Increasing their population by almost a million people in ten years, Colorado is one of those states people are running towards instead of seeking ways out. Filled with fantastic landscapes, diverse culture and super healthy people, (The CDC ranks it as the healthiest state in the U.S.) Colorado keeps coming up at the vanguard on many issues. And not for nothing, Colorado and I share an immense love of John Denver and his musical legacy. I am just saying that it is a state with wonderful taste and it has its priorities straight.
With so many things already going for it, it was with great interest that I saw headlines proclaiming that Colorado passed the first in the nation web accessibility law for state and local government agencies. My first reaction was ‘it’s about damn time!’ My second reaction was, ‘Well, that’s an awfully narrowly written headline that doesn’t really provide a complete picture of things at the state level across the country.’
Allow me to explain. The headline is not wrong. Colorado is the first state to mandate web accessibility at the state and local levels. This is awesome and long overdue. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) section II already requires that, “State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).” Some have been arguing that this increasingly applies to the web, and not just physical spaces as was the case when it was passed.
In addition, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, required federal electronic and information technology to be accessible and lawsuits have been brought against states under the federal ADA in the past. Section 508 offers a framework to many states to adopt these same or similar rules at the state level. You can find a nice list of what states have going on at Section508.gov. These tend to be limited policies (not laws) that target one aspect of governing like procurement or state education, etc.
It is clear that neither the ADA, nor web accessibility principles are new. There are frameworks, guidelines, policies, and principles out there for government entities at all levels to be doing the right thing. It is shameful that two decades into the 21st century that any governmental agency could leave a large swath of their constituents unable to access essential information and services. So let us take a moment and applaud the good people of Colorado for doing the right thing for their citizens.
Unfortunately, this Colorado law only applies to governmental entities. Unlike California’s Unruh Act (1959) which bans discrimination from all business establishments in the state and was strengthened in 1992 to include ADA standards. I would love to see a combination bill at the state level, nay the federal level, to once and for all declare that everyone, regardless of condition or disability should be able to have access to information from a business, educational, or governmental entity.
Nothing beats lived experience for helping expose otherwise unwitting individuals to move toward positive change. The gentleman who first presented this law uses a wheelchair. He is the first elected representative in Colorado’s legislature to use a wheelchair. Representation and lived experiences matter. This is especially important when we consider web accessibility because disabilities cross a spectrum that is wide ranging and complex.
The web has become indispensable to every corner of our lives and so folks forget that the access to information they take for granted or may seem so simple and obvious might not be that simple if one is living with a disability. In addition, the range of individual situations folk might be going through is as varied as the assistive tech developed to overcome use constraints. Therefore, creating opportunities for people to demonstrate their use constraints is a lesson that I draw upon from the narrative of the passage of this law.
Should every state in the Union pass legislation similar to Colorado? I would argue that this effort would be a waste of time. It is time that we fully update the ADA to explicitly include web accessibility mandates under the ADA, including Section III: Public Accommodations. This section covers private entities and with other sections of the ADA would cover all public and private entities that impact aspects of modern life to ensure that “Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment.”
Great job Colorado, but it’s past time we did better for everyone.