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Appropriations Bill Would Instruct DOJ to Clarify Web Accessibility Requirements

C.P. Hoffman 05/25/18

Justice system iconNew legislation pending before the House of Representatives could put web accessibility regulations back on the table, despite the Department of Justice’s decision last year to withdraw its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the subject.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved the 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill, which included a provision directing the DOJ to take action to adopt web accessibility guidelines in the next year.

The language, as adopted by the Appropriations Committee, reads:

“Website Accessibility. – The Committee expects the Department to clarify standards for website accessibility requirements pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act in fiscal year 2019.  The Committee recognizes the confusion caused by a lack of uniform website accessibility standards.  The lack of clear requirements disadvantages small businesses that provide essential services for our communities.”

The provision was added by Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), who acted as floor manager for the bill, at the encouragement of the Credit Union National Association, an industry group that has been actively engaged on the issue of web accessibility due to the recent wave of lawsuits targeting credit unions.

Despite being approved by the House Appropriations Committee, however, the provision has not yet been adopted into law, and still faces votes in the full House and Senate.

Even if it is adopted, it is unclear what effect the provision will ultimately have. The amendment’s language is quite tentative—the Committee merely “expects the Department to clarify standards for website accessibility requirements” rather than requires that the DOJ do so—and provides no penalty in the event the DOJ fails to act. It is thus a distinct possibility that the language could be adopted into law, and yet the DOJ could opt not to take up the issue of web accessibility regulations.

Another potential barrier is the time involved in issuing regulations. The Obama administration first announced its intention to regulate web accessibility in 2010, but no final regulations were issued by January 2017 when the Donald Trump entered office. It is highly unlikely the regulatory process could be completed prior to the end of fiscal year 2019, which ends on September 30, 2019, less than 18 months away.

But while significant uncertain remains, the amendment makes the outlook on web accessibility regulations in the medium better than they were at the beginning of the year. Kickstarting the regulatory process now could mean final rules adopted in 2020 or 2021, rather than years later.

In the meantime, organizations will continue to struggle with the current uncertainty over what a website must do to comply with the ADA.

This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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