What local governments need to know about the new accessibility law

Posted on April 29, 2024

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Local government agencies need to soon comply with a new federal web accessibility law. This means all government web content needs to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Learn how this applies to your agency and what you can start doing to make sure you comply.

What this applies to

This law applies to more than just your website. It also includes things like:

  • Websites and mobile applications
  • Webforms
  • PDF documents
  • Permitting systems
  • Public meeting platforms
  • Email newsletters
  • Videos and audio

How long you have to comply

Your compliance deadline is based on the population of your city or town.

Population Compliance deadline
50,000 or more April 2026
Less than 50,000 April 2027

Special districts need to comply by April 2027.

What standards you need to meet

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is an international standard. Versions of the standards have evolved over time. Version 2.0 was published in 2008 and version 3 is currently a working draft.

The guidelines are organized under 4 principles:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

For each guideline, there are 3 levels of success criteria: A, AA, and AAA.

This new law requires your digital content, including PDFs, to meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA guidelines.


Content qualifies for an exception if it meets all 4 of these criteria:

  • Created before the compliance date
  • Maintained solely for reference, research, or recordkeeping
  • Stored in a designated archive area
  • Has not been changed since it was archived

Why this matters

This new rule increases digital access for millions of Americans. 1 in 4 Americans are living with some type of disability. Over 12% of adults have a cognitive disability, like autism, attention deficit, and dyslexia.

And, these standards don’t just help people with disabilities. They generally make content better and easier to use. For example:

  • Good color contrast helps you look at your phone when the sun is out.
  • When you are stressed or anxious, it’s harder to understand complex sentences.
  • Closed captions help if you don’t want to disturb nearby people or if you’re in a noisy environment.
  • People don’t like PDFs.

Get started now

Don’t wait – get started on this now. Here are some steps you can take now to make sure you comply by the deadline:

1. Create a list of platforms and content

Make an inventory of your websites and digital platforms, like permitting software. Include the departments that manage the content and if it’s supported by a 3rd party vendor.

2. Learn about your 3rd party vendors

Ask your vendors for their accessibility statement and conformance report. Confirm if they meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA guidelines, and of course it’s better if they exceed this level.

3. Understand your role

If you manage content using a 3rd party system, you are responsible for certain aspects of accessibility compliance. For example, you need to make sure images have alt text and headings are sequential.

4. Test your content

Find out how accessible your content is. There are free tools you can use to test websites and PDFs. WebAIM has a free web page evaluation tool. DigitalA11Y has a list of free PDF accessibility checkers.

5. Make a plan for PDFs

While some of your current PDFs may meet the exception criteria, you need to make a plan for the future. Your goal should be to make less or no more PDFs. If you continue to make PDFs, you must make them accessible.

6. Train employees

We created Accessibility Thing, a chatbot that helps you understand how to comply with the new accessibility rule. Reach out to your regional ADA Center for help. If you’re on the west coast, check out the Pacific ADA Center.

Final thoughts

The most important thing is to get started now. You don’t need to wait for the new budget or an approved plan to get started on this.

Changing the way you post new content is something tangible you can do right now. Start with content and formatting, like headings and page titles. Default to web content instead of PDFs. Sign up for training and share information with your colleagues.

Stay tuned for more guidance and information from us on this topic.

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