New HHS Rule Summary: Web and Mobile App Accessibility (WCAG 2.1 AA) Required

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just issued a new final rule that updates Section 504 regulation to provide even more protections for people with disabilities.

In this guide, we’ll tell you summarize the rule, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance, and tell you exactly what you need to know when it comes to digital accessibility requirements.

Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance and the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) new rule updates, modernizes, and clarifies Section 504 for entities regulated by HHS.

What are the Essentials?

If you are covered under this new HHS rule, for digital accessibility, you need to make sure your website, web content (including documents), and mobile apps are WCAG 2.1 AA conformant.

There are certain content exceptions you must know about.

You either have until May 11, 2026 or May 10, 2027 depending on whether or not you have 15 or more employees.

What’s convenient in the web accessibility requirements mirror the ADA Title II requirements so you can use our ADA Title II Resource Center to help plan your compliance project.

Of course, we also offer manual digital accessibility services you need to make your websites, mobile apps, and other content WCAG 2.1 AA conformant.

What is the New HHS Rule?

The current Section 504 regulation for Part 84 sets forth a number of prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of disability (digital accessibility is just one part of it).

Per the HHS Fact Sheet, the final rule updates the current Section 504 regulations to clarify several crucial areas not explicitly addressed in the current rule:

  • Medical treatment: The rule ensures that medical treatment decisions by those that receive Federal financial assistance from the Department (“recipients”) are not based on biases or stereotypes about individuals with disabilities, judgments that an individual with a disability will be a burden on others, or beliefs that the life of an individual with a disability has less value than the life of a person without a disability.
  • Value assessment methods: The final rule prohibits the discriminatory use of value assessment methods because value assessment methods may lead to discrimination against individuals with disabilities when they place a lower value on life-extension for individuals with disabilities or when that method is used to limit access or deny aids, benefits, or services.
  • Child welfare programs and activities: The new rule includes detailed requirements to ensure nondiscrimination in the services provided by child welfare agencies, including, but not limited to, parent-child visitation, reunification services, child placement, parenting skills programs, and in- and out-of-home services.
  • Web and mobile accessibility: The final rule defines what accessibility means for websites and mobile applications and requires conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA technical standards.
  • Accessible medical equipment: The final rule adopts the U.S. Access Board’s standards for accessible medical diagnostic equipment. The final rule also requires that, within two years of the effective date, recipients using examination tables and/or weight scales have at least one accessible version of the equipment.
  • Integration: The existing Section 504 regulation requires programs and activities to be administered in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of a person with a disability. The final rule will help recipients better understand and comply with their obligations under Section 504 and provide more detail about the right to be served in the most integrated setting appropriate for individuals with disabilities.

Who is Covered by the New HHS Rule?

Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance. This new rule applies to entities receiving federal financial assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Per HHS.gov, the following are recipients of Federal financial assistance from HHS and must comply with the new rule’s requirements:

  • Health care providers participating in CHIP and Medicaid programs
  • Hospitals and nursing homes (recipients under Medicare Part A)
  • Medical, preventative, and mental health services covered under Medicare Part B
  • Medicare Advantage Plans (e.g., HMOs and PPOs) (recipients under Medicare Part C)
  • Prescription Drug Plan sponsors and Medicare Advantage Drug Plans (recipients under Medicare Part D)
  • Human or social service agencies
  • Insurers who are participating in the Marketplaces and receiving premium tax credits.

What are the Website and Mobile App Accessibility Requirements?

Per the final rule in FederalRegister.gov, here are the key takeaways:

  • WCAG 2.1 AA conformance is required for websites, web content, and mobile apps
  • There are five content exceptions:
    • Archived web content
    • Preexisting conventional electronic documents
    • Content posted by a third party
    • Individualized, password-protected documents or otherwise secured conventional electronic documents
    • Preexisting social media posts
  • Use of conforming alternate versions is extremely restricted
  • Minor nonconformance with WCAG 2.1 AA is permissible in the limited circumstance that has a minimal impact on access

Notice that these requirements mirror the ADA Title II web accessibility requirements.

HHS Rule: Full Text on Digital Accessibility

The full material sections specific to digital accessibility are added below.

§ 84.84 Requirements for web and mobile accessibility.

(a) General. A recipient shall ensure that the following are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities:

(1) Web content that a recipient provides or makes available, directly or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements; and

(2) Mobile apps that a recipient provides or makes available, directly or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements.

(b) Requirements. (1) Beginning May 11, 2026, a recipient with fifteen or more employees shall ensure that the web content and mobile apps that the recipient provides or makes available, directly or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements, comply with Level A and Level AA success criteria and conformance requirements specified in WCAG 2.1, unless the recipient can demonstrate that compliance with this section would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens.

(2) Beginning May 10, 2027, a recipient with fewer than fifteen employees shall ensure that the web content and mobile apps that the recipient provides or makes available, directly or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements, comply with Level A and Level AA success criteria and conformance requirements specified in WCAG 2.1, unless the recipient can demonstrate that compliance with this section would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens.

(3) WCAG 2.1 is incorporated by reference into this section with the approval of the Director of the Federal Register under 5 U.S.C. 552(a) and 1 CFR part 51. All material approved for incorporation by reference (IBR) is available for inspection at HHS and at the National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA”). Contact HHS, OCR at: Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services…

§ 84.85

Exceptions.

The requirements of § 84.84 do not apply to the following:

(a) Archived web content. Archived web content as defined in § 84.10.

(b) Preexisting conventional electronic documents. Conventional electronic documents that are available as part of a recipient’s web content or mobile apps before the date the recipient is required to comply with § 84.84, unless such documents are currently used to apply for, gain access to, or participate in the recipient’s programs or activities.

(c) Content posted by a third party. Content posted by a third party, unless the third party is posting due to contractual, licensing, or other arrangements with the recipient.

(d) Individualized, password-protected documents or otherwise secured conventional electronic documents. Conventional electronic documents that are:

(1) About a specific individual, their property, or their account; and

(2) Password-protected or otherwise secured.

(e) Preexisting social media posts. A recipient’s social media posts that were posted before the date the recipient is required to comply with § 84.84.

§ 84.86

Conforming alternate versions.

(a) A recipient may use conforming alternate versions of web content, as defined by WCAG 2.1, to comply with § 84.84 only where it is not possible to make web content directly accessible due to technical or legal limitations.

(b) WCAG 2.1 is incorporated by reference into this section with the approval of the Director of the Federal Register under 5 U.S.C. 552(a) and 1 CFR part 51. All material approved for incorporation by reference is available for inspection at HHS and at NARA. Contact HHS, OCR at: Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services…

§ 84.87

Equivalent facilitation.

Nothing in this subpart prevents the use of designs, methods, or techniques as alternatives to those prescribed, provided that the alternative designs, methods, or techniques result in substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability of the web content or mobile app.

§ 84.88

Duties.

Where a recipient can demonstrate that compliance with the requirements of § 84.84 would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens, compliance with § 84.84 is required to the extent that it does not result in a fundamental alteration or undue financial and administrative burdens. In those circumstances where personnel of the recipient believe that the proposed action would fundamentally alter the program or activity or would result in undue financial and administrative burdens, a recipient has the burden of proving that compliance with § 84.84 would result in such alteration or burdens. The decision that compliance would result in such alteration or burdens must be made by the head of a recipient or their designee after considering all resources available for use in the funding and operation of the program or activity, and must be accompanied by a written statement of the reasons for reaching that conclusion. If an action would result in such an alteration or such burdens, a recipient shall take any other action that would not result in such an alteration or such burdens but would nevertheless ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the benefits or services provided by the recipient to the maximum extent possible.

§ 84.89

Effect of noncompliance that has a minimal impact on access.

A recipient that is not in full compliance with the requirements of § 84.84(b) will be deemed to have met the requirements of § 84.84 in the limited circumstance in which the recipient can demonstrate that the noncompliance has such a minimal impact on access that it would not affect the ability of individuals with disabilities to use the recipient’s web content or mobile app to do any of the following in a manner that provides substantially equivalent timeliness, privacy, independence, and ease of use:

(a) Access the same information as individuals without disabilities;

(b) Engage in the same interactions as individuals without disabilities;

(c) Conduct the same transactions as individuals without disabilities; and

(d) Otherwise participate in or benefit from the same programs and activities as individuals without disabilities.

When is the HHS Web Accessibility Compliance Deadline?

For recipients with 15 or more employees, the deadline for WCAG 2.1 AA conformance is May 11, 2026.

For recipients with less than 15 employees, the deadline for WCAG 2.1 AA conformance is May 10, 2027.

Here the department gave an extra year for smaller companies and and organizations.

Summary

The new rule from the The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) requires much more than digital accessibility, but even just the WCAG 2.1 AA conformance requirement for mobile app and website accessibility (and web content) requires its own project.

The reason the Department provided two and three years to get into compliance is because WCAG 2.1 AA conformance takes time.

If you need help making your website, web content, and mobile apps accessible, visit Accessible.org to find out how we can help.

We offer manual audit, user testing, and website accessibility remediation services to help you with 504 compliance.

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