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Navigating Web Accessibility for All

by Amanda Croskrey and Alex Terlecky

Additional contribution by Dianne Criswell

Recent legislation from the Colorado General Assembly, House Bill 21-1110 (Strengthening protections in the Colorado statutes relating to persons with disabilities), made Colorado the first state in the nation to expressly require that the websites of “public entities,” including the state and local governments, meet certain standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities and to establish consequences for failing to do so.

On one hand, HB 21-1110 will dramatically improve the experience of Coloradans with disabilities as they navigate the websites of local governments, and on the other hand, it will make it easier for noncompliant local agencies to be sued for discrimination.

In this article, we are going to focus on website ADA compliance, detail the recent legislation, and provide you with a brief history of this act. We’ll also cover what you need to know in regards to implementation of these web standards.

The Facts About HB 21-1110

HB 21-1110 requires that state agencies develop and submit website accessibility plans to the Office of Information Technology (OIT) by July 1, 2022. Those submitted plans need to be implemented by July 1, 2024, meeting all accessibility standards.

True web accessibility, according to W3C, Web Accessibility Initiative,  means that “websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.” This means that people can not only perceive, understand, and navigate the web; they can interact with it as well.

Web accessibility should accommodate all individuals with disabilities including those with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual impairments.

One major part of HB 21-1110 outlines the consequences for noncompliance. The result of excluding people with disabilities from receiving services or benefits is a violation of Colorado’s civil rights for persons with disabilities.

Not meeting OIT’s standards can expose public entities, including special districts, to injunctive relief, a court order requiring compliance, recovery of actual monetary damages, or a fee of $3,500 for each violation payable to the qualified individual bringing a civil suit for a violation based on his or her disability.

Persons with disabilities can bring lawsuits against public entities over web accessibility beginning July 2024.

History of the ADA

One of the most important basis of civil rights for persons with disabilities is the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990. The ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in everyday activities, including discriminatory barriers to participating in governmental programs or services.

The Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice has a helpful publication for state and local governments on how Title II of the ADA applies to them.

The ADA was created before the internet took off, but, shortly thereafter, experts and advocates for persons with disabilities began discussions and drafting of accessibility guidelines.

In 1998, Congress incorporated website accessibility by establishing guidelines for federal agencies and contractors.

These are sometimes referred to as Section 508 standards (incorporated into federal law by amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973).

While these Section 508 standards do not necessarily apply to state and local governments (they may apply to public entities receiving types of federal funding or grants), there is a growing consensus that government websites at all levels should be accessible to persons with disabilities, and individual claims filed against public and private entities have been working their way through federal courts for many years.

As a result, many businesses and governments are working to ensure that their websites are compliant with federal or state ADA laws.

It should be noted that federal guidelines for ADA web accessibility still confuse many.

For example, in the past, it has not been clear whether a business website with low traffic is required to apply ADA rules. The upside in Colorado is that HB 21-1110 will make state standards clear through agency rulemaking.

For CSD Pool Members, the best way to avoid the consequences of failing to implement HB 21-1110, even though it is not enforceable until 2024, is to consider taking the following actions:

  • Begin the process of running accessibility checks on your district’s webpages;
  • Incorporate accessibility into any planned website updates;
  • Develop new content with accessibility in mind;
  • Listen to feedback from persons with disabilities;
  • Document your approaches to making your district’s website accessible (keep feedback, copies of old web pages); and
  • Follow the larger trends, including OIT rulemaking.

What Does it Mean to Be Compliant?

Becoming a fully compliant website may be nearly impossible for some websites. It is in your best interest to focus on the Level A issues that can severely limit the ability of someone with a disability to use your website.

There are four areas of focus that can help an organization or web developer build their website to comply:

  1. Perceivable: the website must have presentable information that anyone can perceive, regardless of disability.
  2. Operable: the user must be able to navigate through a website by various means, regardless of disability.
  3. Understandable: the user must be able to understand the information presented.
  4. Robust: the user must be able to use assistive technology on the website.

How Can I Make My Website Compliant?

There are many online resources on ADA website compliance. There are websites that offer free ADA compliant checks as well as checklists to go over yourself. Below are a few basic steps to help guide you through how to build an ADA compliant website.

When beginning, assess the current status of your website. You can do this by using a checklist and going through the four areas of focus outlined above.

There are also ways to check for compliance by using an automated ADA checker. Even then, make sure to still go through and use the checklist as some automated checkers can miss some items.

In addition, it is important to read the updated laws and regulations of accessible websites. Since legislation has been constantly changing in the last couple of years, it is important to keep your website updated according to the most current ADA laws.

Areas of Attention

There are four major areas to pay attention to when considering re-tooling a website to make it compliant. These include: website design and presentation; user access, control & navigation; alternatives and descriptions; and language, titles and text.

These next few tips provide detailed technical direction for updating websites. Depending on experience and time constraints, it may be beneficial to seek outside help from a professional web designer.

Website design and presentation

This areas is typically the primary consideration to whether a website is compliant or not. When working on design and presentation, make sure proper markup techniques are used, such as the correct heading tags and use of ordered and unordered lists. Auditing current websites is important, as well. Be sure to check for broken links or error pages.

User access, control & navigation

ADA-compliant websites are meant to be navigated with a keyboard alone because some individuals are unable to use a mouse.

Keyboard only users should not be able to get stuck on any part of the website, and should be able to move back and forth between pages without use of a mouse.

In addition, be sure to provide users with multiple ways to access different pages on a website. A link to a sitemap is critical, as is having a search bar or navigation menu.

Alternatives and descriptions

In this category, it is important to never use images of text in place of actual text. The exceptions to this rule include the use of images for branding, logos, and charts with labels and infographics.

However, infographics and charts—as well as all images—must include descriptive captions as well as alt text that is coded into the website upon upload. This allows users that use screen reader software the ability to navigate easily.

Language, titles and text

Each page of a website is required to contain descriptive page titles that clearly explains what the page is about.

The point of this measure is for persons with disabilities to easily determine where they are on a website.

Additionally, if a website contains abbreviations or uncommon words, explanations are needed to provide understanding of the word’s meaning. Also consider the use of anchor text.

When linking to a URL, do not simply say “click here.” Instead, make sure to provide the content and value of what is being clicked on, such as “Our Staff” or “Programs and Services.”

Final Thoughts

Having a website that is accessible for persons with disabilities under Colorado’s laws is not only the right thing to do, but also ensures that your district’s website is open to everyone, which is a huge benefit to the public.

Your district can best serve your residents by avoiding costly claims or even by raising general concerns that your district does not value accessibility.

Although the steps and requirements may seem daunting at first glance, these changes are easy to make and can be done with a limited understanding of web design and coding.

With a little time and effort, your district’s website can easily be updated to adhere to accessibility guidelines.

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.