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New Digital Accessibility Rule for Public Schools, Community Colleges, and Public Universities

Melanie Bennett, Esq., ARM-E
June 2024
Ensure your web content, mobile apps are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities

The Department of Justice (DOJ) published in April 2024 a final rule that requires public schools, community colleges, and public universities to ensure their web content and mobile apps are readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

These technical standards for institutions’ content must be in place by April 2026 or 2027, depending on their area’s population.

Regulation Applicability and Timeline

The new rule, Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities, is generally limited to public institutions that fall within Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But it’s likely that similar requirements will be implemented for all K-12 schools, colleges, and universities if Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is modified later. The new rule also applies to non-school government entities, but this article doesn’t discuss those requirements.

Enforcement begins on:

  • April 24, 2026, for public entities with a state or local government population of 50,000 or more
  • April 26, 2027, for public entities with a population of fewer than 50,000

For the purposes of these regulations, the district, not the school itself, determines K-12 school population sizes. To know when to comply, city school districts use the city’s population and county school districts use the county’s population. An independent school district will use the population estimate in the most recent Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates.

Community colleges and universities should determine population sizes based on the locality’s population and not the institution’s population. Generally, this number is the population of the city or state that runs the institution as found in 2020 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Ask counsel to help determine your appropriate compliance deadline and if changes are needed to your website.

What Are the Regulations’ Requirements?

If the rule applies to your institution, ensure your web content and mobile apps conform with WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA guidelines.

WCAG stands for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines are technical standards web content developers use to update technology tools.

Even if your institution is WCAG 2.0 Level AA-compliant, it must meet additional requirements to become WCAG 2.1 Level AA-compliant.

  • WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008 with 12 guidelines.
  • WCAG 2.1 was published in 2018 and expanded one guideline and 17 success criteria.

WCAG 2.1 includes all the 2.0 guidelines, so institutions using 2.1 don’t also need to review and conform with 2.0.

Conformance with WCAG guidelines is split into three levels: Level A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest). This rule requires public schools, community colleges, and public universities to meet Level A and AA guidelines but not AAA.

Remedies for violations may include compensatory damages.

What if Our Institution Buys Web Content From a Vendor?

Vendor content must comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA. The regulation specifies it applies whether web content and mobile apps are provided directly or through a contractual, licensing, or other arrangement.

Are There Exceptions?

There are a few limited types of web and mobile content that don’t need to conform with WCAG 2.1 under the new regulations. The main exceptions are for archived content. However, those exceptions disappear when someone with a disability requests access to the specific archived content.

Archived Web Content

Archived web content is excepted if it meets all four of these criteria:

  1. Created before the date the public entity is required to comply with the regulation
  2. Retained exclusively for reference, research, or recordkeeping
  3. Not altered or updated after the date of archiving
  4. Organized and stored in a dedicated area clearly identified as being archived.

Example: Notes from a 1998 University Senate meeting that hasn’t been altered and is stored in a folder marked “Archive”

Preexisting Conventional Electronic Documents

Conventional electronic documents are web or mobile content in PDF, word processor, presentation, or spreadsheet file formats. These documents are typically excepted when they were available on the state or local government’s website or mobile app before the compliance date.

Example: A school district PowerPoint presentation posted in 2015 documenting recent changes to meeting rules

This exception doesn’t apply if the documents still are used to apply for, gain access to, or participate in services, programs, or activities.

Content a Third Party Posts

This exception may rarely apply to educational institutions. It only applies when members of the public or others who aren’t controlled by or acting for the government entity post content the government entity may not be able to change.

Example: A message that a member of the public posts on the community college’s online message board

Individualized Password-Protected or Personal Electronic Content

This exception applies to documents that meet all three of these requirements:

  1. Conventional electronic document in PDF, word processor, presentation, or spreadsheet file format
  2. About a specific person, their property, or their account
  3. Password-protected or otherwise secured

Example: An individualized summer program admission PDF housed on a password-protected webpage

Preexisting Social Media Posts

Social media posts made before the enforcement date don’t need to comply with WCAG 2.1.

Example: A LinkedIn post the institution created in June 2024.

What Actions Should You Take?

All institutions should start working to conform with WCAG 2.1 Level AA.

Form a Stakeholder Team

A team of campus stakeholders should create the digital accessibility strategy and implementation plan.

Ideally, include these participants:

  • Administrators with technological backgrounds
  • Head of Disability Services
  • Business outreach employees who advise on your institution’s vendor relationships
  • Department chairs or faculty representatives who can help get full participation of faculty

Create a Strategy and Timeline

Identify needed actions to ensure your institution’s web and mobile content will reach WCAG 2.1 compliance by the enforcement deadline. After making a list of priorities, create an action timeline.

Train Your Community

Implement training so all new web and mobile content conforms with WCAG 2.1 Level AA.

Review Vendor Contracts

Ensure all contracts for web or mobile materials, including online courses and learning management systems, explicitly incorporate standards from WCAG 2.1 Levels A and AA.

Test Vendor Products

Assign a trained employee — preferably someone in your institution’s Technology Accessibility office — to use vendor products and ensure conformance to updated WCAG standards.


More From UE

Understand Your Duty to Make Technology Accessible

Address Accessibility in Your EIT Vendor Contracts

Additional Resources

Federal Register: Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities

DOJ Fact Sheet: New Rule on the Accessibility of Web Content and Mobile Apps Provided by State and Local Governments

WCAG 2.1 Accessibility Guidelines

Ogletree Deakins: Webinar — The DOJ’s New ADA Website Accessibility Regulations: Implications for All Businesses

Saul Ewing: The Clock is Ticking on Website Accessibility for Public Entities; Others Entities are on Notice

StateScoop: DOJ issues final web and app accessibility rules for state, local governments

Accessible Metrics: What’s the Difference Between WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1

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