The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) has released a brief statement outlining the importance of digital accessibility coordinator roles in state governments.
NASCIO is a non-profit organization that advises state Chief Information Officers (CIOs). While NASCIO has a wide range of responsibilities, their primary focus is on security, privacy, and other information technology (IT) issues that might impact state operations.
“With the expansion of digital government services, accessibility is an imperative,” said Meredith Ward, NASCIO deputy executive director, in a press release. “With nearly 40 percent of citizens over the age of 16 now having at least one disability, making these digital services accessible is more important than ever.”
The organization notes that at least 15 U.S. states currently have a digital accessibility coordinator role, and that “many more" states have plans to create the positions.
Here’s why digital accessibility coordinators are crucial at the state level — and why many states are failing to fulfill their responsibilities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Department of Justice has emphasized accessibility requirements for states
The Justice Department (DOJ) is in the process of finalizing a new Title II web accessibility rule, which would establish clear technical requirements for state agencies. Currently, the ADA doesn’t include specifications (which is understandable, since the ADA became law more than three decades ago).
The new rule is widely expected to establish the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the standards for Title II compliance. However, the DOJ has also clearly expressed its opinion that the ADA currently applies to digital content — even if specific technical standards aren’t in place.
Over the last few years, the DOJ has taken a more aggressive approach to Title II digital accessibility complaints:
- In December 2021, the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD), which required that the MTD improve accessibility for its website and mobile applications for users with visual and manual impairments.
- In November 2022, the Justice Department announced a proposed consent decree with the University of California (UC) Berkeley, addressing alleged Title II violations related to the university’s online library of videos, podcasts, and free online courses.
- In November 2023, the Justice Department announced its findings that four Texas counties violated Title II by allegedly operating election websites that were inaccessible for users with disabilities.
But despite those actions, many states fail to provide a basic level of digital access. In September 2023, researchers from North Carolina State University (NCSU) found that state websites created to share COVID-19 information failed to meet the Level AA standards of WCAG, which are widely considered to be reasonable standards for digital accessibility.
Digital accessibility coordinators could help government agencies prioritize users with disabilities
The NASCIO press release notes that the number of US. adults with at least one disability has risen by 38 percent over the last decade. Over the same period, demand for digital services from state governments has skyrocketed.
State digital accessibility coordinators could help to address the need for accessible resources. Coordinators could:
- Develop, implement, and report on statewide digital accessibility policies and practices.
- Conduct or manage accessibility training for state employees.
- Conduct or manage audits for state websites, social media platforms, applications, and internal systems.
- Work with procurement offices and vendors to make sure that contracted products and vendors are accessible.
- Advocate and evangelize for the best practices of accessibility, going beyond WCAG to prioritize the experiences of people with disabilities.
And while accessibility should never be assigned to a single person or team, it’s important to establish clear responsibilities. By creating positions for digital accessibility professionals, state governments can start working on their accessibility debt — and more importantly, they can provide better access to essential services.
State-level accessibility positions could help to create an inclusive internet
At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we’ve helped organizations comply with the Revised Section 508 Standards of the Rehabilitation Act (which are based on WCAG 2.0) and Titles II and III of the ADA. Currently, states are failing to provide accessible resources for their residents, but establishing clear managerial roles could certainly help to address the issue.
To learn more about the best practices of accessibility, send us a message to connect with an expert. Or, if you’re ready to see how your site compares with WCAG Level AA standards, get started with a free automated analysis.