What the New DOJ Ruling Means for Your Website

Understanding the DOJ’s Latest Guidelines and Steps to Ensure Your Website is Accessible to All

Continued Success

Kyle Van Deusen

OGAL Web Design owner and WordPress educator helping businesses succeed with design, development, and marketing since 2003.

Filed Under: Continued Success

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a groundbreaking ruling on website accessibility that every business owner needs to be aware of.

This decision sets clear guidelines for state and local government websites to ensure they are accessible to people with disabilities. However, its implications extend beyond government entities, impacting any organization that receives funding or contracts from the United States government.

In this post, we’ll break down what the DOJ’s new ruling entails, why it matters for your business, and how you can take actionable steps to ensure your website complies with these new standards. We’ll demystify the technical requirements and offer practical advice to help you create a more inclusive online presence.

What the DOJ’s New Rule Says and Why It’s Important

Accessibility isn’t just about avoiding legal issues — though that’s certainly a part of it. It’s about ensuring everyone, regardless of their abilities, can access the information and services they need. This ruling pushes us towards a more inclusive digital world, where everyone has equal access to online resources.

This ruling should be a wake-up call to prioritize accessibility. Beyond compliance, accessible websites can lead to better user experiences, increased customer satisfaction, and a broader audience reach. It demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity, which can enhance your brand’s image and loyalty.

Here’s a breakdown of who’s affected, what this ruling entails, and why it matters for your business:

Who the DOJ’s Ruling Targets

This ruling specifically targets state and local governments — but that might be more broad than you initially realize.

Of course this means it can be applied to things like City or County websites, but can also affect schools, airports, libraries, parks & recreation, transit services, utilities, social services, or anything that receives contracts or funding from the government.

Clear Accessibility Standards

For the first time, the DOJ has provided explicit technical standards that websites must meet. Specifically, all state and local government websites must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 at the AA level.

This means websites must be designed and maintained in a way that makes them accessible to individuals with various disabilities, including visual, auditory, and cognitive impairments.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

Failing to comply with these new standards can have several serious consequences. While the DOJ ruling does not currently include specific fines, the risk of legal action is significant.

Individuals with disabilities can file complaints with the DOJ, leading to mandated compliance measures.

Non-compliance can result in lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which could lead to substantial legal fees and potential damages. Non-compliance could lead to the loss of government funding for public entities, which can be detrimental to operations.

Beyond legal and financial risks, failing to make your website accessible can damage your brand reputation and alienate a portion of your audience.

Timeline for Compliance

Businesses and government entities have a clear timeline to comply with these new standards. For areas serving 50,000 or more people, the deadline is April 2026.

For smaller areas, the deadline extends to April 2027. This gives businesses some time to assess their current digital accessibility and make necessary adjustments.

Comprehensive Coverage

The rule doesn’t just apply to websites. It covers a broad range of digital content, including images, videos, documents, and even social media posts.

If your organization uses any digital channels to communicate with the public, this ruling will apply.

Key Takeaways from the DOJ’s New Accessibility Ruling

One of the most critical aspects of the DOJ’s new ruling is the requirement for websites to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 at the AA level.

But what does that mean?

WCAG is a set of internationally recognized standards for web accessibility, providing detailed recommendations to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.

The guidelines are divided into three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA.

Level A includes the most basic web accessibility features, while AAA is the highest and most complex.

Level AA, the standard required by the DOJ ruling, addresses the most common accessibility barriers and is considered a balanced and achievable goal for most websites.

What Does Compliance Look Like?

Compliance with WCAG 2.1 AA involves several key components:

  • Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented in ways that users can perceive. This includes providing text alternatives for non-text content, making content adaptable, and ensuring sufficient contrast.
  • Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable. This means making all functionality available from a keyboard, giving users enough time to read and use content, and avoiding content that causes seizures or physical reactions.
  • Understandable: Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable. This involves making text readable and understandable, ensuring web pages appear and operate in predictable ways, and helping users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • Robust: Content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This means ensuring compatibility with current and future user tools.

Practical Steps to Ensure Compliance

Ensuring your website complies with the DOJ’s new accessibility standards may seem daunting, but with a clear plan, it becomes manageable. Here are some practical steps to help you align your website with WCAG 2.1 AA standards and meet the compliance deadlines:

1. Conduct an Accessibility Audit

The first step is to conduct a thorough accessibility audit of your current website. This involves evaluating your site against WCAG 2.1 AA criteria to identify areas that need improvement. You can use automated tools like the Accessibility Checker plugin for WordPress to get an initial assessment. However, it’s also crucial to conduct manual testing, as automated tools may not catch all issues.

2. Prioritize Fixes Based on Impact

Not all accessibility issues are created equal. Prioritize fixes that have the most significant impact on user experience. Start with the most critical issues such as ensuring proper color contrast, providing alt text for images, and making sure your site is navigable via keyboard.

3. Implement WCAG 2.1 AA Guidelines

Once you’ve identified the areas needing improvement, it’s time to put those insights into action. Start by making a detailed plan that addresses each issue. Work methodically through your site, ensuring that every aspect meets the WCAG 2.1 AA standards.

Implementing these guidelines requires effort and dedication, but it’s an essential step in making your website accessible to everyone.

4. Involve Users with Disabilities

To truly understand how accessible your website is, involve users with disabilities in the testing process. Their feedback is invaluable and will highlight issues that automated tests may not catch. This can be done through user testing sessions or by partnering with accessibility consultants who can provide expert insights.

5. Provide Ongoing Training

Accessibility is not a one-time project but an ongoing commitment. Ensure your team is well-versed in accessibility best practices. Provide training and resources to keep everyone updated on the latest guidelines and techniques. This helps prevent new accessibility issues from being introduced as you update or add new content to your site.

6. Develop an Accessibility Statement

An accessibility statement is a public declaration of your commitment to making your website accessible. It should outline the accessibility standards you are striving to meet, the measures you have taken, and a way for users to report accessibility issues they encounter. This transparency not only helps build trust but also shows your dedication to inclusivity.

7. Plan for Regular Audits and Updates

Web accessibility is an ongoing process. Plan for regular audits and updates to ensure continued compliance with WCAG standards. This can be part of your regular website maintenance routine, ensuring that any new content or features are accessible from the start.

8. Seek Professional Help if Needed

If navigating these changes feels overwhelming, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Accessibility experts can provide comprehensive audits, offer detailed recommendations, and assist with implementation. This ensures that your website not only meets compliance standards but also offers a seamless and inclusive user experience.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your website meets the DOJ’s new accessibility requirements, providing a more inclusive digital experience for all users. This commitment to accessibility not only helps you comply with the law but also enhances your brand’s reputation and reach.

As you continue to research this information, you may find (or be approached by) solutions that claim to solve all your accessibility challenges with a single plugin or application for your website.

These are generally referred to as “overlays” and not recommended by most accessibility experts and users with accessibility challenges.

You can read more information about overlays at the Overlay Fact Sheet website.

Embracing Accessibility as a Business Imperative

The DOJ’s new ruling on website accessibility marks a significant milestone in the journey towards a more inclusive digital world. By requiring compliance with WCAG 2.1 AA standards, the ruling not only sets clear guidelines but also emphasizes the importance of making online spaces accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities.

As a business owner, understanding and implementing these standards is crucial. Ensuring your website is accessible not only protects you from potential legal challenges but also enhances your brand’s reputation and expands your audience reach. An accessible website provides a better user experience, increases customer satisfaction, and demonstrates your commitment to inclusivity and equality.

Taking practical steps like conducting an accessibility audit, prioritizing key fixes, and involving users with disabilities in the testing process can help you align your website with the new standards. Providing ongoing training for your team and planning regular audits will ensure that your website remains compliant and user-friendly.

Remember, accessibility is an ongoing commitment, not a one-time project. By embracing these changes and making accessibility a core part of your digital strategy, you are not only complying with the law but also contributing to a more inclusive and equitable digital landscape.

If you need assistance or have any questions about making your website accessible, don’t hesitate to reach out. Your efforts today will pave the way for a more inclusive tomorrow!

Want to know more? Check out my recent interview with accessibility expert Amber Hinds on The Admin Bar’s YouTube channel:

YouTube video

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