Web Accessibility And The Law: Is There A Legal Requirement To Implement WCAG?

Digital technology has made life easier. Unfortunately, people with disabilities do not always have equal access to these technologies. So, how can we ensure that those with disabilities have equitable access? With proper regulation in place!

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, released by the WWW Consortium, are commonly referred to like a benchmark to accessibility compliance. The WCAG is like a list of steps for making online content more accessible.

However, the regulations that guide online accessibility range from one nation to another. And in most cases, the criteria for websites are not clearly stated in these standards. This article will provide an introductory overview of website accessibility laws and other benefits beyond the law.

Warning: Don’t take the material in this post as legal advice. You should contact an appropriate legal authority if you have any queries regarding the policies’ application in specific instances.

An Overview Of Website Accessibility Laws

Here you have an overview of each country’s law separately.

US Web Accessibility Laws

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first federal law to proscribe discrimination based on disability.

People with disabilities formerly did not always have access to community transit, telephones, restrooms, or buildings. Because so much of daily life now takes place on digital platforms, accessibility laws are more important than ever. We must mention here Section 508, Section 504, and ADA.

Section 508

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was modified with Section 508.

  • It requires government institutions to ensure their electronics and information technologies are equally accessible to people with a handicap.
  • In 2018, Section 508 was updated to provide new criteria that reflect technological advancements.
  • The WCAG is now included as a worldwide standard for accessibility.
  • Section 508 has brought the United States’ accessibility standards in line with those of other countries, as the World Wide Web Consortium’s (WCAG) is primarily regarded as a comprehensive standard.
Note: Unless a private group obtains federal money or is engaged under contract with a federal agency, Section 508 does not apply to their websites.

ADA – Americans with Disability Act

The Americans with Disability Act was established to prevent people with a handicap from discrimination.

  • Title I of the ADA deals with workplace discrimination,
  • Title II covers state and local government parts.
  • Title III of the ADA – People with disabilities must have access to public accommodations and commercial facilities such as restaurants, movie theaters, and doctors’ offices

Even though online accessibility isn’t explicitly specified, if a company sells products and services on its website or mobile applications, it must guarantee that individuals with disabilities have equitable access.

Section 504

  • Discrimination based on disability is illegal under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • Organizations receiving federal funds must make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities to guarantee equitable access.

CVAA

The Closed Captioning for Internet Video Act (CVAA) was passed in 2010 and covers closed captioning for online video.

  • Applies to all online videos with closed captions previously broadcast on US television.
  • Applies to stream services that make TV episodes, trailers, and montages available online.
  • After live programming has aired on television, clips and montages of such programming are allowed a 12-hour delay.
  • For clips of near-live programs, an 8-hour delay is permitted.

Closed captioning laws set out by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must be followed, including quality criteria for timing, placement, accuracy, and completeness.

EU Web Accessibility Laws

With the EU Web Accessibility Directive and the European Accessibility Act, the EU has taken significant efforts toward developing unified accessibility requirements for EU member states (EAA).

Both of these directives are not laws in and of themselves; instead, they explain how accessibility should be implemented, and it is up to each EU member state to incorporate the directive into national legislation.

Important: At the moment, there are no explicit obligatory accessibility criteria at the EU level.

EU Web Accessibility Directive

  • Public sector organizations must comply with the WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessibility level for their websites and mobile apps.
  • State, regional, and municipal governments and bodies controlled by public law are considered public sector bodies.
  • All relevant public entities must verify that their websites and mobile apps are accessible
  • Exempt groups include public service broadcasters, schools, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that do not offer services vital to the public or individuals with disabilities

European Accessibility Act

The EAA is a European Union directive to establish a single accessibility standard for essential items and services traded between EU member states.

  • The EAA is also known as Regulation 2019/882,
  • It covers computer and operating system manufacturers, ATMs, ticketing devices, financial services, eCommerce websites, and applications, to mention a few.
  • The EU enacted the EAA in June 2019
  • Member states must transfer it into national law by June 2022
  • Must be entirely implemented by June 2025.

Canadian Web Accessibility Laws

If your business is based in Canada, you should have been familiar with the Accessible Canada Act and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. However, there are a few other acts worth mentioning.

The Accessible Canada Act

The Act is part of a mandate for a barrier-free Canada, and it aims to eliminate barriers to accessibility in information and communication technologies (ICT).

  • Bill C-81, often known as the Accessible Canada Act, was signed on June 21, 2019.
  • It is a necessity for all federally regulated enterprises.
  • Failure to comply might result in a punishment of up to $250,000.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was established to make Ontario without blocks by 2025.

  • The AODA mandates governmental, commercial, and non-profit entities to guarantee that their websites and web content conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA as of January 1, 2021.
  • Organizations that fail to comply face fines of up to $100,000 each day of noncompliance.

Accessibility for Manitobans Act

As part of Manitoba’s ambition to become more inclusive by 2023, the Accessibility for Manitobans Act was enacted in 2013.

  • The AMA has five accessibility instructions that encompass significant aspects of daily living.
  • The Information and Communications Accessibility Standard is the online accessibility standard,
  • While it is still in development, you can anticipate it to match the WCAG standard.

British Columbia Accessibility Act

Bill 6, the British Columbia Accessibility Act, was introduced in 2021 and, if enacted, might be in place by the end of 2022, with the overall idea of making British Columbia accessible by 2024.

Like the AMA and the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act, this law would set accessibility standards and rules that remove obstacles in various sectors, including information and communication.

Nova Scotia Accessibility Act

The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act, often known as Bill 59, became law in 2017, making it the third province after Ontario and Manitoba to implement accessibility legislation.

Six standards are now being developed that will address accessibility in many sectors of everyday life, similar to what the AMA is going through. The Information and Communications standard, connected to online accessibility, follows the WCAG 2.0 Level AA accessibility standards.

Note: Currently, nearly 6.2 million people in Canada have one or more impairments, so those statutes are necessary.

Australian Web Accessibility Laws

As public awareness and campaigning grew, the 1980s were a watershed moment in Australia’s disability rights movement. The Disability Services Act of 1986 was noteworthy in that it established a framework for funding and delivering disability support services, recognizing disability rights as a critical area for improvement.

Since then, many improvements in protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities have occurred, of which both public and private sector organizations must be aware.

Disability Discrimination Act

  • The Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 applies to commercial and public sectors
  • It expressly forbids discrimination against individuals with disabilities by suppliers of products, services, and facilities.
  •  This includes financial services, education, employment, public transportation, other digital resources, websites, etc.
  • Refusing to make a tremendous change to your website for disabled visitors is deemed discrimination, and you might face legal consequences.

Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services

  • In 2020, AS EN 301 549:2020, the accessibility criteria for ICT products and services was modified and implemented.
  • It now requires WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliance for ICT goods and services acquired by Australian government agencies.
  • In contrast, the previous version of the standard (AS EN 301 549) only needed WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance.
  • The standard encompasses hardware and software, video technology, websites, digital documents, and technologies that offer access to emergency services when it comes to products and services.

UK Web Accessibility Laws

All UK service providers must make reasonable changes under the Equality Act 2010, British National Standard (8878), or the Communications Act of 2003.

The Equality Act

The EQA is the United Kingdom’s principal anti-discrimination Act, similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States. It consolidated more than 115 pieces of law into a single one.

  • The EQA protects persons with disabilities regardless of their disability and compels businesses to make “reasonable changes” to accommodate them.
  • The EQA does not explicitly cover web access. However, there is growing agreement that all websites should be completely accessible.
  • Companies and organizations that do not comply may be sued for discrimination, including government agencies and colleges.

British National Standard (8878)

  • The BSI was launched in 2010
  • It establishes standards for goods and services in the United Kingdom.
  • It includes guidelines for all web-based goods, including websites, cloud-based software, online apps, and email.
  • The BSI lays out a practical accessibility plan and even includes a form for developing an accessibility policy statement for your company.

Communications Act of 2003

This legislation gives Ofcom complete control over telecommunications and broadcast media in the United Kingdom. Ofcom governs communications services such as television, radio, and on-demand streaming services, similar to the FCC in the United States.

The Communications Act of 2003 raised the number of “television access services” required for video programming, such as

  • subtitling,
  • sign language,
  • and audio description.
Important: Non-government organizations, public sector broadcasters and subsidiaries, and primary and secondary schools and nurseries- except web material that individuals need to view to utilize their services are free from the law.

Beyond the law: Benefits Of An Accessible Website

Besides the law, and the risks of not having an accessible website, there are other business benefits that should be taken into consideration .

User Experience

  • By applying the best web accessibility practices, you are also increasing the site’s usability for all your potential users. This ensures that visitors will have a good user experience and readily access your information.
  • Improving your User Experience will significantly benefit your SEO

Branding and Reputation 

  • Besides the court of law, the court of public opinion is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Website accessibility can affect your brand’s reputation.
  • Create a brand of inclusiveness and generate positive public opinion by implementing web accessibility guidelines. Not only will you be doing the right thing, but your business will benefit too.

Market Opportunity 

If the legal and moral considerations aren’t motivating enough, then consider these statistics:

  • 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability
  • 71% of disabled customers with access needs will click away from a website that they find difficult to use.
  • 96.8% of home pages had detected web accessibility failures

It’s evident that there is a significant market  and need for website accessibility, and it’s clear that company websites are underperforming with accessibility. By providing greater access to your company, product or service, you can increase your clientbase and your revenue.  Make a smart business decision to take your business to the next level by catering to a deserving, yet underserved market.

Next steps

Improving the accessibility of your website begins with a few simple steps.