The digital accessibility legal landscape is flourishing in the United States. Significant strides towards full inclusion of people with disabilities in the digital world have been made as a result of a strong legal framework, grassroots advocacy, litigation by both private parties and the federal government, Structured Negotiation, and successful administrative complaints and guidance from the United States Department of Justice and other agencies.
This section of the LFLegal Global Law and Policy page lists federal (national) digital accessibility laws, regulations, and examples of implementation. Resources for staying abreast of the United States digital accessibility legal landscape are also listed.
National laws apply across the United States, although they may be interpreted differently by courts in different parts of the country. Visit the section of this page titled United States – state and local governments for additional information about digital accessibility laws and policies in individual states or cities.
Resources to keep up with the digital accessibility legal space in the United States
- The U.S. Legal Updates page on LFLegal has summaries of articles about developments in digital accessibility law in the United States. Note that I don’t write about every development in this space!
Articles on the U.S. Legal Update page are updated as new developments occur. Updated articles include:
- Kiosk Accessibility: The Law is Paying Attention (published January 2018, updated most recently in November 2022)
- Legal Update: U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorneys Offices, Championing Digital Access (published October 2021, updated most recently in August 2022)
- Legal Update: Accessibility Overlay Edition (published November 2021, updated most recently in April 2022)
- I offer Digital Accessibility Legal Update webinars and conference presentations throughout the year. The most recent update that was recorded and available for free is the December 8, 2022 Digital Accessibility Legal Update for 3Play Media Visit the Speaking Page on LFLegal if you are interested in having a legal update talk for your organization.
- Using the collaborative process of Structured Negotiation, many large organizations in the United States have committed to various aspects of digital accessibility in settlement agreements that Lainey Feingold has helped negotiate. While these settlements do not have legal precedent, they come from the strong legal foundation in the United States and have had industry precedent over many years.
Visit the Web and Mobile Accessibility Press Release Category on this website for a summary of all press releases announcing web accessibility settlements, with links to the full releases and settlements.
- The ADA title III News and Insights blog from the Seyfarth law firm offers digital accessibility legal updates from the perspective of a law firm representing businesses. The blog can be filtered for web accessibility cases.
- I don’t like talking about the number of web and mobile lawsuits filed in the United States because I’ve found that fear is a poor motivator for digital inclusion. Still, knowing about the digital accessibility lawsuit numbers is part of knowing about United States law. I get my information about the numbers from the Seyfarth blog and from UsableNet’s semi-annual reports that slice and dice the numbers.
Section 508 requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities and requires the federal government to purchase technology that is accessible.
- The Section 508.gov website has significant resources on Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, governing federal procurement of digital technology.
- The IT Accessibility Laws and Policies page on Section 508.gov has links to all relevant laws and regulations.
- In February 2023 a federal court ruled that a blind FBI employee could pursue a lawsuit claiming that software used by the agency was not accessible to screen reader users.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prevents programs receiving federal funds (from the United States government) from discriminating against disabled people. Federal agencies have adopted regulations applying Section 504 to their activities. Failing to make digital tools and content accessibility can violate Section 504.
- The U.S. Department of Education Section 504 Regulations are here. In May 2022 the Department of Education announced a plan to update and strengthen those regulations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- United States Department of Justice Americans with Disabilities Act Home Page. Here you can find information about Title II (law and regulations governing state and local government entities) and Title III (law and regulations governing public accommodations (private entities)). People with disabilities can file complaints with the DOJ about discrimination including discrimination involving lack of accessibility.
- The ADA prohibits disability discrimination, requires access to services and facilities, and requires effective communication. These aspects of the ADA are primarily why digital accessibility is a legal issue in the United States. Courts, advocates, site owners and web developers in the U.S. are not (and should not be) waiting for specific ADA regulations on digital accessibility standards, which do not yet exist. Most courts looking at the standards issue recognize the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. (Court opinions I’ve written about over many years can be found on the U.S. Legal Update page.
- Status of ADA digital accessibility regulations as of April 2023 are described in my article titled Deja Vu All Over Again? DOJ Announces Intent to Adopt Web Accessibility Regulations for State and Local Governments
- Digital accessibility is a core component of ensuring that people with disabilities have access to employment opportunities. The federal agency called the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) is responsible for enforcing the ADA’s provisions about employment discrimination in connection with private employers and the federal government. The DOJ is responsible for employment-related issues in state and local government. Resources on digital accessibility in employment include:
- Information about the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace in the U.S. can be found on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website disability discrimination portal.
- Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Disability Discrimination in Hiring (2022). This resource is Guidance from the Department of Justice
- The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Use of Software, Algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence to Assess Job Applicants and Employees (2022) . This resource is Guidance from the EEOC.
- Two US Government Agencies Warn about Hiring Technology that Discriminates against Disabled Applicants, article on LFLegal
- The United States Department of Education (DOE), along with the Department of Justice, protects students from disability discrimination, including discrimination based on lack of accessible content and technology under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504. Visit the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) page for more information about the DOE’s work.
- The web page Higher Ed Accessibility Lawsuits, Complaints, and Settlements offers examples of how the law has been used in the United States to advance digital accessibility in higher education.
- On September 28, 2022 the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act was introduced in the United States Congress. This Act must be introduced again and is not law in the United States at this time. If passed it would cover and expand on some issues addressed in the ADA about digital accessibility.
In the FAQs published when the bill was introduced, the bill sponsors answered the question “Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) already apply to websites and applications?” by saying “Yes, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has long held that the ADA covers websites and other technologies that are critical to accessing a business or agency’s services or facilities.” Read my article about the proposed Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act
- 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (2010 law addressing captioning, audio description, mobile browsers and more)
- In November 2022 proposed legislation was introduced in the United States Congress to update the CVAA. The proposed legislation was called the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA). It needs to be introduced again, and is not law. Read the press release announcing the proposed legislation that includes a link to the full text of the bill.
- On June 25, 2021 U.S. President Joseph Biden issued an Executive Order addressing digital accessibility in the federal government. Read the Executive Order Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Government