This blog was contributed by Jon Avila, Chief Accessibility Officer at Level Access. As 2023 wraps up, the laws and standards governing digital accessibility continue to evolve. Following the release of version 2.2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), organizations must keep up with impending accessibility compliance deadlines and new court decisions, not to mention a revised template for conformance reports. To help you orient yourself in this shifting landscape, and stay on top of compliance and procurement obligations in the year ahead, we’ve compiled the most notable updates for organizations around the globe to be aware of.

Accessibility compliance deadlines: Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and the European Accessibility Act (EAA)

AODA compliance reports are due December 31

Time is running out to report on AODA compliance. The AODA mandates that all private-sector organizations in Ontario with 20 or more employees file a compliance report every three years—and the next deadline is December 31. The 2023 reporting format is similar to 2020’s, but notably, this year’s instructions specifically highlight the AODA’s requirement that public websites and social media content conform with WCAG 2.0 AA (excluding two specific criteria for audio descriptions and live captions).

If your organization is impacted by this deadline, you need to file a report before the end of the month. While you may request an extension for achieving compliance, you’re still obligated to accurately report on the current state of compliance at your organization by December 31, and it’s not 100% certain that your request will be granted. Unlike in previous years, extension requests will be considered after—not prior to—the reporting deadline.

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The EAA is on track to take effect in June 2025

The deadline for compliance with the EAA remains June 28, 2025. In contrast to other European Union (EU) accessibility laws, which focus on the public sector, the EAA also applies to private-sector organizations that do business in Europe. That means all companies that sell products to European businesses or consumers must meet EAA requirements—even if they’re located outside the EU. The EAA mandates that a range of products and services, including computers and operating systems, smartphones, banking services, and e-commerce experiences, be made accessible to people with disabilities.

The EU standard for digital accessibility (EN 301 549) will be updated over the next few years to reference WCAG 2.2 as the compliance standard for digital technology. If the EAA applies to your organization, the best way to prepare is to start by familiarizing yourself with its requirements and evaluating the accessibility of your technology. Then, aim for conformance with WCAG 2.2, as well as any other applicable EN 301 549 requirements, when designing new digital experiences.

Case law developments: U.S. Supreme Court declines to clarify whether testers have standing in ADA Title III lawsuits

A case widely followed by the accessibility community, Acheson vs. Laufer, has come to a less-than-climactic close. The case, which recently reached the U.S. Supreme Court, revolved around whether Deborah Laufer—an individual who regularly files lawsuits against hotels whose websites do not identify accessible rooms—could legitimately sue Acheson Hotels even though she did not intend to use their services. Laufer claimed the hotel’s practices violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Given that Laufer is one of many website testers who consistently file accessibility lawsuits, Acheson’s request that the Supreme Court rule on her standing as a plaintiff raised a broader question about whether these testers can effectively enforce the ADA.

The Supreme Court refused to clarify Laufer’s standing, but suggested they may consider doing so if presented with the question again. That means that, for the time being, testers may continue to take legal action against organizations whose websites they believe violate the ADA. Organizations’ surest defense against web accessibility litigation remains working toward conformance with the latest version of WCAG at Level AA and working with a third-party expert to maintain conformance, in support of ADA compliance requirements, over time.

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Conformance documentation: VPAT 2.5 released, accounting for WCAG 2.2 criteria

Accessibility remains a common requirement in software procurement processes. So digital product companies may be interested to learn that an updated Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT®), VPAT 2.5, has been released. The most significant difference between VPAT 2.5 and previous versions of the VPAT is the inclusion of WCAG 2.2 success criteria in the WCAG, International, and EU editions of the template. Additionally, VPAT 2.5 has been updated based on guidance from the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) that WCAG success criterion 4.1.1 (parsing) be automatically considered met for WCAG 2.0 and 2.1. Because this criterion is addressed by most modern browsers and assistive technologies, it is considered obsolete by the W3C and was removed in WCAG 2.2.

Organizations that have already met WCAG 2.2 success criteria can now report on conformance using this template. Additionally, if you’re planning on updating your accessibility conformance documentation, you’ll want to use VPAT 2.5. This communicates your commitment to accessibility to buyers by demonstrating that you stay in the know about reporting best practices. While you should use the most recent version of the VPAT regardless of whether you’re ready to conform with WCAG 2.2, aiming for conformance with 2.2 criteria will even more clearly show that your organization values inclusion.

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Achieve lasting clarity and compliance with an expert partner

When it comes to digital accessibility, it can feel like change is the only constant. And if you’re having a hard time making sense of every new standard, regulation, and reporting best practice (or understanding the differences between them), remember that you don’t need to do it alone. Level Access has over two decades of experience helping organizations around the world meet accessibility compliance deadlines, including providing support with filing AODA compliance reports and drafting extension plans with key milestones.

Our experts are well-versed in global accessibility legislation and regulations, and we’ll work alongside you to ensure you meet your goals, whether you’re focused on mitigating legal risk, providing up-to-date documentation to fulfill procurement obligations, or simply providing the best possible experience for every user. Plus, we’ll provide the tools, testing, and training you need to stay ahead of evolving requirements. Connect with a member of our team today to get started.