Use of Conforming Alternate Versions Limited in New ADA Title II Web Rule

A conforming alternative version is a second version of a website, mobile app, or web content that is accessible. One problem is that this version is not the primary version of the digital asset, it’s an alternative.

In the new ADA Title II web rule, the Department of Justice didn’t completely disallow conforming alternative versions but they did discourage and severely limit when public entities can use them.

What are Conforming Alternate Versions?

  • State and local governments sometimes maintain two versions of their digital content: one that is accessible (conforming alternate version) and one that is not.
  • The accessible version provides the same information and functionality as the non-accessible version.

When Alternate Versions Can Be Used?

State and local governments are allowed to use alternate versions only when there is a technical or legal limitation that prevents inaccessible web content or mobile apps from being made accessible. It will be very hard to demonstrate a limitation in most circumstances.

Here are the key bullet points on the usage of alternate versions are allowed per the ADA Title II Web Fact Sheet:

  • Generally, state and local governments should not have a main web page that is inaccessible and a separate accessible version of the same content, because people with disabilities should have equal access to the content.
  • Accessibility should be integrated directly into the main version of the content rather than creating a separate, accessible version.
  • Under the rule, state and local governments may use conforming alternate versions only in very limited circumstances.
  • Public entities are allowed to do this only when there is a technical or legal limitation that prevents inaccessible web content or mobile apps from being made accessible.

Use Considerations

  • Keeping two versions of a website or app updated and consistent can be difficult and lead to greater expense. Also, it’s very likely that the primary and separate versions receive different levels of attention which can easily lead to the primary version receiving updates the alternate version does not.
  • Even the mere presence of a separate accessible version can lead to a segregated experience for users with disabilities.

Exceptions

There are specific conditions under which public entities do not need to fully comply with WCAG 2.1 AA conformance, such as when compliance would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or impose undue burdens (Sections 35.200(b)(1) and (2), 35.204).

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