Whether your organization is in the public or private sector, there are anti-discrimination laws that you are obligated to comply with in the course of doing business. Several of these laws protect the rights of people with disabilities. It’s important that you stay up to date on these laws and their regulations, because occasionally they’re updated, and new compliance deadlines are set. These milestones creep closer before you know it.
When civil rights laws are created and updated, these aren’t arbitrary decisions. They are carefully researched and planned in order to keep up with an increased understanding of how the rights of people with disabilities can and should be guarded. In many cases, they are also intended to address advancements in technology.
Are there upcoming deadlines in 2018 that could affect your organization? Here are three dates that you may need to know for the new year.
January 18, 2018: Section 508 Compliance
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires all electronic information and communication technology (ICT) used or maintained by the federal government to be accessible. This applies to suppliers as well, since government agencies must procure only ICT that is accessible.
Last January, the Section 508 standards were refreshed to update the ICT accessibility requirements.1 One of the most significant changes was to incorporate the technical requirements of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in reference to accessibility of websites and other digital content such as software applications and electronic documents.
This was important, because the previous Section 508 standards, issued back in 2000, were incomplete and did not take into account evolving technologies. It meant that websites, software programs and documents that complied with Section 508 could still contain numerous barriers for people with disabilities – both government employees and members of the public – who tried to use them. The updated standards do a better job of eliminating most barriers in new technologies, and are more consistent with other accessibility standards used in this country and abroad.
This final rule came into effect on March 20, 2017. The deadline for compliance with the updated Section 508 standards is January 18, 2018. The delayed deadline was to allow time for government agencies to bring their ICT up to speed. Now, of course, that date is just around the corner.
January 1, 2018: AODA Compliance
If your business or non-profit organization is in Ontario, it’s covered under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) – and you need to know about an upcoming AODA compliance deadline.
As of January 1, 2018, your public spaces must be made accessible when they are built, redeveloped or changed.2 This applies to a variety of areas, including waiting rooms, service counters, line-ups and parking lots, among others. Unlike some of the AODA’s other accessibility rules, this one comes into force whether your organization is large or small.
By the way, this December 31, 2017, is another upcoming AODA compliance deadline. That’s the latest date by which large businesses and non-profit organizations (i.e. those with 20 or more employees) and designated organizations in the public sector must submit their Accessibility Compliance Report, if they have not already done so.3 The Accessibility Compliance Report ensures you’re meeting your AODA accessibility requirements. Failure to complete one by December 31 could lead to a financial penalty.
Mid-2018: WCAG 2.1 Release
The technical requirements included in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 have become universally adopted as the best way to ensure that a website, program or electronic document is fully accessible. This current version of WCAG was published in 2008. It replaced the older 1.0 version of WCAG, which came out in 1999.
Now, however, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium – the organization that develops WCAG – has announced that WCAG 2.1 is on the way. A working draft was already published this year.4 Publication of the final version of WCAG 2.1 is expected by mid-2018.
Why a new version? The aim of WCAG 2.1 is to expand accessibility for a wider variety of people with disabilities, such as people with low vision, learning disabilities, speech disabilities and multiple disabilities, all of whom potentially have more opportunities online than ever, thanks to advanced technology.
The guidelines are also intended to enhance accessibility on small screens, touch screens and other features common to mobile devices and tablets, as these become more widely used to go online.
And since we’re expected to use more and more web-connected technologies in our day-to-day lives, such as driverless cars and cashless payments, WCAG 2.1 also ensures that these technologies are designed to be barrier-free for people with disabilities.
What Does WCAG 2.1 Mean for ADA Compliance?
Currently, when the Department of Justice addresses digital accessibility in terms of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it refers to WCAG 2.0. What will the release of WCAG 2.1 in 2018 mean for businesses that want to ensure they aren’t violating the ADA? Will their web accessibility requirements change?
According to the WCAG working group behind the new release, the 2.1 version should actually make it easier to make digital properties fully accessible. It is also designed to be backwards-compatible. If you follow the additional requirements of WCAG 2.1 after applying WCAG 2.0, you are still certain to be in compliance with the ADA.
It’s worth noting that the current federal administration has placed the Department of Justice’s rulemakings around web accessibility on an inactive list.5 What this likely means is that no regulations can be expected anytime soon that will address this particular area of compliance with the ADA and spell out what is required.
Putting those regulations on hold won’t stop lawsuits and complaints of discrimination, however, so your best bet is to refer to the most up-to-date technical requirements available. And that – as of about mid-2018, anyway – will be WCAG 2.1.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.
- Executive Summary, United States Access Board, 2017.
- Accessibility rules for businesses and non-profits, Government of Ontario, 2017.
- Comple Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), 2017.
- Inactive RINs 2017 Agenda Update, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, 2017.