New Colorado Law Requires All Government Websites to Meet Accessibility Standards

December 1, 2021

A new state law may have wide implications for digital accessibility in the United States. In July 2021, Colorado passed House Bill (HB) 21-1110, which requires state and local public entities to meet established website accessibility standards. Under the law, government websites must provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. 

HB 21-1110 defines accessibility as:

“Perceivable, operable, and understandable digital content that enables an individual with a disability to access the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services offered to other individuals, with the same privacy, independence and ease of use as exists for individuals without a disability.”

While other states have passed disability rights laws that require certain government websites to be accessible, HB 21-1110 goes further by establishing consistent standards — and penalties for non-compliance. Some key notes about the legislation:

  • Government websites must submit website accessibility plans to Colorado’s Office of Information Technology by July 1, 2022. 
  • Websites must implement those plans by July 1, 2024. 
  • Colorado agencies that do not comply with the state’s web accessibility standards face penalties including fines and actual monetary damages.

Colorado Representative David Ortiz led the effort to pass HB 21-110, working closely with advocates from organizations including the National Federation of the Blind and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. Ortiz, who uses a wheelchair, says that the law shows the importance of representation in elected offices.

“When it comes to fighting for disability rights, we have plenty of allies, but it’s different when it’s your community,” he told Colorado Newsline.

Colorado HB 21-110 will help standardize digital accessibility

In the United States, all government and private-sector websites have a legal responsibility to accommodate people with disabilities. The Department of Justice interprets the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as applicable to websites — and by some estimates, brands spend billions of dollars in legal fees each year responding to website accessibility demand letters. 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, is the consensus standard for digital accessibility worldwide, and the guidelines have been cited in many ADA-related judgments and structured settlements. Many accessibility laws are based on the WCAG (including Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal agencies and their contractors to conform with WCAG 2.0). However, the ADA does not include specific guidelines for web accessibility. 

Of course, consistent standards are extremely helpful for ensuring compliance. For years, lawmakers and disability rights advocates have pushed for national web accessibility legislation based on WCAG. While these efforts have been bipartisan, U.S. Congress has not yet codified specific standards. Colorado’s law may help the conversation move forward.

Related: Is There a Legal Requirement to Implement WCAG?

Colorado’s web accessibility law may be the first of many

Most U.S. states have laws or policies that require state agencies to provide accessible websites. Generally, these laws are intended to reinforce Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Notable examples include:

  • The Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act requires the State of Illinois to review its accessibility standards at least once every three years. Currently, the standards require state agencies and universities to comply with WCAG 2.0, while encouraging compliance with WCAG 2.1.
  • California Assembly Bill No. 434 requires state agencies and entities to meet the standards of WCAG 2.0 at a minimum of the AA success criteria. The law passed in 2017 and required compliance by July 1, 2019.
  • New York State’s Information Technology Policy requires state government agencies, entities, and contractors to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA guidelines. 

However, Colorado’s law is the first to apply to all government web content — including local agencies — and to establish clear standards and penalties.

For government offices, private businesses, and individuals, web accessibility offers numerous benefits. Accessible websites offer a better overall experience for everyone, and while laws like HB 21-110 are extremely important, website owners shouldn’t wait for legislation (or litigation) to embrace the best practices. 

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers expert compliance audits and remediation guidance, along with free resources for improving digital accessibility. To test your website against WCAG Level A/AA checkpoints, start with our free compliance summary. 

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