See AudioEye in action

Watch Demo

Back to blog

How Government Agencies Can Adapt to New Accessibility Standards

Posted June 11, 2024


Posted June 11, 2024

Stylized web browser with government building on it with an accessibility logo on the side. The words 'HearSay' are written in the left-hand corner.
Stylized web browser with government building on it with an accessibility logo on the side. The words 'HearSay' are written in the left-hand corner.

Ready to see AudioEye in action?

Watch Demo

Don Torrez, a senior partner director at CivicPlus, breaks down the latest accessibility requirements for state and local municipalities — and shares tips on building a culture of accessibility and compliance.

In April 2024, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) finalized a rule establishing technical standards for web accessibility under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

According to the new rule, state and local governments must adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, Level AA as the technical standard for website and mobile app accessibility.

It’s a big win for the 66 million U.S. adults with disabilities who often encounter accessibility barriers when trying to access government programs and services online. It also provides much-needed clarity for state and local governments, which now have a clear target for digital accessibility compliance.

In a recent HearSay podcast, we talked to Don Torrez, a Senior Partner Director at CivicPlus, about the latest regulations — and how CivicPlus is helping state and local municipalities build a culture of accessibility and compliance.

Here are some key takeaways from our conversation with Don.

Local governments want to do the right thing, but time and resources can be a challenge.

One of the first things Torrez mentioned is that most of the people he talks to want to provide equal access to every citizen and resident — but don’t know how to get started.

“There’s a lot of fear out there and there are a lot of people taking advantage of that [by] selling very expensive products,” he said. “I’ve had hundreds of calls with local governments [and they all] want to do the right thing. But there are federal laws to be concerned with. Now there are state laws that get more specific about software and accessibility.

The sheer number of laws, standards, and best practices can be difficult to balance, especially for local municipalities that don’t have a mature accessibility program in place — or the budget to establish one.

“First, it’s an unfunded mandate,” Torrez said. “There aren’t funds to address [digital accessibility] in most municipalities. Second, there’s not a lot of accessibility expertise in the IT departments of most local municipalities.

According to Torrez, most of the people working in these departments got their education 15 or 20 years ago when digital accessibility wasn’t widely taught — and it can be difficult to obtain the knowledge needed to comply.

“We have a lot of small- and medium-sized local governments that just don’t have the budget to hire an accessibility expert,” he said.
To bridge this gap, CivicPlus has tried to simplify compliance by building a number of guardrails into its content management system (CMS). Not only is the underlying code accessible, but there are accessibility reminders for website administrators. For example, users receive several prompts to add image alternative text whenever they upload an image.

Accessibility starts with understanding.

One of the biggest challenges in digital accessibility today is the fluid nature of most websites. From announcing upcoming events to uploading new documents and forms, most websites change all the time.

For that reason, it’s not enough to simply have an accessible CMS platform. You also need to educate website administrators and content creators on the latest accessibility requirements and best practices.

“It’s [been] really helpful to start at the beginning and educate customers at 30,000 feet on what web accessibility is,” Torrez said. “We’ve also held webinars to teach local governments about the WCAG, different federal laws, Title II of the ADA.” 

In addition to educating local municipalities on the latest best practices, CivicPlus has encouraged local municipalities to engage with their citizens and residents.

“We told our partners in local government ‘You need to have an opinion about what your website is,’” Torrez said. “‘Test it, reach out to your community, and ask if there are any programs or services that [they] cannot access.’”

Starting with this baseline level of understanding can reduce fear of the unknown for state and local municipalities — and help build more productive, transparent relationships with citizens and residents.

Empathy is key to equal access for all.

According to Torrez, local municipalities have historically focused on “checking the box” on new legislation and accessibility requirements. In recent years, CivicPlus has encouraged customers to not just treat accessibility as a way to mitigate legal risk, but also as a human issue.

“Now, our customers are a lot more focused on making sure people with disabilities can navigate a site [and] get the information they need,” Torrez said. “Because of DEI initiatives and the [recognition] that 20 to 25% of citizens and residents have some form of disability, local governments are very human-focused now and want to make sure they’re doing the right thing.”

By prioritizing universal access, state and local governments can start to build more productive relationships with every citizen and resident — and establish a culture of inclusion and equal access.

“You’re implementing an accessibility culture when you partner with [CivicPlus],” Torrez said. “We’re not just implementing software, we’re implementing a culture. We’re going to be inclusive for everyone, everyone’s going to be able to use your site or digital information.”

Want to listen to the entire conversation with Don? Check out the episode on YouTube, Spotify, or Apple Podcasts.

And stay tuned for upcoming HearSay episodes!

Ready to see AudioEye in action?

Watch Demo

Ready to test your website for accessibility?

Scan your website now.

Share post


Keep Reading