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Introduction

Local Governments are waking up to the fact that the accessibility of website content has tangible benefits for citizens with disabilities.

Since the ADA was passed in 1990, local governments have made sure that their government buildings are accessible to citizens with disabilities. But many officials are realizing that ADA and Section 508 also apply to the information they make available on their websites for the sake of transparency.

ADA vs. Section 508 vs. WCAG

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all services, programs, and activities of state and local governments.

Section 508

Section 508 requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

WCAG

WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) was developed to make the internet inclusive for everyone. It is the standard for web accessibilty to be adopted by local governments.

State-wise Accessibility Laws

  • New York City became the first major municipality in the United States to adopt the website accessibility legislation (Intro. 683-A) mandating accessibility standards for all government websites.
  • The Colorado House Bill 1110 mandates that all state and local government websites adhere to the “most recent” version of WCAG by July 1, 2024. The bill appropriates $312,922 to support conformance efforts during fiscal year 2021-22.

5 Things local governments have to know about website accessibility

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has established accessibility standards for local government websites

ADA requires local governments to ensure all of their digital content is accessible by citizens with visual, auditory, and other physical limitations and disabilities.

All local government websites should be designed to accommodate the use of assistive technology

Local government websites must be compatible with common forms of assistive technology such as screen readers, OCR software, and voice recognition tools.

All images on civic websites must have alt text descriptions

Visually impaired users use screen readers to read the alt text for images.

Standards are available to guide government website design

Section 508 and WCAG guidelines help government website designers ensure they are continually building compliant websites.

Failure to comply with accessibility standards could have financial implications

Since 2011, hundreds of local and state government entities have been sued on the grounds of having inaccessible websites. The fines can be up to 75,000 dollars for the first violation and 150,000 dollars for any subsequent violation.

The importance of compliance with accessibility laws

Section 508

Local governments should adhere to Section 508 because every level and form of government provides services to all people, including people with disabilities.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA requires local governments to ensure all of their digital content is accessible by citizens with visual, auditory, and other physical limitations and disabilities.

Title II Sample Cases

Since 2011, hundreds of local government entities have been sued on the grounds of having inaccessible websites.

– GovOS

City of Durham, North Carolina and City of Jacksonville Florida

The United States Department of Justice reached a settlement with these two cities to operate their programs, services, or activities so that they are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

Local governments can make use of this simplified checklist to make their websites accessible

  • Establish a policy that your webpages will be accessible.
  • Ensure that all new and modified webpages and digital content are accessible.
  • Develop a plan for making your existing web content more accessible.
  • Establish a policy that your webpages will be accessible.
  • Ensure that all new and modified webpages and digital content are accessible.
  • Develop a plan for making your existing web content more accessible.
  • Ensure that in-house staff and contractors responsible for webpage and content development are properly trained.
  • Provide a way for visitors to request accessible information or services by posting a telephone number or e-mail address on your home page.
  • Periodically enlist people with disabilities to test your pages for ease of use.

Conclusion

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice (which enforces the ADA) released an online guide for state and local governments https://bit.ly/3KI0ANW. The Department recommends agencies develop an action plan to improve web accessibility.

Local governments must hasten to implement accessibility into their websites to ensure equal access to citizens of all abilities. According to a survey by the National Institute of health, one in five Americans, about 53 million people have a disability of some kind. Ensuring equal access to information is the primary responsibility of those in the seat of power.

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