DOJ Seeks Fresh Input on Web Accessibility Regulations

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UPDATE: The U.S. Dept. of Justice has extended the comment deadline on the notice discussed below from August 8th to October 7th.

(June 21, 2016 – Jarret Cummings) Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew its notice of proposed rule-making on web accessibility regulations for state and local government entities, including public higher education institutions, under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Originally issued in 2010 as part of an advanced notice of proposed rule-making (ANPRM) that covered Title II as well as Title III entities (private organizations that constitute "places of public accommodations or commercial facilities"), the potential rules presented in the NPRM had been under review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) since 2014.

At the same time DOJ announced the withdrawal of its 2014 NPRM, which essentially applied the 2010 proposed rules to Title II entities, DOJ released a supplemental notice of proposed rule-making (SANPRM) again focusing on state and local governments, including public higher education institutions. This new rule-making notice seeks information to update DOJ's regulatory proposals from six years ago. It is also intended to generate information necessary for better understanding the potential scope and impact of ADA web accessibility regulations on the development and delivery of online content and services, as well as related costs and benefits.

In focusing the SANPRM on Title II, DOJ essentially continued with its 2014 decision to address web accessibility regulations for state and local governments first before tackling related regulations for private organizations, such as private, non-profit higher education institutions. There is little doubt, however, that any eventual Title II regulations will serve as a template for Title III regulations. There is also little doubt that DOJ has greatly expanded the scope of its inquiry. The original 2010 ANPRM covered 19 questions. Granted, many of those were multi-part questions, but that pales in comparison to the over 120 questions, mostly multi-part, presented in the SANPRM over the course of 100 pages. Unfortunately, DOJ has set the comment deadline for the current notice at August 8th, which seriously limits the ability of higher education institutions, systems or districts, or the community at large to fully and effectively respond.

EDUCAUSE is currently engaged with other higher education associations in evaluating options for response, particularly since the SANPRM directs specific questions to higher education institutions. We have also filed a request with DOJ seeking an extension of the comment deadline to at least this November. In the meantime, member institutions may wish to evaluate the SANPRM and consider filing comments on topics about which they have particular concerns or relevant data, again noting the current comment deadline is August 8th.

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