What Is House-Bill 21-1110?
Colorado is the first state to require both state and local governments to meet web accessibility standards through House Bill 21-1110. On June 30, 2021, Colorado's Democratic governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 21-1110 into law. In brief, the law takes some protections that are already included in the federal ADA act and encodes them in state law. That means people will be able to bring a website accessibility lawsuit to a state court, not just a federal one, thereby making it easier to sue a non-accessible government site.
Although federal legislation is making a difference for website accessibility in the US, real progress is slow, and most government websites still aren’t fully accessible. That's why disability rights groups welcome this new law that makes the state a leader in web accessibility requirements.
How did this law come about?
Disability activists and advocates, including the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and the National Federation of the Blind, approached rep. David Ortiz (D) of Littleton with the proposal.
Ortiz was injured in a catastrophic helicopter crash while serving in Afghanistan, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. When he was elected to the Colorado General Assembly in 2020, he became the first person in the Assembly to use a wheelchair. He was, therefore, eager to back the effort, stating:
‘When it comes to fighting for disability rights, we have plenty of allies, but it’s different when it’s your community.’
What Does The Law Require
The new law requires the Chief Information Officer in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) to establish accessibility standards for individuals with a disability using the most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. The head of each state agency will then establish a written plan to implement these accessibility standards, which must be submitted by July 1st, 2022.
The law also sets aside $312,922 to pay for conformance efforts during the 2021-22 fiscal year. By July 1st, 2024, each state agency must fully implement its plan to ensure that all its websites are accessible. Any state agency that does not comply with these website accessibility standards will violate the law and be charged with noncompliance by this date.
What are the Consequences of Noncompliance?
By July 1st, 2024, all state agency websites must fully comply with the OIT accessibility standards. To ensure compliance, they must follow the latest version of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. If they don’t fully comply by this time, there are several consequences for noncompliance.
Any government agency website that doesn't meet OIT's web accessibility standards could face:
- A court order
- Monetary damages
- A fine of $3,500 that’s payable to the plaintiff (must be someone from the disability community)
HB-1110 also makes it a state civil rights violation for a government agency to exclude people with disabilities from receiving benefits or services.
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What does this law mean for government websites?
Local and state government agencies must begin developing and submitting website accessibility plans to the OIT by July 1, 2022. Once approved by the OIT, they must implement them by July 1, 2024. From that date, any user with disabilities can sue the government agency for running a non-accessible site in the state court instead of just federal court. This means that Colorado's more than 4,000 active local governments need to start working on web accessibility.
Government websites have to offer perceivable, operable, and understandable digital content that enables individuals with a disability to access the same information. The law doesn't define web accessibility—that will be a task for the OIT. But it does say that the most recent WCAG accessibility guidelines will be used in establishing accessibility standards.
The WCAG guidelines are based on four principles. There is no such checklist to follow. Instead, understanding its principles can help you achieve WCAG compliance:
- Perceivable - this refers to how users perceive content online through their senses of sight, sound, and touch. This includes video captions, text that can be adjusted for contrast, color, text size and spacing, font, and similar factors that make it easier to read.
- Operable - operability means the ways that someone can use the site. It’s particularly relevant to people with motor disabilities, weak muscles, injured limbs, etc. An operable site needs to be navigable entirely by keyboard, sight-assisted navigation, and other alternatives to a classic mouse.
- Understandable - understandable sites are accessible for everyone to understand. They don’t use many technical terms or complex jargon, don’t have complicated instructions that are difficult to follow, and have consistent directions that won't confuse readers.
- Robust - there are two factors for a robust site: Using clean HTML and CSS code that meets recognized standards being compatible with assistive technologies that people with disabilities use to browse online.
What does this mean for non-governmental websites?
Right now, the law only affects government websites and does not concern websites that belong to businesses or private individuals. But that doesn't mean that non-government sites can just ignore it. The bill shows that the state government of Colorado is taking web accessibility seriously, so it might not be long before similar laws are passed that affect all websites.
Anyone thinking of building a new website should consider baking in web accessibility from the beginning, so they don't have to make costly changes later.
Why is this law so important?
In an ideal world, government websites should already be fully accessible. But as disability rights activists can tell you, far too many government websites still prevent users with disabilities from accessing their services or benefits.
House Bill 21-1110 makes it much easier for someone to sue a non-accessible site because state courts are more accessible for rural communities than the federal district court in Denver. This is the first state web accessibility law requiring state and local public entities to meet web accessibility standards.
The law is an essential sign that web accessibility is gaining awareness and traction. It shows that lawmakers are taking web accessibility more and more seriously. All website owners in Colorado should learn about web accessibility and find the best ways to make their sites accessible, so they’re prepared for House Bill 21-1110 to take action in 2024.
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