increase in 2023.

Digital accessibility carries immense importance in our increasingly interconnected world. It fosters inclusivity, granting people with disabilities access to information, services, and opportunities that might otherwise remain unavailable to them. Additionally, businesses and organizations stand to benefit by widening their customer base, enhancing user experiences, and mitigating legal risks linked to accessibility non-compliance and general discrimination. For more on this, read how the Digital Inclusivity Gap is getting smaller

New Policy Proposals: What’s Changing?

Revised Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): The globally recognized WCAG is undergoing revisions to accommodate technological advancements and a deeper understanding of accessibility concerns. These updates may encompass emerging technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality.

Mandatory Reporting and Compliance: Some regions contemplate stricter regulations that mandate reporting on accessibility efforts and demonstrating compliance with accessibility standards. Non-compliance could lead to substantial fines.

Accessibility Testing and Certification: Certification programs for accessibility professionals and auditors are gaining traction. These certifications aim to ensure that individuals responsible for assessing and ensuring digital accessibility possess high levels of training and expertise.

Increased Focus on Mobile Accessibility: With the proliferation of mobile devices, policies may emphasize the importance of ensuring mobile apps and websites are accessible. This could involve specific guidelines and testing procedures tailored for mobile platforms.

As an obvious conflict of interest, agencies and marketers are not able to guarantee or certify any true Level of accessibility – we could only ever interpret the existing set of regulations in pursuit of compliance. And, while a mobile-first approach to design is always a great way to make sure experiences translate to any device, designing with accessibility in mind should pose an exciting and necessary challenge for UX and UI designers.”

                       – James Weiss, Big Drop’s Vice President 

Improved Accessibility in Emerging Technologies: As technologies such as AI and voice assistants advance, policies may address the need to make these technologies more accessible for individuals with disabilities. This includes guidelines for voice user interfaces and conversational AI.

Policy Proposals and Business Implications

For businesses and organizations, these new policy proposals signify both challenges and opportunities:

Compliance Costs: Adhering to new accessibility standards may necessitate investments in design, development, and testing. Nonetheless, compliance can help businesses avoid costly lawsuits and enhance their reputation as socially responsible entities

Competitive Advantage: Prioritizing accessibility can set businesses apart in the market. Proactively designing with inclusivity in mind can attract a broader customer base, especially users with disabilities.

Technology Integration: Staying up-to-date with evolving accessibility standards may require staying at the forefront of technology trends. This can lead to more innovative solutions and improved user experiences for all customers.

Policy Proposals and Individual Impact

For individuals with disabilities, these policy proposals hold promise for a more inclusive digital environment:

Greater Access: Stricter policies promise improved access to digital content and services, enhancing the quality of life and societal participation for individuals with disabilities.

Enhanced User Experiences: More accessible websites and apps mean that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can enjoy a smoother and more enjoyable online experience.

Increased Advocacy: A growing focus on accessibility makes it easier for individuals with disabilities to advocate for their rights and demand equal access to digital resources.

DOJ’s Proposed Rulemaking and Its Implication

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) addressing the accessibility of state and local government websites and apps under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While primarily affecting governments, these regulations could serve as a blueprint for future regulations in the commercial sector. 

Overview of the NPRM:

The NPRM aims to rectify the absence of specific ADA regulations for online accessibility, impacting both state and local governments.

Key Takeaways from the NPRM:

  • The proposed regulations apply to both websites and mobile apps.
  • They are based on the widely accepted WCAG 2.1 AA standards.
  • The regulations clarify existing requirements rather than introducing radical changes.
  • Determining conformance to accessibility standards is a critical issue under discussion.

Summary of Proposed Title II Regulations:

  • Governing standards are based on WCAG 2.1 AA.
  • Exceptions are outlined for certain types of content.
  • Social media content used for government programs and services must also be accessible.
  • Defenses under the ADA, such as undue burden, still apply, but accessibility must be provided to the extent feasible.
  • Compliance deadlines vary based on the size of government entities.

The DOJ has invited public comment on the proposed Title II regulations, providing an opportunity for stakeholders to shape future accessibility standards. This input may influence forthcoming regulations under Title III, affecting businesses and their online presence.

Conclusion

Digital accessibility remains at the forefront of ensuring equitable participation for individuals with disabilities. New policy proposals and the DOJ’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking serve as milestones in this journey toward a more inclusive digital environment. Businesses and individuals alike should remain informed about these policy developments and actively engage in the shaping of accessibility standards, contributing to a more accessible and equitable online world.

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