Background on Accessibility

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted into law. It prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, including Section 508 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessible technology interferes with an individual’s ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. 794d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.

In 2003, California enacted Government Code 11135 – adopting, in its entirety, the amended U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This Act includes Section 508, Subpart B, Sub-Section 1194.22 providing for accessibility of government websites. California government websites are therefore required to comply with these laws. However, at the time the legislation was enacted, state departments and agencies were not provided with explanations or interpretations of the law indicating how it should be implemented, web accessibility training for implementation, or defined resources for consultation. The law was not systematically enforced at the state level.

In 2006, the Office of the State of California Chief Information Officer formed the Information Organization, Usability, Currency, and Accessibility (IOUCA) Working Group, which, in conjunction with the Department of Rehabilitation, created accessibility recommendations for California. These recommendations comply with California Government Code 11135 including Section 508 and the Priority 1 and 2 level checkpoints of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG 1.0 “AA” Conformance Level) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These recommendations were adopted as statewide standards on June 16, 2006 by the State Portal Review Board, and July 14, 2006 by the State Portal Steering Committee, and are to be used for planning new and redesigned state websites.

Why Accessibility Is Important

The Internet has dramatically changed the way state and local governments do business. Today, government agencies routinely make much more information about their programs, activities, and services available to the public by posting it on their websites. As a result, many people can easily access this information seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Many government services and activities are also provided on websites because the public is able to participate in them at any time of day and without the assistance of government personnel. Many government websites offer a low cost, quick, and convenient way of filing tax returns, paying bills, renewing licenses, signing up for programs, applying for permits or funding, submitting job applications, and performing a wide variety of other activities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and, if the government entities receive federal funding, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 generally require that state and local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities or would impose an undue burden.

The Webmaster’s Role

The webmaster’s role in accessibility is to:

  • Become an advocate for accessibility in the agency
  • Be as knowledgeable as possible on the subject when validating for accessibility
  • Build accessible sites
  • Use automated testing but confirm it manually
  • Perform manual checks on the 50% missed by automated testing
  • Gain an appreciation of web accessibility by understanding the user perspective – testing with people with disabilities.

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