New ADA Title II Rule on Web Accessibility: Fact Sheet Guide

ADA Title II Web Accessibility cover with U.S. flag, checkmark, and woman with laptop.

The Department of Justice has officially published a new rule for web content and mobile app accessibility in the Federal Register. This new rule updates regulation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Title II applies to state and local governments as well as associated entities. In this comprehensive guide, we will provide all of the essential information for public entities to become compliant with updated Title II regulation.

We will also simplify and summarize the DOJ’s ADA Title II Web Accessibility Fact Sheet and explain what the most important sections mean in easy to understand terms. Our comprehensive guide includes lots of examples to illustrate, in plain English, who needs to be compliant and what is required.

What Is Required Under the Law?

To remain compliant with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, state and local governments must make their websites, web content, mobile apps, and documents WCAG 2.1 AA conformant.

The new rule incorporates WCAG 2.1 AA as the legal standard for digital accessibility for state and local governments.

What is WCAG 2.1 AA?

WCAG is the acronym for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These are technical standards that set out best practices for web accessibility. WCAG 2.1 is a recent version of these technical standards published in 2018. AA is a conformance level is comprised of success criteria or requirements for a very good level of accessibility.

WCAG 2.1 builds on top of WCAG 2.0, adding 12 additional success criteria for conformance level AA. Since WCAG 2.0 AA has 38 success criteria, the total success criteria in WCAG 2.1 AA is 50.

In a nutshell, WCAG 2.1 AA contains 50 things to do or account for for conformance.

The Accessible.org WCAG 2.1 AA checklist is a great place to start learning about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Who is Required to Comply with the New Rule for Title II?

ADA Title II Public Entities cover with fire truck, park ranger, and voting booths

The new rule for web content and mobile app accessibility applies to all state and local governments and all departments, agencies, special purpose districts, and other instrumentalities of State or local government (“public entities”). Title II also applies to Amtrak and other commuter authorities.

Notably, if state and local governments that contract with other entities to provide public services, those private contractors must also be compliant.

Examples of public and private entities required to comply with Title II of the ADA are listed below.

Examples of Public Entities

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability for all state and local governments . Below are examples of the various public entities that are covered by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  • State and Local Government Offices Providing Benefits and Social Services:
    • Department of Social Services (offering SNAP, welfare programs)
    • State Health Insurance Marketplace websites
    • Employment Services Offices (including state job boards and unemployment benefits portals)
  • Educational Institutions:
    • Public elementary and secondary schools (school district websites, online parent portals)
    • Community colleges (online registration, course management systems)
    • Public universities (digital libraries, student services websites)
  • Law Enforcement:
    • Local police department websites (crime reporting, community alerts)
    • State Highway Patrol websites (accident reports, safety information)
  • Emergency Services:
    • Fire Departments: (safety information, emergency guides)
    • EMS or Emergency Medical Services (emergency tips, location services)
  • Judicial Systems:
    • Municipal court websites (case information, online payment for fines)
    • State Supreme Court websites (public case records, legal resources)
  • Elections Offices:
    • County elections websites (voter registration, polling place locators)
    • State Board of Elections websites (election results, candidate information)
  • Healthcare Facilities:
    • Public hospitals (patient portals, appointment systems)
    • Public health clinics (health resources, clinic services information)
  • Parks and Recreation Programs:
    • City Parks and Recreation Department websites (program registration, event calendars)
    • State Park websites (campsite booking, park rules and information)
  • Public Libraries:
    • City library websites (online catalogues, reservation systems)
    • County library systems (digital archives, e-book collections)
  • Public Transit Agencies:
    • City bus service websites (route information, service alerts)
    • Regional transit authorities (online ticketing, real-time transit tracking)

Private Contractors

Private entities contracted with public entities are also obligated to comply with Title II of the ADA. Here are examples of how a private entity could be required to comply with Title II.

  • Transportation Services: If a private company is contracted by a city to operate public bus services, that company must ensure that it’s website, mobile app, social media updates and posts, bus schedule documents, etc. are WCAG 2.1 AA conformant.
  • Retail Services: If a convenience store sells lottery tickets for the state, then the store serves a specific public function in distributing state lottery tickets, which is regulated and often contributes to state funds. Thus, the store needs to make sure its web content is accessible.
  • Educational Services: When a government agency contracts with a private educational service provider to offer virtual classes or after school programs for public schools, the provider must ensure that its online learning platform and materials are accessible to all students, including those with disabilities.
  • Social Services: If a city sources its drug treatment and rehabilitation program to a non-profit organization, the non-profit must make its documents, online pamphlets, and social media content accessible.
  • Healthcare Services: If a private hospital operates facilities owned by a public entity, such as a county hospital, it must provide accessible healthcare services and accommodations. This includes making sure remote doctor’s visits and relevant health information are available online in an accessible format that is WCAG 2.1 AA conformant.

What are Special District Governments?

Special district governments are specifically covered by the new ADA Title II web accessibility rule, but what exactly are special district governments?

Per the Census.gov post, Are There Special Districts in Your Hometown:

Special districts are independent government units created for a limited, specific purpose and, every year, new districts are created and existing ones dissolve.

Local governments are classified into five types: county, municipal, township, special districts and school districts. County, municipal and township governments are general-purpose governments. Then there are special districts.

Census.gov

The three keys to remember about special districts are:

  1. they are independent government units
  2. created for a specific purpose, and
  3. exist separately from local governments such as county, municipal, or township governments.

Special districts are created to perform specific functions that are not being adequately addressed by existing general-purpose governments. Here are five defining characteristics of special district governments:

  1. Purpose-Specific: Each special district is established to provide a specific service or set of services within a defined geographic area. For example, special districts may provide water supply, sewage treatment, fire protection, and park services.
  2. Governance: Special districts usually have their own governing body, which may be elected by voters within the district or appointed by higher levels of government.
  3. Funding: Special districts often have the authority to raise revenue through taxes, fees, or assessments specifically for the district’s purposes. For example, a water district might charge fees based on water usage, while a park district might charge a tax for the maintenance and operation of parks.
  4. Independence and Governance: While they operate independently of other local governments, special districts must still abide by state laws and may be subject to regulation by state agencies.
  5. Services Infrastructure: The functions of special districts can vary widely, but they typically focus on services that require significant infrastructure, such as transit authorities and hospital districts.

What are the Exceptions Under the New Rule?

There are limited exceptions for certain web content under the new ADA Title II web accessibility rule. If an exception applies, that content does not need to be WCAG 2.1 AA conformant. The exceptions are:

  1. archived web content
  2. preexisting electronic documents
  3. content posted by an independent third-party
  4. individualized documents that are password-protected
  5. preexisting social media posts

Below are the details and points necessary to qualify for each exception.

Archived Web Content

When creating the new rule for web accessibility, the Department of Justice (DOJ) recognized that state and local government websites often have web content that is outdated, unused, unnecessary, or available elsewhere. Thus, if archived content is present, it can potentially be excepted under the following conditions.

Web content that meets all four of the following points qualifies as an exception:

  1. The content was created before the deadline for compliance, or reproduces paper documents or the contents of other physical media (audiotapes, CDs, etc.) that were created before the date of compliance, and
  2. The content is only for reference, research, or recordkeeping purposes, and
  3. The content is held in a section specifically for archived content, and
  4. The content has not been updated or changed since being archived.

Preexisting Traditional Electronic Documents

ADA Title II document accessibility cover with Microsoft icons for Word docs Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint, and PowerPoint. Accessible.org on bottom.

The DOJ also specifically recognized the difficulty in remediating old documents such as PDFs. Thus, documents can qualify for an exception for WCAG 2.1 AA conformance under the following conditions:

  • The documents are word processing (e.g., Word or Google Docs), presentation (e.g., PowerPoint or Google Slides), PDF, or spreadsheet (e.g., Excel or Google Sheets) files; and
  • The documents were available on the state or local government’s website or mobile app before the date of compliance.

Content Posted by Non-Affiliated Third Party

Sometimes third parties such as members of the public are able to post content on a state or local government website. Because public entities may not be able to control what is posted, they are not responsible for independently posted content such as a comment on a Facebook post.

Individual Password-Protected Documents

Beyond old documents, the DOJ also provided an exception for individual password-protected documents such as an old water bill under the following conditions:

  • The documents are word documents, PDFs, presentations, or spreadsheet files, and
  • The documents are about a specific person, property, or account, and
  • The documents are password-protected.

 Preexisting Social Media Posts

The fifth and last exception under the new rule social media posts made by public entities before the compliance date.

When are the Compliance Deadlines for ADA Title II Web Accessibility?

The Department of Justice divided compliance deadlines into two years and three years based on population. The exact dates are set as:

  • For public entities of a population of 50,000 or less: April 26, 2027
  • For special district governments: April 26, 2027
  • For public entities of a population of 50,000 or more persons: April 24, 2026

What Services are Needed for Title II Web Accessibility Compliance?

To make websites, web content, mobile apps, and documents WCAG 2.1 AA conformant, the following services are essential and/or very helpful:

  • accessibility audit: a formal, manual evaluation of a digital asset where a technical expert finds accessibility issues
  • remediation: a manual process where by a technical expert fixes accessibility issues of a digital asset
  • user testing: a manual exercise where an accessibility professional with one or more disabilities practically tests the digital asset

Accessible.org offers these website accessibility services in addition to consultation. Once your website or mobile app is WCAG 2.1 AA conformant, we can also offer certification and documentation of conformance.

Web Accessibility Training

Training on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is essential for digital teams including web developers, web designers, and content editors so that they begin to learn WCAG 2.1 AA and integrate accessibility into their content creation, content upload, and code editing processes.

Learn more about our expert WCAG and ADA website compliance training.

How Much Will it Cost to Make a Website WCAG 2.1 AA Conformant?

Accessible.org quotes typically range from $4,500 to $7,500 total for audit, remediation, and user testing services. Remediation consists of code level fixes for the more technically complex aspects of accessibility and, at the client’s option, we can include content remediation (e.g., images, audio, video, documents).

Prices depend on a number of factors including:

  • state of accessibility
  • number of pages in scope
  • complexity or simplicity of website
  • platform website is built on

Contact us to request a quote for your website, web content, mobile app, or documents.

How Can You Make Mobile Apps WCAG 2.1 AA Conformant?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are technical standards for web accessibility and thus do not apply evenly to non web assets such as native mobile apps and documents. Think of WCAG standards as made for everything that can be accessed by a web browser.

Although the success criteria or requirements that comprise WCAG 2.1 AA don’t always work for non-web assets, the general principles carry forward. And, some success criteria are simply inapplicable.

For technical documentation from the W3C on how to make mobile apps and other non web assets accessible, read WCAG2ICT: Applying WCAG 2.0 to Non-Web Information and Communications Technologies.

How Long Will It Take to Become Compliant with Title II?

One website usually takes 2-3 months to become fully WCAG 2.1 AA conformant with Accessible.org audit and remediation services. Mobile apps will follow a similar timeline.

The estimated time to remediate documents will vary on the number of documents, type of documents, and number of pages and complexity. Web content such as images, audio, and video also varies based on the size and complexity of the project.

We highly recommend getting started as soon as possible because manual services take time and the number of reputable service providers is limited. Additionally, larger projects including multiple websites and apps can easily extend over one year.

Do you need help organizing your ADA Title II web accessibility project? Accessible.org offers consultation on how to get started, save time, and save money.

How Should Public Entities Start Working Towards Compliance?

State and local governments should immediately start developing a plan for web accessibility that includes studying the new law and its requirements and exceptions, organizing internal efforts, taking inventory of digital assets, mapping out a conservative timeline, deciding what work to source to service providers, researching service providers, training staff on WCAG 2.1 AA standards, and creating a web accessibility policy.

Here is a chronological outline of the steps public entities should take:

  1. Study this guide along with the DOJ’s Fact Sheet on the New Rule on the Accessibility of Web Content and Mobile Apps to ensure your team knows what is required, the compliance dates, and especially knows the exceptions.
  2. Form a digital accessibility committee of at least two people. Appoint one person as the accessibility coordinator. It is best to include people from different departments including IT, legal, and finance. This is so they understand what is necessary to become compliant.
  3. Start training your digital team on WCAG 2.1 AA. Learning the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines will enable your team to make better and more informed decisions on procurement, developing a timeline, and deciding what digital assets and content to work on first. My WCAG Course is the perfect training for learning WCAG 2.1 AA and comes with several resources including Excel spreadsheet checklist, accessibility workflows, and more.
  4. Take an inventory of all of your digital assets including websites, web content, social media channels, documents, and mobile apps.
  5. Devise a budget for service work, consultation, and further training. Allot a budget for accessibility beyond the initial work involved.
  6. Prioritize accessibility work based on budget and asset considerations.
  7. Create an expected timeline to make all content and assets fully WCAG conformant. Note that conformance for websites and mobile apps will very likely need to be sourced while some accessibility work can be completed in-house.
  8. Develop an internal accessibility policy for responsibilities, actions, processes, reporting, documentation, and deadlines. Your accessibility policy is a living document and should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
  9. Begin internal work including researching service providers.
  10. Outline a vendor selection and procurement policy that sets criteria for making purchases and ensuring products and services are accessible.
  11. Execute on policy and begin improving accessibility of assets and content until reaching WCAG 2.1 AA conformance.
  12. Continue training and developing internal processes.

Make sure to start on your accessibility project immediately as WCAG 2.1 AA conformance can take longer than expected. Also note that service providers may have longer queues the longer you wait to work on compliance.

When was the New Rule Announced?

On Monday, April 8, 2024, a DOJ press release announced that Attorney General Merrick B. Garland signed the final rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure the accessibility of web content and mobile applications (apps) for people with disabilities.

Where Can I Find a Copy of The Web Rule?

The DOJ published a full PDF copy of the web rule on ADA.gov. This rule 289 pages long and is officially titled, “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities.”

The new ADA Title II web accessibility rule can also be founder under 28 CFR Part 35 which is a section of the Code of Federal Regulations that implements Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Why Did the DOJ Make The New Web Rule?

Many state and local governments offer services, programs, information, and activities through websites and mobile apps. When these websites and mobile apps are not accessible, it can make access to accommodations difficult if not impossible with people with disabilities.

Thus, the DOJ created the new rule for web accessibility to ensure access to people with disabilities and carry forward the intent behind the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensure state and local governments did not discriminate on the basis with disability.

Here are some examples of how people with disabilities can be prevented from access if digital content is not accessible:

  • Deaf or hard of hearing students may be unable to access information in online class lessons if videos that lack closed captions or sign language interpretation.
  • Mobile apps for public transit systems can prevent access to users with physical disabilities if they don’t provide for voice command features. This can be hinder the ability to or be a barrier to planning routes and purchasing tickets.
  • Visually impaired individuals face difficulty accessing essential public documents in PDF format, such as city council meeting minutes or public health guidelines, if the PDFs aren’t tagged correctly.
  • Public announcements posted as images on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook used for public announcements can be inaccessible to screen reader users if a text alternative for the image is not provided. This means members of the public who are blind or visually impaired might miss critical information.
  • Government websites with videos demonstrating how to vote – and missing an audio description – can result in blind or visually impaired users not having essential information on online voter registration or how to vote at the voting booth.

These are only a very few of the many ways people with disabilities can be excluded from civic participation if digital content is inaccessible. Thus, the DOJ’s new rule on web accessibility will help make sure people with disabilities have access to state and local governments’ services, programs, and activities. This rule will also establishes an explicit standard to follow for state and local governments to work towards for compliance.

How Will The Title II Web Accessibility Rule Affect Title III?

The new web accessibility rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act will have a large impact on Title III regulation. In fact, the new rule will likely affect the current ADA website compliance legal landscape as both plaintiffs’ lawyers and defense attorneys can make arguments that the new Title II rule favors their side.

As far as what to expect when the Department of Justice publishes updated regulation on Title III, we will very likely see the following themes carried forward:

  • WCAG 2.1 AA as the legal standard for digital accessibility
  • allowances based on entity size and resources
  • exceptions for old or archived content

Additionally, the DOJ will learn from reaction and Title II compliance efforts to make Title III regulation even more robust.

New ADA Title II Rule Summary

The new ADA Title II web accessibility rule marks a historic moment in American history. This is the first official update to the Americans with Disabilities Act that addresses the need for access in the modern digital era.

Now that the much anticipated regulatory update has taken place, we can see that the Department of Justice balanced multiple considerations and remained pragmatic in their deadlines and requirements. Ultimately, the DOJ did a solid job.

The key takeaways for state and local governments are:

  • WCAG 2.1 AA conformance is required for digital assets
  • There are 5 exceptions, primarily for archived web content and old documents
  • Public entities in populations of less than 50,000 have 3 years for compliance, public entities in populations of 50,000 or more have 2 years for compliance

To learn more about how we help people with ADA compliance and website accessibility, visit the Accessible.org homepage.