2023 Digital Accessibility Year in Review

Digital accessibility is always evolving. In 2023, we saw sweeping changes that could alter the landscape entirely, and smaller, albeit equally as change-inducing, moves and trends. This isn’t an exhaustive list, if that would even be possible. Read about some of the most significant changes, findings, and trends that shaped digital accessibility in 2023 and beyond.

Honoring Judith “Judy” Heumann: The Unstoppable Force Behind the Disability Rights Movement

Honoring Judith “Judy” Heumann: The Unstoppable Force Behind the Disability Rights Movement

But first, we can’t talk about 2023 without honoring the life and work of Judy Heumann, without whose efforts the developments in accessibility standards, regulation, and legislation we’ve seen this year would never have happened.

Judith “Judy” Heumann was widely regarded as “the mother” of the disability rights movement. She passed away in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 2023.

At 18-months-old, Judy contracted polio in Brooklyn, New York and began to use a wheelchair for mobility. She was denied the right to attend school at the age of five because she was considered a “fire hazard.” Later in life, Judy was denied her teaching license by the same school district. After passing her oral and written exams, she failed her medical exam because she could not walk. Judy sued the New York Board of Education and Judge Constance Baker Motley (the first Black female federal judge) strongly suggested the board reconsider. They did, and Judy became the first wheelchair user to teach in New York.

She was a leader in the historic Section 504 Sit-In of 1977 and instrumental in the development and implementation of other disability rights legislation. Judy worked in the Clinton and Obama Administrations, as an advisor at the World Bank, and as a Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation. Judy’s story is featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution and her book, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist.

Read more about the life and work of Judy Heumann.

1. W3C launched the latest version of WCAG, and we got a peek at what WCAG 3 might look like.

WCAG 2.2 was released in October, introducing 9 new success criteria. The updated guidelines provide additional accessibility requirements that, among other things, are intended to make keyboard, mouse, and touch operations easier and to reduce the burden on form filling and authentication.

Check out this video on WCAG 2.2, lauded as one of the best explanations out there to understand what’s changed and how to test and audit content against WCAG 2.2.

Additionally, as attention turns to developing Version 3 of WCAG, the W3C Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AGWG) published the latest Working Draft of WCAG3. The draft clarifies the maturity of each section, includes new potential approaches to conformance, and lists guidelines still to be developed. Creating WCAG3 is a massive task that we expect will take several more years to complete, but now we have some more insight into what future accessibility requirements might look like and how to test them.

Read this article for a breakdown of each proposed change and for additional resources for WCAG3.

2. The European Accessibility Act deadline loomed closer.

With 2024 right around the corner, we’re within a year and a half of the European Accessibility Act (EAA) deadline. By June 28, 2025, businesses must ensure that products and services covered by the Act are accessible, including US-based companies selling to the EU sector.

The EAA aims to standardize accessibility requirements across physical and digital spaces, across both public and private sectors. Before the EAA, there was a patchwork of different accessibility rules across EU member states. The EAA sweeps that away and replaces it with standardized accessibility requirements, in theory making it easier for digital product vendors and purchasers alike.

Read more about how the European Accessibility Act will impact your business.

3. The Justice Department proposed a landmark rule on digital accessibility.

On the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Department of Justice published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to update regulations for Title II of ADA. The proposal defines digital accessibility requirements for the first time in the history of the ADA. In a press release from The Office of Public Affairs, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta called the proposed rule a “historic moment for the Justice Department.”

The proposed rule was open to public comment until October 2023, and the Department of Justice is now reviewing the feedback received. If the rule moves forward as projected, there will be a seismic shift from accessibility being a market differentiator to it being a market eliminator in key markets. We’ll expect an update on the progress of the rulemaking process by April 2024.

Learn more about the historic proposal and its potential effect.

4. The self-service kiosk market continued its rapid growth, and accessibility considerations rose right along with it.

According to Industry ARC’s Self-Service Kiosk Forecast, the kiosk market is estimated to surpass the $35.8 billion mark by 2026. It’s easy to see why: besides being efficient and profitable, self-service technology can shorten customer wait times and reduce time spent during each interaction.

The revised Section 508 guidelines (U.S. federal procurement regulations) specifically identify kiosks as covered information and communication technology (ICT). State procurement and anti-discrimination laws are part of the strong foundation supporting kiosk accessibility in the United States.

In October of this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule that provides substantial updates to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, including its application to kiosk accessibility in healthcare.

Read more about the proposed rule here and how to keep up with the rapid growth of self-service devices here.

5. Government agencies got a push toward accountability and transparency for their digital accessibility compliance.

On August 11, 2023, U.S. federal government agencies faced a formidable deadline: answering 105 questions on digital accessibility compliance. Section 752, a recent law aimed at increasing accountability and transparency for digital accessibility programs, requires agencies to begin reporting on the accessibility of their information and communications technology (ICT) for people of all abilities.

On April 7, the General Services Administration (GSA) released its requirements for reporting on ICT accessibility through a 105-item questionnaire with multiple-choice answers. August 11, 2023, was established as the official deadline for agencies to submit their responses.

Section 508 has not always been strictly enforced, but that seems to be changing. The Department of Justice released its first report on Section 508 compliance in February 2023 – its first in over a decade.

The responses to the questionnaire will be available to the public: agencies that fail to meet requirements are likely to face reputational damage and legal consequences. Over time, the U.S. Access Board claims it will monitor this public data closely, providing aid for struggling agencies and questioning those that state they’re furthest along.

Read more about what Section 752 could mean for digital accessibility.

Categories: World of Accessibility
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