On March 14th, 2016, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed seven bills into law, including Intro. 683-A requiring government websites to meet specific accessibility standards. This marks the first time a major city in the United States has adopted legislation of this kind and, no doubt, state and local governments across the country will follow in the city’s footsteps. New York’s government serves a diverse population of over 8 million, and Mayor de Blasio stated that is why they “strive to increase inclusivity, especially when it comes to New Yorkers with disabilities.” The bill comes when long overdue, standard federal regulations have failed to be put into place and a rising national pressure to increase online accessibility. The pressure is evident through the more than 40-60 estimated lawsuits filed on website accessibility in 2015.
NYC Initiative 0683-A highlights:
- The mayor will implement protocol for websites maintained by or on behalf of the city or a city agency relating to website accessibility for individuals with disabilities
- City government websites must use either of these standards:
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (section1194.22 of title 36 of the code of federal regulations)
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA, developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium
- Any successor standards may be used, provided they are determined by the mayor or the mayor’s designee, after consulting with experts and the holding of a public hearing, that such standards provide adequate communication for individuals with disabilities. This protocol must be documented and available to view online
- Government agencies are not required to fundamentally alter the nature of any program, activity or service
- Agencies may be exempt if updating a website causes undue administrative and financial burdens
- Local law takes effect six months after it becomes law
- The mayor will submit a report to the council documenting the state of compliance of websites maintained by the city or a city agency with the above standards by July 1, 2017, and every two years after that
What this means
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has continually delayed putting web
accessibility regulations into place
under Title II of the ADA; the most recent delay stating regulations would not be coming until 2018. The lack of standardized regulations has left the door open for state and local governments to step in and establish rules of their own for government agencies, federal contractors and areas of public accommodations. New York City was the first totake that step
and create their own protocol, but it would be in the best interest of the DOJ to quickly take action and implement national rules. Ideally, they should do so before hundreds varying rules are set by cities across the US, creating a nightmare for agencies and businesses with websites serving multiple cities and states.
Organizations, federal contractors, and business owners would be wise to take a proactive approach and test their websites for accessibility and correct any errors. The trend toward online inclusivity will continue to move forward, lack of action could result in serious financial penalties and a potential lawsuit. While standard regulations are absent, that does not mean your website is safe. Since the early 2000’s companies have been sued, some for millions of dollars, over the lack of accessibility of their website.
How do you make your website accessible with an absence of standard regulations?
- Follow Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines. WCAG was developed by the World Worldwide Web Consortium by working with organizations and individuals worldwide to create a global standard for web accessibility
- Scan your website for Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 guidelines using AuditGenie™ to identify accessibility errors
- Work with your web developer or the AuditGenie™ team to remedy errors
- Schedule a monthly scan of your website to maintain accessibility
The real question here is “why has this taken so long?” How is it that millions of websites can purchase items in less than three clicks, are interactive, and beautifully designed, but not accessible? This is and should no longer be acceptable; thus, New York City has made a progressive move to enforce the accessibility of the city’s government websites, but the fact is online inclusivity should be a human right. The call to action here is, make your website accessible. Start by contacting us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.