Health and Human Services Issues New Anti-Discrimination Rule, Requires WCAG 2.1 AA for Digital

Another month, another major update to the law. And another incorporation of WCAG 2.1 AA standards.

On May 9, 2024, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a new rule, Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Health and Human Service Programs or Activities, designed to strengthen protections for individuals with disabilities in healthcare. This rule updates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to ensure nondiscrimination in federally funded health and human services programs.

Amongst sevearl other protections, the final rule mandates conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA for websites and mobile applications.

Who Must is Affected?

The historic rule ensures civil rights protections for people with disabilities in federally funded health and human services programs.

This means hospitals, health care providers participating in CHIP and Medicaid programs, state and local human or social service agencies, nursing homes, and any program or activity receiving funding from HHS must be compliant.

What Does This Mean for Digital?

The new rule ensures that digital platforms – including websites and mobile apps – used by health and human services programs are accessible to individuals with disabilities, aligning with technical standards set just last month (April) by the Department of Justice under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Clarification

The new rule isn’t so much about additional requirements so much as it is clarifying existing requirements. And there’s much more than just digital accessibility. Per the Section 504 Part 84 Fact Sheet, here are the key clarifications:

  • Medical Treatment: Ensures treatment decisions by federally funded entities are free from bias or stereotypes about disabilities and are not based on assumptions about the value of lives with disabilities.
  • Value Assessment Methods: Prohibits discriminatory use of value assessments that place lower value on life-extension for individuals with disabilities or limit their access to benefits and services.
  • Child Welfare Programs: Enforces nondiscrimination in child welfare services, including parent-child visitation, reunification services, child placement, and in- and out-of-home services.
  • Web and Mobile Accessibility: Requires conformance with WCAG 2.1 AA for websites and mobile apps, ensuring digital accessibility in health and human services.
  • Accessible Medical Equipment: Adopts standards for accessible diagnostic equipment and mandates that recipients have at least one accessible examination table and weight scale within two years.
  • Integration: Reinforces the requirement for community-based services, ensuring programs and activities are provided in the most integrated setting suitable for individuals with disabilities.

Additional Provisions

Other provisions in the updated regulation include:

  • Service Animals: Use of trained service animals must be permitted except under certain circumstances.
  • Maintenance of Accessible Features: Facilities and equipment required to be accessible must be maintained in operable working order.
  • Effective Communication: Ensuring effective communication with individuals with hearing, vision, and speech disabilities through auxiliary aids and services.
  • Non-Retaliation: Recipients may not retaliate against individuals for asserting their rights under Section 504.

Summary

The new HHS update is quite extensive, but just with WCAG 2.1 AA conformance required, there’s a lot to work on for health care providers.

If you need help with digital accessibility, visit Accessible.org to learn more about our services.

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