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Texas Counties Agree to Improve Accessibility for Election Websites

Jun 19, 2024

Four Texas counties have reached an agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make improvements to their election websites in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The agreement resolves a DOJ investigation, which was carried out as part of the department’s ADA Voting Initiative. In November 2023, the Justice Department issued public letters to four counties: Colorado County, Runnels County, Smith County, and Upton County.

According to the DOJ, the counties violated Title II of the ADA by maintaining election websites that discriminated against people with vision or manual disabilities. The ADA does not require discrimination to be intentional — accidental accessibility barriers still qualify as violations of the law.

Texas counties must implement new web accessibility policies and engage in independent testing

Under the settlement agreements, counties must retain an “independent web accessibility services provider" approved by the United States (i.e., the Justice Department). That services provider must have a team that includes people with disabilities. 

The election websites must be audited against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA, the international standards for digital accessibility. Within four months, the websites must meet the requirements for Level AA conformance. 

Additionally, the counties must:

  • Provide accessibility training to employees within 60 days. 
  • Inform web visitors of known accessibility barriers.
  • Implement updated “web accessibility procedures” reviewed by the United States within four months. 
  • Report any unresolved accessibility barriers to the United States, along with reasons that the barriers were not able to be resolved. 

“Voting in the 21st century requires that officials make their websites accessible to people with disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in a press release announcing the settlements

“Discriminatory barriers on election websites can prevent people with disabilities from exercising their right to vote. These agreements should send a message to state and local officials across the country about the importance of ensuring that their election websites are accessible for voters with disabilities so that they can participate equally in our democratic process.”

The DOJ. has stepped up enforcement of the ADA under the Biden Administration

At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we’ve advocated for improvements to public websites, particularly crucial resources like election websites and public health portals. 

While the ADA clearly requires accessible public websites, an extraordinary number of federal and state websites fail basic accessibility tests. That has deepened the digital divide between people with and without disabilities — a trend which has real-world consequences.

President Joe Biden’s administration has taken concrete steps to prioritize accessibility. Shortly after taking office, the President’s transition team published a new website, which included an accessibility statement that specifically cited WCAG. 

Under Biden, the Justice Department has also established WCAG as the technical requirements for Title II compliance and stepped up enforcement of those standards.

The DOJ has stopped short of establishing WCAG as an official regulation for Title III enforcement. However, the department’s official web accessibility guidance establishes WCAG as a reasonable standard. And in numerous cases, the DOJ has reached settlement agreements with private businesses to resolve accessibility barriers by meeting WCAG Level AA.

Related: Despite New DOJ Guidance, Many Organizations Haven't Adopted Accessible Web Design

All organizations have a responsibility to provide accessible content for users

In the United States, both private and public institutions have a legal responsibility to follow the ADA — and setting legal requirements aside, accessibility should be a crucial priority for every type of organization. 

For small businesses, an accessible website can lead to more traffic and a better user experience. For corporations, the best practices of accessibility support brand recognition and recall, driving sales. And for public agencies, digital accessibility ensures that every person has equivalent access to vital resources.

WCAG provides an excellent roadmap for compliance. To learn more, download our free eBook: Essential Guide to ADA Accessibility Compliance for Websites.

To start building your strategy for digital accessibility compliance, schedule a free 30-minute consultation or get started with a free website accessibility scan.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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