The DOJ enforces web and mobile app accessibility for state and local governments

Topics:

  • ADA
  • Accessible social media
  • DOJ

Location:

  • United States

Driving the news:

In a significant move to enhance digital accessibility, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has introduced a final rule requiring public entities to ensure their websites and mobile apps are accessible to individuals with disabilities. This new rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also extends to making social media posts accessible, a topic that has sparked considerable debate.

Why it matters: 

Despite public entities increasingly using social media platforms to share information about services, programs, and activities, much of this content remains inaccessible. Millions of Americans have disabilities that impact their use of web content and mobile apps, highlighting a critical need for improved digital accessibility standards.

The DOJ’s new rule has ignited diverse controversy, with commenters from public entities and trade groups arguing that social media posts are akin to advertising and should be exempt. However, the DOJ emphasizes the critical need for accessible social media content, especially for emergency or time-sensitive communications, such as toxic spill and wildfire smoke alerts.

The DOJ states that, if information is worth sharing with the general public, it is equally important for individuals with disabilities. Therefore, public entities will not be relieved of their duties to ensure that social media posts are made accessible, irrespective of the urgency.

Some commenters suggested creating separate accessible pages for people with disabilities, but the DOJ has rejected this idea. Although this approach may only be used in very limited circumstances, the Department agrees with disability advocates who expressed concerns that having two versions of the same web content or mobile app could lead to segregation and information inconsistencies. This would contradict the ADA’s principles of inclusion and integration, and potentially worsen the user experience for people with disabilities.

The final rule highlights that the most common barrier of inaccessibility on public entity websites and apps is the failure to use alternative text or alt text to describe images. Without alt text, screen readers and other assistive technologies cannot interpret images, leaving individuals who are blind unable to independently access the information conveyed by these images.

The DOJ mandates that public entities use accessibility features like alt text and captions for live video content, conforming to WCAG 2.1 Level AA success criteria. These standards apply to both public entity-owned platforms and third-party sites like Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.

Bottom line: 

The DOJ states that there is no acceptable reason to exclude individuals with disabilities from social media communications. By June 24, 2024, public entities must now take proactive measures to comply with the Department’s final rule, ensuring everyone can participate in social media-based public dialogues.

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