Digital Accessibility Standards & Regulations Overview
WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the standards created by the W3 organization’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) group. WCAG revolves around 4 concepts that are goals for all web content: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust. The current published version of WCAG is 2.1, released in June 2018; WCAG 2.2 is in development, and pieces of WCAG 2.2 are being incorporated into the official version of WCAG as they are finalized.
Section 508 (Rehibilitation Act Refresh)
Section 508 is the United States accessibility standard that applies specifically to the electronic and information technology used by Federal agencies. Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Congress added this amendment in 1998 to account for changes in information technology (specifically the growing use of the internet). Section 508 guarantees access to information to federal employees and members of the general public who have disabilities that is comparable to the access available to others.
ADA Title III (Americans with Disability Act)
The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA is a monumental United States law passed in 1990 that, for U.S. citizens with disabilities, is the equivalent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The ADA similarly prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and is a broadly applicable law covering employment, public services offered by state and local governments, public accomodations and services operated by private entities, telecommunications (including internet), transportation, and more.
AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act)
The AODA is a law specific to the Canadian province of Ontario. Its purpose is to lay out a process for the development and enforcement of accessibility standards for organizations operating in Ontario.
EN 301 549 (European Union)
EN 301 549 is the European Union’s standard that lays out accessibility requirements for information and communications technology (ICT) used in public works/governmental works in countries belonging to the European Union. Like Section 508 in the United States, the application of EN 301 549 is broad; it lays out requirements for both physical and digital technology. Sections 9-11, which cover web content, non-web documents, and software have been officially tied to WCAG 2.1 since September of 2018, when the official European Standards Organizations CEN, CENELEC, and ETSI published an updated version of the standards that directly aligned the EN 301 549 standards for web content, non-web documents, and software with WCAG 2.1.
ACA (Accessible Canada Act)
The ACA is a law that lays out the framework for developing national accessibility standards and enforcing accessibility law. It does not actually lay out accessibility standards. The Accessible Canada Act (formally “An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada”) therefore, is a law that lays out goals rather than a law that creates a set of standards.
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