What is Web Content Under Title II of the ADA?

In the executive summary for the new web accessibility rule published in the Federal Register, we see the following section:

In this rule, the Department establishes technical standards for web content and mobile app accessibility to give public entities greater clarity in exactly how to meet their ADA obligations and to help ensure equal access to government services for individuals with disabilities.

FederalRegister.gov

The phrase web content is used over and over in the update to regulation, but what exactly is web content under the new ADA Title II rule?

What is Web Content?

“Web content” is defined as the information and experiences available on the web, like text, images, sound, videos, and documents. You can find more information about how the Department defines “web content” in the rule in the section of the appendix called “Section 35.104 Definitions.”

This is taken directly from the Fact Sheet for the new Title II rule.

But this is worded strangely – what does this actually mean in real terms?

Why wouldn’t you include websites in the definition just for clarity?

Look what precedes that definition in the Federal Register:

“The Department has consistently made clear that the title II nondiscrimination requirements apply to all services, programs, and activities of public entities (also referred to as “government services”), including those provided via the web. It also includes those provided via mobile apps.”

Again, why don’t they say websites when websites are clearly implicated and the rule frequently references websites throughout?

Let’s look to the official definition in the Federal Register to see if they make things any clearer.

§ 35.104 Definitions: Web Content

Web content means the information and sensory experience to be communicated to the user by means of a user agent, including code or markup that defines the content’s structure, presentation, and interactions. Examples of web content include text, images, sounds, videos, controls, animations, and conventional electronic documents.

FederalRegister.gov

For some reason they still won’t outright say websites although we at least get “including code or markup” this time.

When I was reading this overly technical and somewhat vague definition, I thought to myself, that sounds like WCAG. And then I thought, wait, I bet it is from the W3C.

Sure enough, here’s the W3C’s definition of web content from their WCAG overview:

Web “content” generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including:

  • natural information such as text, images, and sounds
  • code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.

For some reason, the W3C itself can’t help itself – they just can’t write in plain language and that flaw reappears in the new final rule.

Web Content Meaning in Plain English

Because the DOJ for some reason can’t or won’t just come out and say it, here’s what web content means:

Web content is any content that is accessed by a web browser.

Real Examples of Web Content

In addition to some of the specific examples, here are the more broad categories of web content that most people will be familiar with:

  • social media
  • websites
  • portals
  • web platforms
  • web applications

Obviously this includes the websites of public entities, but it also means that all social media accounts (TikTok, Twitter/X, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.) need to be WCAG 2.1 AA conformant.

Summary

I understand the desire for technical accuracy, but the Fact Sheet was the place to spell this out and they elected to be strangely vague about what web content is.

I think the DOJ should have provided a much more exhaustive list of examples because you need to make understanding the law as simple and as clear as possible.

Resources

If you need help with accessibility, there is a full Resource Center for ADA Title II Compliance on Accessible.org.

Also, we offer the manual services necessary for WCAG 2.1 AA conformance including audit, remediation, and user testing services.

Visit Accessible.org to learn how we can help you with Title II compliance.

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