New York City Sets Accessibility Standards, Requires Conformance With Section 508

New York City takes the lead in accessibility, passing a law in March of this year requiring that its government agency websites and electronic documents meet recognized standards WCAG 2.0 and Section 508.  This is hopefully the start of a trend making the Federal mandate universal, a giant step towards accessibility for all-state and local governments may follow NYC’s lead, requiring contractors and even public accommodations to conform in the absence of regulations from DOJ.

 New York City becomes the first major municipality in the United States to adopt legislation mandating accessibility standards for all of its government agency websites.  Serving a population of over 8 million, the New York City government includes more than 120 agencies staffed by approximately 325,000 employees.  This legislation will have an impact on City agencies, and access for persons with disabilities to those institutions.  It may also have an impact on future website regulations impacting businesses across the country.

“New York City is an amalgamation of cultures, heritages and languages,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “That is why we strive to increase inclusivity, especially when it comes to New Yorkers with disabilities. Whether it’s creating a more accessible City website, or ensuring that events hosted by City agencies have information regarding accessibility for people with disabilities, Intros. 673-A, 683-A, 881-A and 883-A strengthen our efforts to be more inclusive.”

The legislation (Intro. 683-A) was among three disability access bills that Mayor Bill De Blasio signed into law on the same day.  In addition to mandating website protocols, the legislation requires that each City agency designate a “disability service facilitator,” and publicize, among other things, the availability of wheelchair access, communication access real-time translation, sign language interpretation, assistive listening systems, and any other accommodations to be made available for all public events.

The sweeping mandate states that agencies must adopt an “Accessible Website Protocol” within 6 months. The new City law recognizess that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA (“WCAG 2.0 AA”) is increasingly becoming the de facto standard for website accessibility, despite the continued lack of any regulations from the U.S. Department of Justice setting a legally-required standard for state and local governments under Title II of the ADA.

Under the new law, the City must establish a website protocol within 6 months that incorporates Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act,  WCAG 2.0 AA, or any “successor” standards.  The Section 508 standard currently applies to the federal government websites and electronic documents, and consists of a list of 16 requirements that are less rigorous than WCAG 2.0 AA.  But last year the Access Board proposed a rule that would, among other things, adopt WCAG 2.0 AA as the new website standard under Section 508.  Thus, if the City incorporates Section 508 in its website protocol, its agency websites may be subject to WCAG 2.0 Level AA once the final Section 508 regulations are issued.

“The City Council is committed to making New York a more inclusive City for all people to work and live,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said. “This package of legislation will increase language access across City websites and improve access to City services for all New Yorkers.”