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DOJ (Finally) Releases Website ADA Accessibility Guidance – But Still No Clear Rules

Over half a decade after the industry developed its own standards in light of a lack of meaningful guidance from regulators, the Department of Justice recently issued a guidance document on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for website accessibility. While the DOJ still has not issued an enforceable regulation with explicit standards for website accessibility, the DOJ’s new guidance reaffirms the role of compliance with “WCAG” standards and signals an increased focus on the importance of making the internet more accessible.

What Does the Guidance Suggest About ADA Applicability to Websites?

The guidance illustrates the DOJ’s stance that the ADA’s requirements apply to all online services, programs, and activities of businesses that are open to the public, as well as to state and local governments. The guidance acknowledges that website accessibility can be achieved by abiding by the industry-developed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. The WCAG asserts that web content should be “perceivable, operational, understandable, and robust” for all people. Specifically, users should be able to perceive the information presented through sight, hearing, or touch; all of the navigable components of the website should work and include full interaction capabilities for all people; the information should be easily understood; the content must be capable of reliable interpretation by most common assistive technologies.

According to the DOJ, website accessibility barriers include:

  1. Color cues alone to sort information: When websites sort information solely by color cues, people who are colorblind or rely on screen readers are not able to access the information in the same way others are.

  2. Images without text alternatives: People who are visually impaired are not able to understand the content and purpose of images when no text alternative is provided.

  3. Videos without captions: People with hearing disabilities may not be able to understand the information presented in a video if the video does not have captions.

How Does the Guidance Suggest Websites Comply with the ADA? 

The DOJ encourages applicable companies that operate websites to confirm accessibility via automated accessibility systems as well as manual checks and to include functions for the public to report accessibility issues. The guidance provides resources such as a comprehensive accessibility guide, a link to WCAG, and websites with tools and training on implementing website accessibility requirements.

The guidance recommends the following controls to ensure web accessibility:

  1. Color contrast

  2. Text cues

  3. Text alternatives

  4. Video captions

  5. Labels, keyboard access, and clear instructions in form fields

  6. Headings


Companies should take the DOJ’s guidance as an opportunity to assess whether their websites are accessible. Doing so in consultation with legal counsel may also mitigate the risks of enforcement actions, with private plaintiffs routinely pursuing class action claims under the ADA and state laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act.

The full guidance may be found here.   

© 2023 ArentFox Schiff LLPNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 96

About this Author

Eva J. Pulliam Attorney Brand Protection Arent Fox Schiff Washington DC

Eva splits her time between Washington and San Francisco and concentrates her practice on brand protection: protecting data, brand image, and brand names. She advises clients across numerous industries on best practices in the areas of data privacy, advertising and marketing, and trademark. Household names, tech giants and startups, non-profits, and other innovative organizations call on Eva to guide them through product development and brand management. 

In the privacy space, Eva counsels clients around data collection, use, and transfer, as...

Christine Chong Privacy Attorney ArentFox Schiff San Francisco

As an Associate on the privacy, cybersecurity, and data protection team, Christine helps clients with regulatory compliance, data breach response, technology transactions, vendor contracting, marketing initiatives, and external and internal-facing policies. Her clients include international consumer products, e-commerce, manufacturing, data analytics services, retail and technology businesses, and not-for-profit organizations. 

Christine regularly advises on ethical data use, machine learning and artificial intelligence, vendor contracting, and...

Destiny Planter Attorney Copyright Law ArentFox Schiff Washington DC

Prior to joining ArentFox Schiff, Destiny was awarded the Frances Phillips Fellowship. She used this opportunity to work with the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect and volunteer in orphanages in Kenya and Ghana. She then joined the Carolina College Advising Corps at Ben L. Smith High School in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she worked to increase the rates of college enrollment and completion among low-income, first-generation college and underrepresented high school students.

While in law...