Accessibility and the Law

Conformance with WCAG is a best practice for legal compliance. WCAG is the universally accepted set of technical standards that, when followed, make digital experiences more accessible. As the global standard, many laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, reference conformance with WCAG. The resources below, which go to third-party websites, provide more information about these laws.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990, outlaws discrimination against people with disabilities. The ADA guarantees that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in all aspects of everyday life. This includes access to employment opportunities, purchasing goods and services (Title III), and participating in the programs and services that their state and local governments (Title II) offer.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

Canada’s AODA, which became law in 2005, is the legal foundation for identifying, removing and preventing barriers for people with disabilities. The AODA allows the Government of Ontario to develop specific standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities. These standards are rules that businesses, organizations, and government need to follow to eliminate accessibility barriers.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, federal agencies must give employees with disabilities and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 states that no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that either receives federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service. Each federal agency has its own set of section 504 regulations that apply to its programs. Some of the most common requirements include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations.

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 503 prohibits those doing business with the Federal Government–federal contractors and subcontractors–from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in employment. It also requires employers to take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote, and retain these individuals with disabilities.

21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

The CVAA was signed into law in 2010. This law updates federal communications law to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications. The CVAA makes sure that accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s are brought up to date with 21st century technologies, including new digital, broadband, and mobile innovations.

Air Carrier Access Act of 1986

Part 382 of this law prohibits both U.S. and foreign carriers from discriminating against passengers on the basis of disability; requires carriers to make aircraft, other facilities, and services accessible; and requires air carriers to take steps to accommodate passengers with a disability.

Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Section 1557 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs and activities. Among the protections for people with disabilities is the requirement to make all programs and activities provided through electronic and information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities. This requirement is subject to whether doing so would impose undue financial or administrative burdens, or would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the covered entity’s health program or activity.

EN 301 549 Compliance

Similar to Section 508 in the U.S., EN 301 549 requires all public-sector organizations in Europe to make their digital technology accessible. This includes websites, software, electronic devices, and mobile apps. This regulation also impacts public and private-sector procurement processes. If you’re selling into Europe’s public sector, your product must be accessible. But the aim of EN 301 549 is to be used in the private sector as well. Non-accessible digital products will likely impact procurement opportunities.