Department of Justice Seeking Comments on New Accessibility Rule for Small Governmental Jurisdictions
By Janis Reyes, Assistant Chief Counsel
Did you know that Federal agencies have been required to make their websites accessible for people with disabilities since 1998? The Department of Justice (DOJ) is thinking about expanding these accessibility website requirements to small governmental jurisdictions like cities and counties, and is seeking public feedback on this initiative.
I discussed DOJ’s new initiative to a group of county administrators and elected officials at the 2016 National Association of Counties (NACo) Annual Conference in July. The Office of Advocacy is the voice of small entities to the federal government, including over 2,000 small counties with a population of fewer than 50,000 (over 68 percent of all counties in 2015).
DOJ’s Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) is seeking public comments by October 7, 2016. DOJ believes that it is important to make state and local websites accessible for people with disabilities because these websites provide easy and convenient access to programs, services and activities provided by state and local governments. DOJ is seeking feedback on what type of accessibility standard should be applied to these entities. For example, website standards could include alternative text for photos to make them accessible for blind individuals with special readers, or could require transcripts or live captions of podcasts and videos to make them accessible for people who are hearing impaired.
County representatives asked about what type of information they should include in a public comment letter to DOJ, as the notice has over 120 questions. I stated that the most important information they could provide would be a snapshot of their county and details about their website. For example, a county letter should discuss the county’s population, annual spending on IT and website, whether the website is maintained internally or externally, and an estimate of how much it would cost to complete different levels of accessibility standards. The notice also asks whether there should be exceptions for items such as archived web content, pre-existing Word and PDF documents, and links to third party social medial platforms (such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter). The notice also asks whether there are significant alternatives that the agency should adopt for small governmental entities with a population of under 50,000; such as an exemption for small entities or a different timeline or requirements.
DOJ needs to hear from these small jurisdictions so that they can make the best policy decisions regarding website accessibility. Comments should be directed to DOJ here. For more information, please contact me at Janis.Reyes@sba.gov.