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DOJ Plans to Start Over on State and Local Government Website Rule

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On April 28, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its withdrawal of the notice of proposed rulemaking on the accessibility of state and local government websites. The rule sought to revise the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) Title II regulations to require that all state and local government websites adhere to enhanced accessibility requirements, like coding websites to allow for the use of screen readers. The agency began working on the rule in 2010 and was expected to issue the proposed rule this year. Instead, in conjunction with the withdrawal notice, DOJ issued a Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) signaling the agency’s intent to essentially restart the drafting process.

Through the SANPRM, DOJ is seeking public comment on various issues to help shape and further efforts to draft the website accessibility rule. The SANPRM includes over 100 questions separated into broad topical categories, including the timeframe for compliance, alternative requirements for small public entities, methods of compliance with web accessibility requirements and compliance costs. Counties should be particularly interested in providing feedback to some of the questions in the SANPRM, but it will not be necessary to answer all of them. NACo urges counties to submit comments, data and any feedback to the questions. Instructions on how to submit comments are included in the SANPRM; comments are due on or before August 8, 2016.

In 2014, NACo met with officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide the county perspective on the initial advance notice of the proposed rule. In general, NACo agreed with the need to ensure all citizens are able to access information provided on local government websites. However, NACo expressed concerns over the ability of counties, especially smaller counties, to meet new website requirements given that resources and capacity vary widely from county to county.

Currently, only federal government websites are required to be accessible. Even though many state and local websites have incorporated accessibility into their design, there are still some local governments that have not. 

Website accessibility generally deals with how individuals with varying disabilities interact with information found on webpages. Those individuals must utilize assistive technology to enable them to navigate websites or access information contained on those sites. For example, a blind person would need to rely on a screen reader to convert the visual information on a county's webpage into audio.

In turn, the pages on a county website would need to be developed in a way that incorporates features allowing the use of those screen readers. Also, online forms, a common feature on many county websites, would need to be addressed as well, since they are often among the website features that are challenging for individuals with disabilities to interact with.

NACo staff are currently reviewing the SANPRM and will report developments as they occur.

Contact:

Mike Belarmino at mbelarmino@naco.org or at 202-942-4254

Jacob Terrell at jterrell@naco.org or at 202-942-4236