The Many Laws of Accessibility, Part 2: Laws & Regulations

In this post, I’ll continue my learning about accessibility laws after covering conventions and treaties in Part 1: Conventions & Treaties. I’ll cover:

  • Civil rights laws,
  • Procurement laws, and
  • Technology laws (US & abroad).
2 people in wheelcharis & 2 standing people look on as a man signs a document.
President George Bush signing the Americans With Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Civil Rights Laws

Civil rights laws exist to secure equal rights for people with disabilities by requiring most public and private institutions to reduce or eliminate the conditions that disable people from participating independently in the workforce, public services, and digital arenas. Some civil rights laws sprouted from efforts of rehabilitation for disabled veterans. Several countries have moved past defining the generalized rights of humans to target more specific areas, like information and communication technologies (ICT). Civil rights laws provide guidelines on how to meet accessibility, but often they are not actively enforced or monitored. It falls on citizens to file a complaint.

Examples of civil rights laws for people with disabilities, by country:

Procurement Laws

Procurement refers to the process of government entities purchasing goods and services from external sources. Regulations are set into place on procurement, in order to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Examples of procurement laws (specifically directed at technology purchases) that protect the rights of people with disabilities, by country:

Technology Laws

United States:

States within the US may have their own web accessibility laws, usually applied heavily to government (state, local) and education (K-12, universities).

Around the world

I’m much more familiar with U.S. law (probably because I’m American), but I want to do better and get acquainted with laws in other countries. I broke down the information I learned from Deque by country.

Country or Region Law Requirements Who must comply
Canada Web Standards for the Government of Canada Includes accessibility, usability, interoperability, and mobile devices Government of Canada
Quebec Standards sur l’accessibilité du Web [Web Accessibility Standards] Modified WCAG Level AA Quebec government
Country Law Requirements Who must comply
France Référentiel Général d’Accessibilité pour les Administrations (RGAA) [General Accessibility Reference for Administrations] WCAG Level AA Central government & public services
Germany Barrierefreie-Informationstechnik-Verordnung (BITV 2) [Accessible Information Technology Ordinance] Modified WCAG Government
Ireland The Disability Act of 2005 & Code of Practice on Accessibility of Public Services and Information provided by Public Bodies WCAG 1.0 Government
Italy Law 4/2004 (“Stanca” Law)

[Accessibilità siti web]

WCAG Public Sector, Government
Netherlands Aanbestedingswet 2012 [Procurement Act] WCAG Level AA Government
Spain Law 34/2002 [Information Society & E-Commerce Services Act]

Law 51/2003 [Non Discrimination Act]

WCAG 1.0 Level AA Government
South Pacific
Country Law Requirements Who must comply
Australia Disability Discrimination Act WCAG Level AA Government & non-government
New Zealand Human Rights Amendment Act 2001

Web Accessibility Standard 1.1

Web Usability Standard 1.3

WCAG Level AA Private and public for Human Rights;

Government (for web accessibility & usability standards)

Country/Region Law Requirements Who must comply
Hong Kong Guidelines on Dissemination of Information through Government Websites WCAG Level AA Government
India Indian Web Accessibility Guidelines WCAG Level AA Government
Japan Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) X 8341 Based on WCAG Central and local government

More lists of laws


There is a lot of material to digest here! As I mentioned, the US laws are familiar enough to me, thanks to the past trainings I’ve prepared for co-workers and others. The gist of several of these laws comes down to respecting human rights, and updating some language of these rights to include modern technologies, including the web. The web is for everyone, and we all should have the right to access services that are provided online.

The Many Laws of Accessibility, Part 1: Conventions & Treaties

Say the word “legislation” and my eyes immediately start to glaze over. When laws, preambles, and articles are mentioned, my mind starts to panic. How can I remember this stuff? What does it mean to me, anyway? In 2 posts, I’m going to try to cover some of the important laws that were created for people with disabilities, and a few conventions and treaties that set the groundwork for those laws.

B&W; Woman holds up a huge piece of paper entitled The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt, committee chair of the Commission on Human Rights, reads the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Photo from the UN Audiovisual Library.

UN Declaration (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

After the tragedies and loss of WWII, people wanted to do better for all humans across the globe. One instance of standing up for human rights was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris, France on December 10, 1948. The writing of this declaration was tasked in 1946 to the Commission on Human Rights, led by committee chair Eleanor Roosevelt.

This declaration set the foundation of all other human rights laws. It is the most translated document in the world with over 500 translations. Currently, 192 member states of the United Nations (UN) have agreed to abide by the Declaration, and have found ways to incorporate it into their own law.

In 30 articles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares the fundamental rights of humanity are:

  • life,
  • liberty,
  • equality,
  • spiritual & political freedoms, and
  • social, cultural, economic rights.

Summary of Articles 1-30

  1. Everyone is born free and equal.
  2. Everyone is entitled to the rights listed in the document.
  3. Everyone has a right to life, freedom, and safety.
  4. No one has the right to enslave anyone.
  5. No one has the right to torture or abuse anyone.
  6. Everyone has rights no matter where he or she is.
  7. The law is the same for everyone and everyone is equal before the law.
  8. Everyone’s rights are protected by the law.
  9. No one has the right to place anyone in prison with no good reason or exile anyone from his or her country.
  10. Everyone is entitled to a fair and public trial by an independent party.
  11. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Everyone has a right to prove his or her innocence.
  12. Everyone has a right to privacy and protection of his or her name.
  13. Everyone has the right to move within his or her country and travel as he or she wishes.
  14. Everyone has the right to go to another country if he or she fears for safety in his or her own country.
  15. Everyone has the right to a nationality and no one should be deprived of his or her nationality or denied change of nationality.
  16. Everyone has the right to marry and build a family. Marriage should only be entered into with free and full consent of each spouse. Every family has the right to be protected by society and by the State.
  17. Everyone has the right to own property and share property. No one has to right to take or deprive another of his or her property.
  18. Everyone has the right to believe what he or she wants to believe in, the right to religion, and the right to change his or her religion.
  19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  20. Everyone has the right to assemble together in peace. No one has the right to force another into a group or association.
  21. Everyone has the right to democracy, to participate in his or her government, and the right to choose his or her leaders.
  22. Everyone has the right to social security: housing, education, childcare, medical assistance, and welfare.
  23. Everyone has the right to employment, the right to choose his or her employer, the right to equal compensation, and the right to join a trade union.
  24. Everyone has the right to vacation and holidays with pay from work.
  25. Everyone has the right to food and shelter to maintain a healthy way of living.
  26. Everyone has the right to an education.
  27. Everyone has the right to protect his or her artistic and intellectual creations. No one can copy one’s creations without his or her permission.
  28. Everyone is entitled to proper social order where these rights are fully realized and recognized.
  29. Everyone has a duty to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
  30. No one can take away anyone’s human rights.

Additional reading

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with Optional Protocol

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) is an international treaty that pushes and monitors national legislation to implement accessibility as a human right for people with disabilities. In other words, the UN CRPD is a binding human rights treaty and serves as a framework for legal advocacy. It was adopted in 2006, and has acquired 163 UN member states signatures and 181 ratifications/accessions. On an American-centric note, the US signed it in 2009, but never ratified it. ☹

In 2008 the Optional Protocol was launched, which implemented the competencies and rights of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to monitor and accept complaints. It strengthened the UN CRPD by giving people with disabilities an additional tool to fight discrimination and exclusion.

The UN CRPD’s 50 articles (not posted in detail here) instruct governments, in regard to people with disabilities, to address the following ideas:

  • communication about & with people with disabilities
  • health care, habilitation, & rehabilitation
  • reasonable accommodation and accessibility
  • assistive technologies
  • access to information and information technology
  • independent living and self-determined decisions
  • personal mobility (buildings, transports, public spaces)
  • social, economic, employment, educational, political, recreational, sport, cultural, and legal activities
  • monitoring and reporting the progress and claiming disrespect by national and international human rights institutions

Additionally, the UN CRPD includes ICT, AT, accessibility, and universal design in most of its articles. Those concepts proved to be a driving force for acceptance of the treaty.

A general overview of the 50 articles of the UN CRPD articles:

  1. Purpose
  2. Definitions
  3. General principles
  4. General obligations
  5. Equality and non-discrimination
  6. Women with disabilities
  7. Children with disabilities
  8. Awareness-raising
  9. Accessibility
  10. Right to life
  11. Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies
  12. Equal recognition before the law
  13. Access to justice
  14. Liberty and security of person
  15. Freedom of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  16. Freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse
  17. Protecting the integrity of the person
  18. Liberty of movement and nationality
  19. Living independently and being included in the community
  20. Personal mobility
  21. Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information
  22. Respect for privacy
  23. Respect for home and the family
  24. Education
  25. Health
  26. Habilitation and rehabilitation
  27. Work and employment
  28. Adequate standard of living and social protection
  29. Participation in political and public life
  30. Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport
  31. Statistics and data collection
  32. International cooperation
  33. National implementation and monitoring
  34. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  35. Reports by States Parties
  36. Consideration of reports
  37. Cooperation between States Parties and the Committee
  38. Relationship of the Committee with other bodies
  39. Report of the Committee
  40. Conference of States Parties
  41. Depository
  42. Signature
  43. Consent to be bound
  44. Regional integration organizations
  45. Entry into force
  46. Reservations
  47. Amendments
  48. Denunciation
  49. Accessible format
  50. Authentic texts

Marrakesh Treaty (MVT)

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (MVT) was created by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) and adopted in 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco. It became legally binding in 2016. The U.S. joined the treaty in 2019 via the S.2559 Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act.

In short, the Marrakesh Treaty allows organizations to convert texts into an accessible and usable format (e.g. braille or audio) for blind, visually impaired, and print disabled without violating copyright.

I can remember when this one when it was first created. I was finishing up library school at the time. There was quite a bit of buzz in the library community about the possibility of an exemption that would widen the access of library materials. It’s amazing to me to see that the US finally joined the treaty this year.

Additional reading

In conclusion

A lot of groundwork has happened to get people talking, thinking, and enforcing the civil rights of people with disabilities. Efforts like these take many people, many perspectives, and time. It began with a global declaration, followed up by global treaties. Next, I’ll approach several civil rights, procurement, and industry-specific laws that have been established across the globe, thanks to the UN Declaration and UN Convention that paved the way toward a more inclusive world.

Benefits of Accessible Design

Accessible designs often benefit everyone. The most obvious group to benefit is people with disabilities. Independence and access is possible when public and digital spaces are built with accessibility in mind.

Organizations benefit from accessibility in several ways:

  • The organization stands out as one committed to equal opportunity and fairness;
  • The business product becomes more compatible/usable for more people;
  • Good markup, thoughtfully composed content, and text alternatives can improve search engine optimization (SEO);
  • Inclusivity increases customer base;
  • Funding eligibility from outside sources (like government) increases;
  • Chances of a lawsuit due to inaccessibility decreases.

In addition to people with disabilities gaining more independence, and businesses increasing engagement with their product, other groups in society often benefit from accessibility.  Some examples of accessible designs that have benefited people without disabilities:

  1. Curb cuts
  2. Elevators
  3. Dual height water fountains
  4. Automated doors

I would venture to guess that you have used most of the “features” I’ve listed. On a more dramatic note, independence for people with disabilities:

  1. Relieves a dependency burden from family and friends, and
  2. Increases interaction between people with and without disabilities, allowing for more friendships and meaningful companionship.

Accessible design creates better access for everyone, but that shouldn’t be our motivation. Access is a human right. Public and digital spaces should be accessible to people with disabilities. Accessible design isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have because it makes things possible for people with disabilities.

Additional Reading:

Day 92: A Day of Two Presentations

Whew, what an exhausting day! After presenting two different accessibility sessions at the Alaska Library Association conference today, I’m beat. The amazing part was the active engagement from participants, and the ability to still learn something from the co-presentation I was a part of.

Things I accomplished

  • Co-presented about accessible workstations in libraries, with my part focused on people with disabilities who may come into their library.
  • Presented about creating Word docs and PowerPoint slides with accessibility in mind.
  • Completed Deque’s MS Word Accessibility course.

What I reviewed today

  • U.S. law for people with disabilities
  • accessible electronic content (Word and PowerPoint)

What I learned

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was written in a such a way to benefit everyone. Whether born with a disability or acquired later in life, it’s there to serve us all.

I knew about the Word’s export to HTML feature, though I don’t like it. What I didn’t know is that there is another save for web option: Web Page, Filtered. This removes all that excess (ugly) code that forces formatting as inline styles. Styles are separated. I haven’t given it a try yet, but will give it a try later on this week.

Day 90: Section 508 and the ADA

I’ve had an accessibility-heavy week! However, it’s not without it’s rewards. I’ve found that sometimes on these journeys, ideas start to synchronize, articles relevant to what I’m questioning start to emerge in my Twitter feed, and people approach me about ideas or questions they have that spur me on further. In line with a talk I’m giving this weekend and the classes I’m taking through Deque, the U.S. laws that protect the civil rights of people with disabilities kept coming into question in my mind. It’s only appropriate that I spent a little bit of time with those fundamentals today.

Things I accomplished

  • Updated my presentation slides about people with disabilities.
  • Updated my presentation slides about accessible digital documents.
  • Completed Deque’s class “Section 508: Fundamentals of the Law and Technical Standards”.

What I reviewed today

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990


  • Title I (workplace)
  • Title II (state and local government services)
  • Title III (public accommodation and commercial facilities)
  • Title IV (telecommunications for speech and hearing impaired)
  • Title V (federal enforcement of ADA)

[Federal] Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended in 1998)

  • Section 501 (federal employment)
  • Section 502 (enables role of Access Board, which defines ICT and accessibility standards)
  • Section 504 (federally-funded programs and services, including schools)
  • Section 508 (refreshed in 2018; federally-funded information and communication technology), usually enforced with 501 or 504.

What I learned from it

Federal laws were instated to protect people with disabilities, as well as present an example to state and local governments, plus private entities. Laws focus on physical and electronic access.


  • Architectural Barriers Act (ABA)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act


  • Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): for state and local governments
  • Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act

The ADA is essential a blanket civil rights law that protects the equal treatment of people with disabilities. Many lawsuits are championed with the ADA.

The Section 508 refresh specifically references WCAG 2.0, Level AA:

“E205.4 under Electronic Content indicates the accessibility standards for electronic content shall conform to WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements”

However, non-web documents and non-web software are not required to meet four criteria:

  • 2.4.1 Bypass Blocks
  • 2.4.5 Multiple Ways
  • 3.2.3 Consistent Navigation
  • 3.2.4 Consistent Identification

There are some ICT exceptions in Section 508. These exceptions are:

  • Legacy ICT (“Safe Harbor”; created before January 17, 2018 and compliant with previous 508 standards)
  • National Security Systems (weapons or intelligence)
  • Incidental Federal contracts
  • ICT functions located in maintenance of monitoring systems
  • Undue burden or fundamental alteration (significant difficulty or expense, or alters the fundamental nature of the ICT)
  • Best Meets (a balance between Section 508 and agency needs, if compliant ICT is not available commercially)

The only exceptions to agency official communication (as opposed to public facing) being compliant with Section 508 are any records maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) obsolete to Federal recordkeeping statutes.

Whew! And there’s still so much to learn…

Day 87: Guidelines, Laws, and Myths

My intention today was to complete the first Deque course within the WAS certification prep program. I did do that, but not without being led to more resources that I need to read through. I’ve done a little research into US laws, but I need to read them again, plus read other laws mentioned in what I reviewed today. Looks like tomorrow’s study session is laid out for me.

Thing I accomplished

Completed guidelines, laws, and myths sections of Deque’s Accessibility Fundamentals.

What I reviewed today


Principles, guidelines, and authoring practices help create an accessible interaction between user and website or application. These guidelines and practices ensure that a variety of disabilities are taken into consideration.

I covered these more in detail on my own, which I’ve journalled on this site, but Deque does a decent job of getting the learner started with the basic principles and guidelines, and points them to official specifications. I’ll admit, I need to go back and spend some serious review time to go over all these.


Web accessibility laws usually fit into one of the following categories:

  • civil rights: discrimination against disabilities (Americans with Disabilities Act)
  • procurement: purchasing accessible IT products (Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act)
  • industry-specific: regulations for private industries (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, Air Carrier Access Act)

United States



Other Regions

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has a comprehensive list of international accessibility policies. Additionally, PowerMapper has a list of government accessibility standards.

Myths and Misconceptions about Accessibility

  1. It benefits only a small minority. Truth: It actually benefits everyone.
  2. It’s a short-term project. Truth: It’s on-going.
  3. It should be the last step. Truth: It needs to start at the beginning of the project and last throughout the project’s life cycle.
  4. It’s hard & expensive. Truth: Remediation is harder and more expensive than considering it throughout the life cycle.
  5. It’s ugly. Truth: Most accessibility features are not visible to everyone.

Best takeaway

“Inaccessible web sites are not just inconvenient for people with disabilities, they are blocking.”