EDUCAUSE Comments: ADA Web Regulations Supplemental Advance Notice

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(October 11, 2016 – Jarret Cummings) The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a supplemental advance notice of proposed rule-making (SANPRM) earlier this year on possible web accessibility regulations for state and local government entities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (Note that a SANPRM represents an interim step in the regulatory process in which an agency seeks further information on regulatory proposals before issuing potential rules for public comment.) EDUCAUSE joined several major higher education presidential and professional associations in submitting a response), including the following:

  • American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
  • American Council on Education (ACE)
  • Association of American Universities (AAU)
  • Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU)
  • Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU)
  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)
  • NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education
  • National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)
  • National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO)
  • National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU)

The comments of this broad-based coalition of leadership associations support DOJ’s proposal to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Version 2.0, Level AA (WCAG 2.0 AA) standards as the basis for potential regulations, subject to limitations acknowledged by DOJ in the SANPRM. The associations recommend, however, that DOJ adopt a five-year compliance timeframe for most higher education institutions; this includes a requirement that, by the third year, institutions would have to produce comprehensive plans for achieving regulatory compliance. (Longer planning and compliance timeframes are recommended for small and very small institutions, consistent with DOJ points in the SANPRM.)

The associations also agree with DOJ proposals for (a) learning/content management system compliance for course content provided solely to the campus community, and (b) course content compliance when a student with a disability enrolls in a given course, subject to important clarifications (e.g., what constitutes “enrolls” and “within a reasonable timeframe”). Reflecting research community concerns, the joint response asks DOJ to recognize the significant research activities supported by institutional web presences that are distinct from the standard functions of state and local government sites. With this in mind, the associations request that DOJ focus compliance requirements on sites and content over which the institution maintains direct, centralized control, even as colleges and universities continue to recognize and fulfill their responsibilities under the ADA to reasonably accommodate individualized needs.

DOJ has provided no indication of when it will proceed from gathering additional information to proposing formal regulations. Given the volume of SANPRM input as well as the pending change in presidential administrations, it could take some time. DOJ originally began to consider ADA web accessibility regulations in 2010 before rebooting the research and analysis phase of its work this May. EDUCAUSE will continue to work with members and other associations to monitor DOJ’s progress and represent the full array of EDUCAUSE and higher education community interests in this vital area.

Jarret Cummings is director of policy and government relations at EDUCAUSE.