On August 4, 2023, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published in the Federal Register a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), on accessibility requirements for online and app-based services offered by state and local government entities, including public schools, community colleges, and public universities.

According to a press release from DOJ, the purpose of the proposed rule is to make online and app-based services more accessible for individuals with disabilities. The rule also aims to offer clarity to state and local governments as they shift traditionally in-person services onto virtual platforms. DOJ created a fact sheet listing important elements of the proposed rule, which are summarized below:

  • The proposed rule would apply to both web content and mobile apps that a government entity, including a public school district, uses to offer “services, programs, and activities” to the community.
  • DOJ explained that government entities should prioritize which web content and mobile apps they make accessible. Government entities should make accessible the most important and frequently used information first and make accessible obscure or out-of-date information later.
  • There are exceptions available for certain web pages and mobile apps. These exempt web pages and mobile apps would not be required to meet the new standards.
    • Example Exemption 1: Content that is maintained only for research, reference, or recordkeeping; and is kept in a special area for archived content; and has not been changed since being archived.
    • Example Exemption 2: Web content in certain file formats (including word processing and PDFs) that is also available on the government entity’s website before the rule.
    • Example Exemption 3: Information that is password-protected class content for a particular class or course. This exemption will be particularly relevant for public schools, community colleges, and public universities.
  • Even if a web page is exempt, however, if a person with a disability requests access, the government entity will be responsible for making that page accessible.
  • The NPRM states that the rule will go into effect at different times depending on the size of the government entity. Government entities with 0 to 49,999 people will have three years after the publication of the final rule to comply, and government entities with 50,000 or more people will have two years after the publication of the final rule to comply.

What this means to you

This rule has not yet been finalized. DOJ collected feedback on the proposed rule through October 3, 2023. However, should the rule go into effect in its proposed form, the impact will depend on what steps your school district has already taken to ensure its website and app-based programming are accessible. School districts that already have undertaken this process will be minimally affected by the proposed rule. Other school districts will need to work closely with counsel and a web and app developer to ensure that they are in compliance with the new rule. School districts that have not begun the process of making their online presence accessible should start to do so as soon as possible.