A smartphone with a grid of colorful app icons on the screen. Other app icons are in bubbles surrounding the phone.

Mobile Apps (including mobile web apps) are generally covered by the same requirements for access by people with disabilities that apply to non-mobile software and web applications. If your organization is subject to U.S. laws such as the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), Section 508, or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) these laws may apply to your mobile content. Other national laws such as the Equality Act in the United Kingdom may also apply for those doing business in the United Kingdom. In the past comprehensive accessibility was not possible on mobile platforms but now Mobile apps can be made accessible on key platforms such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms and each platform provides public documentation on how to create and test accessible apps. The following U.S. laws may apply in part to your mobile apps:

Section 508

When apps are procured by the U.S. government either for direct use by Federal employees or the public or used as part of a Federally staffed contract Section 508 applies. The technical and functional requirements of Section 508 such as Section 1194.21 Software Applications and Operating Systems, Section 1194.22 Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications and Section 1194.31 Functional Performance Criteria would apply.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA requires access in places of public accommodation. The U.S. Department of Justice has indicated that it considers the ADA applies to public websites and other forms of electronic business. At this time, however, specific requirements have not been created. More information can be found in the 2010 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability. Federal Judges have handed down decisions such as the 2012 decision in National Association of the Deaf vs. Netflix case indicating web only businesses are places of public accommodation and are applicable under the ADA’s Title III. Similarly, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) went through structured negotiations in 2012 with the end result of increased website and mobile app support via the iPhone and iPad for MLB’s AtBat app.

What this means is that organizations that are covered by the ADA and provide apps may need to make them accessible. While this doesn’t apply to individuals selling mobile apps the applicability would conservatively apply to organizations like media outlets, phone companies, banks, retailers, etc.

The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Under the CVAA standard phone functionality must be accessible to people with disabilities. Additionally, media players, mobile web browsers, and advanced communication system apps must also be accessible. The scope of the CVAA goes beyond manufacturers of mobile devices to the service providers and creators of apps that are covered under CVAA.

CVAA specifically calls out that mobile web browsers must be accessible to people who are blind. The CVAA requirements do not provide specific requirements but mobile web browsing functionality must be functionally accessible.

Media players which in today’s terms also include mobile web browsers must support capabilities for captioning/decoding captions and for supporting audio description. Actual captioning of content that was not broadcast on television is not covered under CVAA at the current time nor is audio description of content displayed on the web. Over time this will likely change as more video is broadcast solely over the Internet.

Advanced communication system apps that are covered under CVAA include:

  • E-mail
  • Text messaging (including SMS)
  • Instant messaging
  • Other real-time communication apps
  • Video conferencing
  • Two-way real-time (and near real-time) communications (VOIP interconnected or non-interconnected calling)

Conclusion

Mobile apps including mobile web apps may be subject to one or more accessibility requirements. As requirements for the ADA are spelled out by the DOJ and additional rulemaking is made under the CVAA more specific standards are likely to emerge around mobile content. Watch for a follow-up blog post titled “What Accessibility Standards Apply to Mobile Phone Applications?”

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