ACE, Higher Education Associations Advocate for Extended Compliance Period for Digital Accessibility Rule
October 10, 2023

On Aug. 4, the Department of Justice (DOJ) initiated another rulemaking process for website accessibility, publishing a proposed rule setting out digital accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to state and local government entities, including public colleges and universities.

Under the proposed rule, colleges and universities would be required to adhere to a set of guidelines as the technical standard for websites and mobile apps that are made available to the public. These guidelines contain technical criteria for the text, sounds, images, controls, and animations that appear in digital content.

ACE and a coalition of higher education associations submitted comments on the proposed rule to DOJ last week, expressing support for ensuring that “all students, especially those with a disability, are able to access online content in an ever-changing technological learning environment.”

However, the groups also outlined concerns with several issues, especially the two-year timeframe for compliance for larger institutions, noting the complexity of adapting existing online courses and resources to meet the new standards and the associated costs involved.

While DOJ is allowing three years for smaller institutions, the associations called for extending the compliance period to at least five years for all colleges and universities, regardless of their size. They also urged DOJ to determine the size of an institution independently of the county or state in which it is located.

The proposed rule allows for an exception to the requirement of meeting certain accessibility standards for websites that are password-protected and not available to the general public. While this exception may seem helpful, institutions must ensure full compliance with accessibility standards in five days if they know that a student with a disability will be using the website or before the start of class if a student is pre-registered. As the associations wrote, the short time frame for compliance is unrealistic and logistically challenging.

Finally, the associations raised concerns about the financial burden imposed by compliance—especially for under-resourced institutions—given the additional resources needed for training, staff, and remediation efforts.