New York State Requirements for Digital Accessibility

Recently passed legislation in New York State requires that state agencies conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

In this article, we review the impact of this requirement, the importance of the WCAG guidelines, and how this new legislation fits into the broader set of digital accessibility requirements for organizations in New York.

What is New York Senate Bill 3114A?

In 2023, New York passed Senate Bill 3114A, a law “amending the State Technology Law to require state agencies and entities to conform any of their websites to the most current version of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium for accessibility.”

The law requires that the state Office of Information Technology develop standards detailing how agencies should work to achieve WCAG conformance. This law is part of a recent trend of states extending digital accessibility requirements to state agencies, such as Colorado’s HB21-110.

Previously, New York State law did not require WCAG conformance for state agencies, although in May, 2023 the OIT did establish a policy requiring conformance to WCAG 2.0 Level AA for “certain websites developed, procured, maintained, or used by State Entities.”

When do the new requirements come into effect?

S3114A establishes that its requirements will come into effect 180 days after the law’s enactment. New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the bill into law in December 2023.

This means that S3114A will be in effect as of June 2024, and state agencies will be required to maintain WCAG 2.2 conformance.

What is WCAG?

WCAG refers to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, a global benchmark for website accessibility created and managed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG is the most commonly referenced standard in disability lawsuits and provides the best guide for most organizations seeking to improve digital accessibility.

WCAG conformance is measured across four primary principles—digital content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust—and graded A, AA, or AAA. “AA” is considered to be a passing grade, and a good minimum target for most organizations.

We take a deeper look at WCAG requirements, grade levels, and more in our guide here.

What is WCAG 2.2?

The W3C continuously works to update and refresh the WCAG standards, periodically publishing refreshed versions of the standard.

WCAG 2.2, released in 2023, refers to the latest version of the WCAG standard. This update introduced nine new success criteria and primarily focused on users with cognitive disabilities.

Many laws specify a specific version and conformance level (ie. WCAG 2.1 Level AA for Colorado), and the New York requirement to employ the latest version is uniquely challenging. Many accessibility professionals (let alone state agencies and organizations) are still coming to terms with the changes in WCAG 2.2. The guidance issued by the Office of Information Technology Services will be critical for shedding light on the best path forward while avoiding onerous and confusing requirements.

Other Digital Accessibility Requirements in New York

S3114A is the first legislation to establish WCAG conformance as a requirement for state agencies and entities, and it does not apply to businesses and other private organizations in the state of New York. However, other organizations should be aware that it is not the only relevant requirement pertaining to digital accessibility.

First, different federal laws establish nationwide requirements for digital accessibility:

  1. Title 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers state and local government entities, and Title 3, which is applicable to all public accommodations. The ADA encourages self-regulation of accessibility standards, and the Department of Justice is currently developing more specific guidelines. Prior to the publication of these guidelines, WCAG 2.1 Level AA is the recommended standard for organizations seeking to establish an ADA-compliant digital presence.

    Learn more in our guide to ADA compliance.

  2. Rehabilitation Act Section 504, which applies to recipients of federal funding, and Section 508, which covers technology provided by federally funded organizations. Federal contractors in the private sector must make ICT (information communication technology) products used by the government accessible. Section 508 requires conformance to WCAG Level 2.0 Level AA. A company can demonstrate its digital assets are accessible by submitting a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT®).

    Learn more in our guide to Section 508 Standards and compliance.

State Requirements: New York State Human Rights Law

The New York State Human Rights Law is a state provision that parallels the protections established by the Federal ADA. Under this law, the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) “protects New Yorkers against discrimination based on disability in employment, housing, accommodations, nonreligious educational institutions, places of public accommodation, commercial spaces, and credit transactions.”

The New York City Human Rights Law (Title 8 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York) is a similar law applying within New York City. Like the state law, it “prohibits discrimination in New York City, in employment, housing, and public accommodations,” establishing a number of protected classes including disability. Under New York law, “public accommodations” can include websites.

These laws have proven to be a viable basis for digital accessibility related lawsuits. Courts have created some threshold for establishing standing to sue in under these laws (most importantly a downstream consequence for the end user).

How can organizations work to improve WCAG conformance?

Due to its status as a global economic center and the state’s unique accessibility protections, New York is a leading state for digital accessibility litigation, including actions in both state and federal court. New York district and state courts have proven to be an amenable venue for these lawsuits, and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Our 2024 legal update provides further information on some of the latest developments in how courts are interpreting digital accessibility requirements.

Improving digital accessibility is not only important for avoiding legal penalties, but helps increase the reach of your organization’s message by providing a positive website experience for all visitors. If you are ready to get started evaluating and improving your approach to digital accessibility, TPGi is here to help. Automated accessibility testing can help identify high-priority issues with your website and other digital assets, while a more in-depth accessibility audit can help develop a more granular view of potential areas for improvement.

We invite you to explore our free website accessibility testing tools in our resource center. Please reach out to our team if you have any questions about how to develop a more accessible digital presence.

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, Legal, World of Accessibility
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