Accessibility Statement vs. Policy — What’s the Difference?

woman looking at laptop

What do you name the accessibility page that you link to in the footer of your website?

Do you call it an accessibility statement or should you go with accessibility policy?

The police aren’t coming to your door if you choose the wrong one, but we both know why we’re in this saloon (details and a shot of OCD).

The W3C (creators of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) use a statement but as this topic falls within the legal best practices realm, I’d prefer to align with the Department of Justice’s stance.

For those of you keeping score at home, the U.S. Department of Justice enforces ADA regulations governing state and local government services (Title II) and public accommodations (Title III).

The ADA is what most people reading this article are trying to be in compliance with so the logic foundation stage is set beautifully for theatre.

On the actual Justice.gov website, the DOJ goes with “Accessibility Information” which, ironically, isn’t what they’ve required in their private enforcement actions that mandate web accessibility.

But let’s get away from the DOJ’s miscue and focus on what they’ve required of private entities in website accessibility private actions.

In the edX settlement, the DOJ mandated:

“Provide a direct link to the Website Accessibility Policy from the footer of the www.edx.org homepage (e.g., near the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy) and, on the applicable Website Accessibility Policy webpage, solicit feedback from visitors to www.edx.org on how to improve the accessibility of the website and online courses.”

That’s a clear win for policy.

In the HR Block consent decree, the DOJ mandated:

“Web Accessibility Policy: By June 1, 2014, H&R Block shall adopt and implement a Web Accessibility Policy”

But wait, look at this:

“d. make publicly available and directly link from the www.hrblock.com homepage, a statement of H&R Block’s policy to ensure that persons with disabilities have full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of H&R Block, through www.hrblock.com, its mobile applications, and its Online Tax Preparation Product; and

e. accompany the public policy statement with an accessible means of submitting accessibility questions and problems.”

The key selections being:

  • “a statement of H&R Block’s policy”
  • “the public policy statement”

To me, this looks like an endorsement for a statement.

Let’s look at another DOJ agreement.

In the Miami University consent decree, the DOJ went with policy:

“Within three (3) months of the entry of this Decree, Miami will submit for the United States’ approval an Accessible Technology Policy consistent with this Decree. The Accessible Technology Policy will provide for equal opportunity for qualified individuals with disabilities to participate in and benefit from Miami’s services, programs, and activities.”

“b. Make the Accessible Technology Policy publicly available, directly linked from an accessibility link on www.miamioh.edu”

Another win for policy.

In a settlement agreement with McLennan County, Texas, the DOJ threw a slight curveball.

“Adopt, implement, and post online a policy that its web pages will comply with WCAG 2.0 AA, published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), available at www.w3.org/TR/WCAG;”

“Provide a notice, prominently and directly linked from its homepage, instructing visitors to its websites on how to request accessible information.”

Although the first selection seems straightforward enough in favor of policy, the second selection references “notice” which sets us a paces back in a highly technical language battle for the championship of the galaxy.

And just for good measure, here’s what the ADA Title II Website Accessibility Toolkit (for local and state governments) says:

“Establish, implement, and post online a policy that your webpages will be accessible and create a process for implementation.”

supreme court building
supreme court building

Let’s start with definitions:

Per the Cambridge dictionary, a policy is a set of ideas or a plan of what to do in particular situations that has been agreed to officially by a group of people, a business organization, a government, or a political party.

Cambridge dictionary defines a statement as something that someone says or writes officially, or an action done to express an opinion.

Back to the DOJ.

Clearly the DOJ favors “policy” but I think the proper application actually favors a statement of a policy over policy.

If your policy is lengthy and detailed — as one might be for larger organizations with multiple digital assets, then a condensed statement of the policy is the best approach (I believe this is what they were getting at with H&R Block).

It would be incorrect form to display all of our inner workings to the public. For example, the details of what measures are to be taken and who does what and when aren’t for the general public.

And, besides, a long and winding document gets away from the purpose of having a policy page in the first place.

Thus, in these instances where your true policy is expansive, a statement that summarizes your policy is best.

If your policy is relatively short and simple, then a policy page is certainly fine but I’d go with statement.

Or, you could always be a wild mustang and just refer to your page as “accessibility”.