The White House’s New Digital Accessibility Memorandum: What Is It and Why Is It So Important?

01/25/2024

By Lily Clark

The digital world is buzzing with the latest announcement from the White House: a new memorandum on digital accessibility that’s set to revolutionize the way U.S. citizens interact with digital government resources. This groundbreaking guidance, released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is a significant step towards a more inclusive digital environment for all, particularly for the 61 million Americans living with disabilities.

Highlights of the Memorandum

The memorandum is a response to a critical shortfall: nearly half of the most popular federal government websites currently lack full accessibility. This gap has created major barriers for millions of people, denying equal access to essential services. The new OMB guidance aims to dismantle barriers that have long restricted equal access to essential government services.

The initiative encompasses several crucial aspects:

  • Delivering accessible digital experiences,
  • Establishing digital accessibility programs and policies,
  • Procuring accessible products and services,
  • Monitoring and remediating digital content on a consistent basis, and
  • Cultivating a positive culture of digital accessibility.

Specifically, this new memorandum lays out rules that all federal agencies will be required to follow. The fact that the memorandum requires Federal agencies to comply – rather than simply offering lighter “suggestions” – shows how seriously the current American government is taking the issue of equal digital access.

Recent Steps Toward a Digitally Accessible USA

To appreciate the magnitude of this memorandum, we want to mention several milestones throughout recent history that have impacted the United States and have led to the OMB’s new guidance. The Section 508 Refresh of the Rehabilitation Act back in 2018 was a major step toward including digital accessibility practices at the government level. With it, federal agencies within the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) field had to ensure their digital content was accessible to people with disabilities.

Additionally, the recent updates to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), both the release of WCAG 2.1 in 2018 and the most recent release of WCAG 2.2 in 2023, were pivotal in providing digital accessibility guidance that reflects the constant technological advancements our world is achieving. While the WCAG come from an international body and are not tied to one singular country, its regular updates have been impactful on how accessibility professionals around the world, including the United States, create and remediate websites and software for accessibility.

Legal action – such as the lawsuits against Winn Dixie, Beyonce, and Netflix, to name a few of the major brands – also had a major effect on the push for accessible digital spaces. A significant turning point in the American digital accessibility journey was the landmark Supreme Court decision in favor of a blind man who sued Domino’s Pizza over their website’s lack of accessibility. The lawsuit was finally settled in 2022, 6 years after the initial filing.

The Domino’s lawsuit highlighted a crucial aspect of digital accessibility: the internet is an integral part of our daily lives, and everyone should have equal access to it. The Supreme Court’s decision sent a powerful message to businesses and organizations – neglecting digital accessibility is not an option; it’s a legal and moral imperative.

That case garnered a lot of attention, and subsequently, pushed both American citizens and the American government to take a much needed step toward understanding the importance of digital accessibility.

The Impact and Beyond

The White House’s memorandum on digital accessibility marks a pivotal and hopeful moment in creating a more inclusive digital environment in the United States. It’s a step forward in ensuring that the digital world is a place where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can thrive and participate fully.

Even better, the memorandum encourages a proactive stance towards digital accessibility and advocates for a genuine embrace of accessibility and inclusivity principles in digital governance.

Laws, policies, best practices, and more that similarly stress the importance of digital inclusion will actively move us toward a future where digital accessibility is not an afterthought. One day, we hope that it will be a fundamental aspect of every digital endeavor.

For those eager to delve deeper into this initiative, the OMB published a press release that covers more details of the guidance. Additionally, the full policy can be found in the OMB Memo 24-08.

Create Inclusive Digital Spaces with Ability, Inc.

The White House’s memorandum is a historic step, but the journey towards universal digital accessibility is ongoing. As technology advances, digital accessibility standards get updated and legal requirements change. Staying up to date requires expertise and commitment.

Ability is here to help ensure that your digital spaces – whether that’s a website, application, video, document, or other digital content – are accessible to all users. Our team of accessibility experts will assess, advise, and assist in implementing the necessary changes to ensure your website meets the highest standards of accessibility.

Every website made accessible, every app designed with inclusivity in mind, adds to the momentum. Join our team at Ability in this exciting journey. Together, we can ensure that the digital world is not just accessible but welcoming to all.

If you’re interested in getting a WCAG audit or even certifying your WCAG conformance, schedule a quick call here with one of our accessibility experts.

Is Your Website Accessible?

The Author

Lily Clark

Lily Clark