Accessibility takes a back seat in the Trump Administration

The US Department of Justice will take a pass on taking a leadership role in creating guidelines for accessibility standards for now.

Up until now, the Department had set expectations for publishing a set of much-anticipated public website regulatory guidelines in early 2018. As a result, the legal standard for web accessibility in the US will most likely be set by a Federal judge deciding an accessibility lawsuit like Gil v. Winn-Dixie.

The DOJ’s new policy is the result of Executive Orders 13771 and 13777, which require federal agencies to “reduce unnecessary regulatory burden”. In the Current Unified Agenda published by the White House, current regulatory actions are being placed in three categories: active, long-term, and inactive. By landing in the agenda’s Inactive Actions bucket, federal web accessibility guidelines have now been placed in a deep freeze.

While the Executive Orders were originally intended to be business-friendly, the actual result may be less than favorable for American brands with a large public web presence.

In Gil v. Winn-Dixie, federal judge Robert Scola Jr. held back from making his ruling apply to all public websites. He wrote a well-researched, thoughtful decision and limited it in scope to websites that mirror the services of bricks and mortar businesses. I respect Judge Scola for leaving a more far-reaching decision to others with more expertise.

Next time, businesses in the US may not be so lucky: another accessibility case could result in an unpredictable outcome from a less-informed magistrate.

Federal regulation is usually the results of years of study and analysis by dedicated experts. On the other hand, a court decision is the result of a judge’s understanding of the testimony provided by expert witnesses, who are likely to be biased in favor the parties they represent.

What should businesses do until there is a definitive court decision in the US? My best advice would be to follow the set of guidelines that is slowly becoming the established standard abroad: WCAG 2.0 AA. These guidelines are the benchmark used nearly universally by most accessibility professionals, and governments like Australia’s that strongly advocate the rights of persons with disabilities.