Legal Requirements

[Author: Bill Fischer]


This guide should be used to design all public-facing media that is officially affiliated with the EPIC project. Legally, it is required for "places of public accommodation" to comply with the regulations listed below. Law suits so far have seen some courts, in some states, extending the definition of "public accommodation" to digital media produced by privately held enterprises, but other states not. As more court cases are waged and settled, qualitative understanding of what constitutes a "place of public accommodation" will be better defined.

Accessibility Rules for Educational and Governmental Institutions

Ferris State University Policy

Section 504

Requires federal departments, agencies and public schools to ensure accessibility of their “electronic and information technology” to individuals with disabilities unless to do so would result in an undue burden, in which case multiple modes of access can be employed (see below). Aids, benefits, and services must be “equally effective”—i.e., they must provide students with disabilities “an equal opportunity to obtain the same result, gain the same benefit, or reach the same level of achievement."

Section 508

Federal departments, agencies and public schools are effected by a 2015 update to 508. This requires requires compliance to WCAG 2.1 level AA (Web Content Accessibility Guideline) plus some additional requirements under 508. Websites, Multimedia mobile apps and desktop multimedia will all need to comply or multiple modes of access will need to be offered. The three main components are:

  1. Technical – these requirements make sure the coding of a website, software, operating systems, etc. is compatible with assistive technologies.
  2. Functional – these requirements ensure that in addition to the technical coding, the entire system is usable by someone with a disability.
  3. Support – these requirements make sure that support documents and alternative information is also accessible by people with disabilities.

Title II of the ADA

Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all public entities, including public schools, regardless of whether they receive federal funding. Schools are required to take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with individuals with disabilities are as effective as communications with others. The term “communications” refers to the transfer of information, including the verbal presentation of a lecture, printed text of a book, and resources on the Internet. In evaluating the meaning of “as effective as,” OCR has focused on three components of effectiveness:

  • Timeliness of delivery,
  • Accuracy of translation, and
  • Provision in a manner and medium appropriate to the significance of the message and the abilities of the individual.

CVAA (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act)

Requires television programming that is repurposed for online delivery to have captioning. Audio description for television has slightly different requirements that phase in between 2010 and 2020. Currently, the top 60 TV markets are required to describe 50 hours per calendar quarter. The next phase-in is in July of 2018. And the goal is for there to be 100% audio description on television by 2020.

Title III of the ADA (Accessibility Rules for Places of Public Accommodation)

Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. This can mean non-governmental and non-public-educational places and media must meet WCAG 2.1 level AA requirements for electronic media.

ADA Definition of "Place of Public Accommodation"

Places of Public Accomodation are defined on the ADA website as: businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA:

  1. Places of lodging (e.g. , inns, hotels, motels) (except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms);
  2. Establishments serving food or drink (e.g. , restaurants and bars);
  3. Places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g. , motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, stadiums);
  4. Places of public gathering (e.g. , auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls);
  5. Sales or rental establishments (e.g. , bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers);
  6. Service establishments (e.g. , laundromats, dry-cleaners, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, shoe repair services, funeral parlors, gas stations, offices of accountants or lawyers, pharmacies, insurance offices, professional offices of health care providers, hospitals);
  7. Public transportation terminals, depots, or stations (not including facilities relating to air transportation);
  8. Places of public display or collection (e.g. , museums, libraries, galleries);
  9. Places of recreation (e.g. , parks, zoos, amusement parks);
  10. Places of education (e.g. , nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools);
  11. Social service center establishments (e.g. , day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies); and
  12. Places of exercise or recreation (e.g. , gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses).

Legal Activity

  • At this time compliance is a judgement call and is being tested in the courts. As more court cases are waged and settled, a qualitative understanding of compliance will continue to be better defined. This understanding will be compiled and published as guidelines by organizations like W3-WCAG, UDL on Campus and 3PlayMedia
  • The DOJ, which is responsible for enforcing Title III of the ADA, has publicly stated that it interprets Title III of the ADA to apply to websites operated by public accommodations. Although the DOJ has not yet published any regulations on this issue, the DOJ solicited public comments for potential regulations concerning websites in 2010. In its Advanced Notice of Potential Rulemaking, the DOJ made clear that it did not believe that the Internet itself should be considered a place of public accommodation, but that it believed Title III should apply to the websites of entities that provide goods or services that fall within the 12 categories of “public accommodations.”
  • A legal precedent was set through a 2012 lawsuit when the purely digital (with no physical space) company Netflix was identified as a place of public accommodation.
  • According to the NY Times in a May 2018 report By Erica L. Green entitled "Disability and Civil Rights Groups Sue DeVos Over Investigation Rollbacks", Education advocate Marcie Lipsitt "had opened more than 2,400 web-accessibility complaints against various educational institutions in the last two years which resulted in more than 1,000 resolution agreements with institutions such as colleges and universities, which vowed to make their websites accessible to people who are deaf or blind or who struggle with fine motor skills". In May of 2018, The department of education released new rules resulting in the dismissal of more than 500 cases filed by Marcie Lipsitt. The changes have also resulted in some of the previous agreements being revised.