Whether they operate at the federal, state, or local level, government organizations can no longer afford to make digital accessibility an afterthought.
In February 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released its first report in over a decade on compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires that federal agencies use inclusive digital technology. The DOJ’s renewed commitment to enforcing digital accessibility laws is hardly surprising given President Biden’s own prioritization of the issue. Less than two years prior, the president released an executive order directing federal government organizations to embed accessibility into all their operations, including ensuring that their digital experiences are usable for all.
While Biden’s executive order sought to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the federal workforce, individual states including California and Colorado have already begun implementing their own digital accessibility regulations—and others will likely follow suit. Additionally, last spring, the DOJ announced its intent to propose new regulations for Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The proposed requirements—which are anticipated to be released for comment in April 2023—would establish specific accessibility standards for the websites of all state and local governments.
Legal mandates aside, state and local governments have an obligation to their constituents to commit to digital accessibility, as well as a duty to current and prospective employees. Neglecting to meet this responsibility would mark a departure from the model of equity put forward by the nation’s leadership—and not only from President Biden, but also from Congress, which has shown bipartisan support for increased accountability around Section 508.
In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into how the White House’s focus on digital accessibility affects governments at the state and local level and explain why these organizations need to ensure that their digital properties are inclusive.
The Cliff’s Notes for President Biden’s DEIA executive order
Missed the news about President Biden’s executive order, or didn’t make it past the headline? Here’s a quick run-down.
In June of 2021, the president signed Executive Order 14035, titled “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce.” The order intends to create a fairer and more just environment for all federal government employees, regardless of attributes such as race, ethnicity, gender, and disability. It tasks federal agencies with evaluating the current state of DEIA in their workforce, and outlining plans for removing barriers to employment faced by employees from marginalized communities.
Biden specifically emphasized that the disability community was under-represented in national leadership and charged the federal government with becoming a “model employer for people with disabilities.” To help achieve this, the order mandates that all federal workplaces and technologies are made accessible.
How the federal accessibility mandate impacts state and local leaders
Biden’s executive order on DEIA may be aimed at federal government agencies, but it has meaningful consequences for states and localities as well. Let’s explore a few of the ways that the president’s directive impacts non-federal governments.
It sets an example for states
By directing federal agencies to prioritize digital accessibility, President Biden set an example for non-federal governments across the United States. Several states, including Colorado, California, Massachusetts, and Virginia have already adopted legislation that aligns with these federal standards, and we expect that others will follow their lead—particularly given the DOJ’s proposed updates to Title II of the ADA.
Beginning in July 2024, the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology will begin enforcing digital accessibility requirements for state government agencies. Organizations that fail to comply will be considered in violation of state discrimination laws and penalized accordingly.
Meanwhile, California’s Assembly Bill No. 434 (AB 434) has mandated that all state government websites conform with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA criteria since 2019. To ensure sustained compliance, state entities must audit their digital assets every two years. These requirements followed 2016 legislation extending Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, a federal law, to all California state and local governments.
It makes digital accessibility a nationwide priority
President Biden’s DEIA executive order called attention to the inequities faced by the disability community on the national stage, and specifically referenced the barriers created by inaccessible technology. This brought the importance of digital accessibility into the public consciousness on a new scale. Even in states where governments aren’t yet legally required to use inclusive digital experiences, constituents are now aware that accessibility is a federal priority and may take issue with practices the White House has deemed discriminatory. And as agencies, and their constituents, increasingly prioritize digital accessibility, software vendors that sell to state government agencies must be mindful that their technologies can be used by people of all abilities—or risk losing valuable business.
It establishes a new standard for equity at all levels of government
The president’s use of the acronym DEIA, rather than the widely used DEI, made it clear that digital accessibility needs to be a pillar of any government initiative aimed at broad social and economic justice. This has key implications for every state or local government official whose platform includes equity. Advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, including through inclusive technology, is no longer a separate issue from advancing opportunities for people in other marginalized communities. It’s an integral part of creating a fairer and more just world.
What state and local leaders can do to embrace digital accessibility
Ready to eliminate accessibility barriers in your organization’s technology? Start by following the two steps outlined in the federal directive. First, assess your organization’s current state of digital accessibility, and second, establish a plan for remediating issues. You should also ensure any new digital technology you procure is accessible to all.
To evaluate your existing systems and assets, you’ll want to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)—the digital accessibility standards cited by federal legislation, as well as state directives in Colorado and California. (You can find more information about WCAG in our Must-Have WCAG Checklist.) Level Access’ platform includes solutions that let you easily test for WCAG conformance and prioritize issues based on risk. Additionally, we provide the training and expert support necessary to remediate issues identified, and ensure that your digital properties stay in conformance over time.
What’s more? Level Access has a product that is already vetted and cleared for security through the Federal Government FedRAMP® Authorization.
To learn more, engage with our team today.
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