Judges gavel and a legal document in front of a laptop

ADA Compliance: Regulatory Overview

Written by: Timothy Stephen Springer

This is post #8 in the ADA Compliance Series, which aims to outline a structure for validating and justifying a claim of “ADA compliance” for a website or other digital system. (a few notes and disclaimers on that)


Various components of the U.S. Federal Government are charged with publishing regulations for the ADA:

  • Title I – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) publishes regulations relating to the application of the ADA to employment situations.
  • Title II and Title III – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) publishes regulations related to Title II and III of the ADA. The most recent regulations they published were part of the overhaul of the relevant regulations as a result of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.
  • Title II and Title III – Transportation related regulations under Title II and III are issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
  • Title IV – issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

For our purposes we are principally concerned with the Title II and III regulations that are issued by the U.S. Department of Justice.  The final rulemaking order can be found in a single document on the ADA.gov website for Title II and Title III regulations. The regulations are eventually published into the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is a lot like the USC – except, instead of laws, it’s the collection of all U.S. Federal Government regulations. You’ll see references to various portions of the CFR as “28 CFR Part 36” or “28 CFR 36.” The way to read those is Title 28 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 36. Since that is a mouthful, most people just read it the way it is written.

The standalone rulemaking documents – Title II and Title III – can provide a lot of helpful contextual and explanatory information about the final regulations. They also explore a variety of issues that came up during the rulemaking process and how they were resolved (or not) in the final regulatory wording. While not always fascinating reading, they can be invaluable in clearing up the intent of specific language in the regulations. We use them extensively at Level Access to address issues that aren’t clear based on the statutory or regulatory text.

We’ll focus on the regulations for Title III as part of our deep dive into digital accessibility and the ADA. The regulations have the following high-level structure:

  • Subpart A – Coverage the general purpose of the regulations, application, relationship to other laws and definitions.
  • Subpart B – General requirements that apply to all organizations covered under Title III. Subpart B generally follows the set of requirements defined under 42 USC 12182, including the general rule and the manner in which that rule is applied in various parts.
  • Subpart C – A variety of specific requirements related to the manner in which public accommodations must support people with disabilities. We’ll spend a good bit of time in this regulation as it related to Auxiliary Aids and Services.
  • Subpart D – Broadly, accessibility requirements for buildings built after January 26, 1993.
  • Subpart E – Regulations relating to the enforcement of the law under Title III
  • Subpart F – Method of certifying that state laws or local building codes meet the requirements of the Act.

The idea is that Subpart B “sets forth the general principles of nondiscrimination applicable to all entities subject to this part.” Subparts C and D provide guidance on how to apply the law in specific situations. In instances where the specific provisions and general provisions both apply, the specific provisions win out and should be followed.

At the biggest picture, digital accessibility looks at two broad set of regulations. The subpart B regulations define the general requirements for accessibility and how they can be provided. The subpart C regulations – notably those relating to auxiliary aids and services – give us guidance on specific instances that relate to the scenario described in that situation.

One item to note – you’ll also see references to regulations and technical guidance published by the U.S. Access Board. For context, “The Access Board is responsible for developing and updating design guidelines known as the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).” (U.S. Access Board)  Those guidelines are then used by the relevant agencies – DOJ and the DOT – in setting up the final regulations that organizations must follow. We’re largely commingling that guidance with the final rules made by the DOJ. For our purposes that’s a good enough, simplifying approach. When we need to call out specific actions or advice of the Access Board, though, we’ll do that.