Colorado is the first country to require web accessibility for government

To the state legislator who sponsored the disability legislation, the success of Bill 21-1110 is the perfect example of the importance of “representation”.

After the election of first-year Democratic Representative David Ortiz of Littleton in 2020, he became the first person to use a wheelchair to sit on the Colorado General Assembly. This year, Ortiz led efforts to incorporate certain federal protections for people with disabilities into state law, making it easier for them to sue the government for discrimination.

Other states, including California, have passed similar disability rights laws. Colorado’s legislation – which Democratic Governor Jared Polis signed on June 30 – also goes further.

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When the requirements of HB-1110 are fully implemented, Colorado will be the first state in the country to legally require state and local public entities to meet website accessibility standards. The state’s Office of Information Technology is responsible for developing these standards and hiring a software developer to help state agencies implement them.

Advocates for groups such as the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and the National Federation of the Blind initially approached Ortiz with their proposal for the HB-1110. They told him that no other state had passed web accessibility laws, Ortiz said. He was eager to support the effort.

This shows why it is important for people from the disability community to be elected, Ortiz explained.

“When it comes to fighting for the rights of people with disabilities, we have many allies, but it’s different when it comes to your community,” he said.

State officials David Ortiz, left, and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez listen during a press conference in support of Senate Bill 21-87, which would provide farm workers with a bill of rights, the May 20, 2021, at the Colorado Capitol. (Quentin Young / Colorado Press Line)

According to W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, true online accessibility means that people must be able to ‘perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the web’, as well as ‘contribute to the web’ – regardless of any hearing, cognitive, neurological, physical, vocal or visual.

For example, an accessible website should contain text descriptions for images, videos, graphics, and logos. Text is important for people who are blind or have low vision, who may use a screen reader or braille device. People who are deaf or hard of hearing require transcriptions of audio and video content.

“We all learned last year how important it is to have this access,” said Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. “Access to broadband is one thing, but just being able to… use websites is also very important. “

HB-1110 requires state agencies to develop and submit website accessibility plans to the ILO by July 1, 2022 and implement these plans by July 1, 2024. Local agencies are to also meet ILO standards by July 2024.

There are consequences for non-compliance, thanks to the other important part of the legislation. HB-1110 makes it a violation of state civil rights for a government agency to exclude people with disabilities from receiving services or benefits. Any Colorado agency that does not meet the ILO’s web accessibility standards could face an injunction, that is, a court order; actual monetary damages; or a fine of $ 3,500 payable to the applicant, who must be a person from the disability community.

“The injunction relief makes sure it’s not punitive – if you’re not accessible, just fix it,” Ortiz explained.

Although state and local agencies are already subject to federal accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act, adding these protections to state laws means that people with disabilities will be able to bring discrimination lawsuits to court. state courts instead of just a federal court – for accessibility issues with government programs and facilities ranging from transit systems to the Capitol. People can sue the state for web accessibility starting in July 2024.

“The ADA is in effect right now, so nothing would prevent anyone from going to federal court and suing the state and local government this second if there is an access problem,” he said. Reiskin.

However, the new ability to bring some ADA-type lawsuits in state courts means that it will be easier for people living in rural areas – away from Denver Federal District Court – to hold the government accountable. discrimination violations.

Advocates hope it won’t take legal action for governments to meet the same standards they arguably should already meet under the ADA, which was passed in 1990.

Initially, groups representing counties, towns, cities, and special districts in Colorado feared the bill would impose hard-to-meet requirements, but local governments took a neutral stance after the bill was amended. to compromise. This included extending the deadline for making websites accessible, which was originally set this year.

Now that Colorado has a web accessibility law in effect, Reiskin expects other states to follow suit.

At the same time, disability advocates are pushing for President Joe Biden’s administration to restart a rule-making process to implement federal web accessibility standards. Rule-making was started under former President Barack Obama, but scrapped under Obama’s successor Donald Trump in 2017. Federal rules dictating minimum standards for web accessibility would allow the Department of Justice to enforce them under the ADA.

If and when this happens, “our state and local governments will be ahead of the curve,” Reiskin said.


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