Digital accessibility and its impact on local governments

Digital accessibility and its impact on local governments

Digital accessibility has far-reaching implications, especially for local governments. As public entities, they’re obligated to provide equitable access to their digital resources. With the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently finalizing a rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), state and local governments have new demands to deliver an accessible online experience

This blog guides you through these new regulations. It looks at how they impact local communities, the power of federal and state collaboration, and why they all must lead to a more inclusive web experience for people with disabilities. 

Why is digital accessibility critical for local governments? 

Digital accessibility refers to the design of websites, applications, and digital tools to help everyone, including people with disabilities, navigate and interact with them effectively. This approach covers various visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments. The goal is to create a digital environment where everyone has the same opportunities to access information and services.

For local governments, digital accessibility isn’t just a legal requirement but also a moral and practical one. State and local governments provide critical services and information through their websites, from paying taxes and utility bills to accessing public records and registering for community programs. When these digital services are inaccessible, it can significantly hinder the ability of people with disabilities to participate fully in civic life.

What are the legal guidelines for local municipalities

The DOJ’s finalized rule under Title II of the ADA provides clear technical standards for web accessibility, which local municipalities must now follow. These standards are primarily based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are internationally recognized for making web content accessible. By adhering to these standards, local governments can ensure they comply with federal laws and avoid potential legal repercussions.

How does a better user experience make a difference? 

Citizens are more likely to participate in local government activities through barrier-free websites and apps. Accessible websites can also improve the overall user experience for everyone, not just those with disabilities, by making information more accessible to find and interact with. When local governments prioritize digital accessibility, they deepen public trust and encourage greater community engagement. 

Challenges and opportunities for local governments

While the DOJ’s rule provides a clear framework for digital accessibility, local governments may face several integration challenges, including resource allocation. But, these challenges also present growth and improvement opportunities. 

Achieving digital accessibility requires significant time, money, and expertise. Smaller local governments may need more help with these demands than larger state or federal entities. On the positive side, this allows local governments and federal agencies to collaborate through innovation. Local governments can pool resources, share best practices, and work with federal agencies to develop cost-effective solutions.

Why should federal and local governments collaborate? 

Collaboration between federal and local governments is crucial for successfully implementing digital accessibility standards. The federal government can provide guidance, resources, and support to local municipalities, helping them navigate the complexities of the new requirements. 

Moreover, the DOJ and other federal agencies can offer technical assistance, training programs, and financial grants to support local governments’ accessibility efforts. Federal websites can serve as models of accessibility best practices, providing a benchmark for local governments to follow. Additionally, the federal government can facilitate the sharing of resources and expertise across different levels of government for a more cohesive and coordinated approach to digital accessibility.

Technological advancements

Advancements in technology offer new tools and solutions for achieving digital accessibility. From automated accessibility checkers to advanced web development frameworks, local municipalities have access to various technologies that can simplify making their digital content accessible. Embracing these technologies can lead to more efficient and effective implementation of accessibility standards.

Training and awareness

Another challenge is the lack of awareness and training on digital accessibility within local government bodies. Staff members responsible for maintaining websites and digital services may need to become more familiar with the technical requirements of the new DOJ standards. When local governments invest in employee education, they can build a knowledgeable workforce capable of maintaining and improving digital accessibility over time.

How can local municipalities implement and innovate?

On the other hand, local governments are on the front lines of implementation. They’re uniquely positioned to develop and test innovative solutions tailored to their communities. Local municipalities can share their successes and challenges and contribute valuable insights to the broader conversation on digital accessibility. This two-way information exchange between federal and regional entities can lead to more effective policies and practices that benefit all citizens.

A federal challenge that starts at a state level

Digital accessibility is a critical issue that impacts the ability of people with disabilities to engage with their local governments and access essential services. The DOJ’s finalized rule under Title II of the ADA marks a significant step forward in ensuring that local municipalities provide equitable access to their digital resources. Like any federal mandate, stakeholders at a regional level must ensure digital accessibility is prioritized and integrated to produce a more inclusive web for everyone. 

UserWay: accessibility and compliance on a universal scale

UserWay is uniquely positioned to provide better accessibility and compliance to any organization, public or private. UserWay’s AI-powered tools, attorney-led legal support, managed accessibility services, and enterprise-scale accessibility solutions are trusted locally and globally.

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Is digital accessibility federally and legally mandated?

Yes, California. State governmental entities follow Section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, which mandates that electronic and information technology be accessible to people with disabilities.  

Is the ADA federally mandated?

Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) federally prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

Do states have to conform to the ADA?

Yes. Under Title II, all state and local governments must follow the ADA regardless of size.

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