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5 Things Municipalities Need to Know About Digital Accessibility

Posted May 13, 2024


Posted May 13, 2024

Government building with accessibility flag on top with 'HearSay' logo next to it.
Government building with accessibility flag on top with 'HearSay' logo next to it.

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The Department of Justice's new digital accessibility guidelines are changing municipal compliance standards. Here’s what government entities need to know about providing accessible, inclusive digital content.

For years, government entities have struggled to create an accessible, inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities. Despite the clear technical specifications in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), most government websites remain inaccessible to the disabled community.  

Luckily, that changed when the Department of Justice (DOJ) signed a final rule regarding digital accessibility under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The new ruling clearly states that digital content is included in the ADA and must be accessible. Organizations that fail to provide accessible digital content will face ramifications from the DOJ.

Many municipalities may struggle to comply with the digital accessibility guidelines in Title II specifications, which list 78 success criteria for WCAG 2.1 for compliance. 

Here’s the good news: complying with accessibility regulations is not as difficult as you might think. Below, we’ll break down the top five things you need to know about accessibility for governments and discuss how, with the right tools, you can create a more accessible, inclusive online experience.

1. All Users Should Have Equal Access to Government Websites

Government websites are among the most frequently visited sites, with users spending roughly 7.7 billion days (or 21 million years) on government websites in the last ten years. (These numbers were tracked by the Digital Analytics Program (DAP).) From researching and filing taxes to applying for social security benefits and paying utilities, users rely on government websites to complete numerous critical tasks.

The frequency at which these sites are visited emphasizes the importance of ensuring they are accessible and usable by all users. Whether users are accessing government content from a mobile device or screen reader, they should be able to interact with digital content easily. 

And it shouldn’t just be the homepage that’s accessible. All government content should be accessible by individuals with disabilities. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Said Christina Campbell, AudioEye A11iance Member, “I had to go on the immigration website about a year ago. The first page was pretty accessible. But the second I needed to put in a case number, check statuses, or change addresses, it broke down pretty quickly.”

2. Municipalities Need to Conform with WCAG 2.1 Standards

Here’s the bottom line: municipalities need to conform to the accessibility guidelines included in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level A and AA. Level AA guidelines are the most common accessibility guidelines to conform to and provide a reasonably accessible experience for most individuals with disabilities. 

Some examples of WCAG Level AA success criteria include:

  • Providing a minimum color contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text.
  • Including descriptive headings that guide keyboard users through content in the correct order.
  • Allowing users to change the orientation of a web page. For example, mobile users should be able to access a website without losing access to information or functionality if they view the website in landscape or portrait mode.

You can view a comprehensive list of WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards here.

With the recent rule from the Department of Justice, cities and local governments will face legal action if they do not meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards. Don Torrez, Director of Partnerships at CivicPlus, discussed in an AudioEye HearSay podcast episode: “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines can be large and deep, and [municipalities] don’t know how to comply.” He went on to say that most municipalities often don’t have the funds or expertise to improve accessibility at scale. To counteract this, we recommend partnering with a company that is an expert. Not only can this help you simplify your path to compliance, but it also helps your small teams focus on other high-priority initiatives.

3. Mobile Apps are Required to be Compliant

Another common misunderstanding among municipalities is whether mobile applications are required to be accessible. The short answer is yes: mobile applications owned and operated by a government entity are required to conform to WCAG 2.1 accessibility standards. 

An important note: If a municipality hires a third-party company to create or maintain a mobile application that the municipality provides to citizens, the application must be accessible, even though it was not built directly by the municipality. 

For example, if a city provides a mobile app to citizens that is built by a local agency for booking parks and recreational activities, it must be accessible and follow WCAG principles, guidelines,, and success criteria.

4. Ongoing Accessibility Testing is Necessary for Ongoing Compliance

Your digital content is constantly changing, from updating your site and page templates to adding new content. Each change inadvertently introduces accessibility issues that can slip through the cracks and negatively impact the user experience. For municipalities to remain compliant, they need to perform regular accessibility testing. 

However, testing for the sake of testing is not beneficial for municipalities or users. Don described the importance of selecting an accessibility testing tool that provides in-depth insights into how accessible your existing content is as well as recommendations for remediation. More importantly, Don emphasized the need of partnering with an accessibility platform that goes beyond compliance and enables entities to create a culture of accessibility. 

Don described this partnership with AudioEye saying: “AudioEye’s helped us become accessible from the ground up. They’ve educated our technology people. This is far more than a partnership where we co-sell software. This is a partnership.”

5. Non-compliance Puts Municipalities at Risk for Lawsuits

Accessibility is no longer a nice to have — it’s a legal requirement enforced by the DOJ. Failure to comply with accessibility standards can result in legal action, including lawsuits and demand letters that can bring devastating, expensive consequences. For example, non-compliance cases can result in paying substantial fines to impacted individuals. 

More importantly, however, accessibility is a civil right. All users—regardless of whether they have a disability—should be able to access important government information. As Don said, “Let’s make sure that human beings can access all government services…let’s see if they can really get the content from the [government] website.”

Get Started on the Path to Accessibility

While the path to accessibility in government sectors may seem daunting, it’s easier than individuals realize. As Don stated above, the first step is understanding which accessibility standards municipalities need to comply with and partnering with the right accessibility vendor.

At AudioEye, we provide municipalities with the tools and resources to meet evolving accessibility standards. We get entities started on the path to compliance with a free accessibility scan that shows how accessible an organization’s existing content is. From here, our Automated Accessibility Platform provides automatic fixes for common accessibility issues while our team of experts finds and fixes more complex issues via our Expert Audit

Beyond enhancing accessibility, AudioEye provides accessibility training, legal support, and additional accessibility tools to help build a foundation of accessibility. Said Don: “AudioEye is like firing the winning shot. If you have AudioEye on your website, you have such a parade of people who will help you make sure that your website is accessible.”

Take the first step towards more accessible, inclusive digital content that complies with the latest accessibility standards. Get started with a free accessibility scan below.

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