The Department of Justice (Department) is publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) explaining how we propose updating the regulations for Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to add more specific requirements about web and mobile application (app) accessibility.
This NPRM proposes a specific technical standard that state and local governments would have to follow to meet their existing obligations under Title II of the ADA for web and mobile app accessibility. The NPRM asks the public for comments about this proposal.
What is Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
Under Title II of the ADA, state and local governments’ services, programs, and activities must be accessible to people with disabilities. In Title II, state and local governments are also called public entities. Title II applies to all programs, services, or activities of state and local governments, from adoption services to zoning regulation. This includes the services, programs, and activities that state and local governments offer online and through mobile apps.
What is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)?
Rulemaking is the process that federal agencies use to write regulations. A regulation (also called a “rule”) is a set of requirements issued by a federal agency to implement laws passed by Congress. When Congress passes laws, many details are often left to federal agencies to flesh out in regulations. For example, when Congress passed the ADA, it gave the Department the authority to issue regulations that explain the rights and obligations under Titles II and III of the ADA.
An NPRM is a stage in the rulemaking process that happens before an agency adopts a final regulation. It is like a first draft of a regulation. It lets the public know what the agency is considering and provides an opportunity for feedback.
An NPRM is not a final regulation. So, this proposal is not an enforceable rule right now. This NPRM has been published so that the public can provide us with feedback on our proposal for the rule before we adopt a final rule.
Who would be covered by this proposed rule?
Everyone that has obligations under Title II of the ADA would be covered by the proposed rule. Title II of the ADA applies to all public entities, including state and local governments, and departments, agencies, special purpose districts, special district governments, and other instrumentalities of state or local government.
Title II and the NPRM use the term public entities or state and local government entities to describe who they apply to, but in this fact sheet, we call these state and local governments. State and local governments that contract with other entities to provide public services (like non-profit organizations that run drug treatment programs on behalf of a state agency) also have an obligation to ensure that their contractors follow Title II.
Like the rest of Title II, the proposed rule would apply to all state and local government entities. Examples of these include:
State and local government offices that provide benefits and/or social services, like food assistance, health insurance, or employment services:
- Public schools, community colleges, and public universities
- State and local police departments
- State and local courts
- State and local elections offices
- Public hospitals and public healthcare clinics
- Public parks and recreation programs
- Public libraries
- Public transit agencies
Reasons for this Proposed Rule
State and local governments provide many of their services, programs, and activities through websites and mobile applications (apps). When these websites and mobile apps are not accessible, they can create barriers for people with disabilities.
This can also make it more difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to readily access important government services like absentee ballots or tax information that are quickly and easily available to other voters and taxpayers online.
Sometimes, inaccessible websites and mobile apps can keep people with disabilities from joining civic or other community events like town meetings or programs at their child’s school, or make it harder for them to join.
This proposed rule is intended to help better ensure access for people with disabilities and provide state and local governments with more clarity on how they can make sure they are complying with the ADA.
You can find more information about why the Department of Justice is proposing this rule in the NPRM in the section called “Need for Department Action.”
Highlights of the Proposals in the NPRM
Some of the specific proposed requirements found in the NPRM are highlighted below. Review the full NPRM to get an understanding of the entire proposal.
Proposal: Adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Version 2.1, Level AA as the technical standard that state and local governments would need to follow.
A technical standard says specifically what is required for something to be accessible. For example, the existing ADA Standards for Accessible Design are technical standards that say what is needed for a building to be physically accessible under the ADA. For instance, the ADA Standards for Accessible Design say how wide a door has to be or how steep a ramp can be.
WCAG, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, is a set of guidelines for web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium.
The NPRM proposes WCAG Version 2.1, Level AA as the technical standard for web content and mobile apps that state and local governments would be required to follow.
You can find more information about why the Department of Justice is proposing WCAG Version 2.1, Level AA as the technical standard in the NPRM in the sections called “Proposed WCAG Version” and “Proposed WCAG Conformance Level.”
Proposal: State and local governments’ web content and mobile apps would have to comply with the technical standard.
The proposed rule would apply to web content that a state or local government makes available to the public or uses to offer services, programs, and activities to the public.
What is web content?
The proposed rule would also apply to mobile apps that a state or local government makes available to the public or uses to offer services, programs, and activities to the public.
Example: If a local government lets people pay for its parking using a mobile app, the mobile app the local government uses would have to comply with the technical standard.
What is a mobile app?
Mobile apps are software applications that are downloaded and designed to run on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. You can find more information about how the Department proposes to address mobile apps in the NPRM in the sections called “Use of Mobile Applications by Title II Entities” and “Mobile Applications.”