Though web accessibility-related requirements and laws are set at the federal level, much of their implementation occurs at the State and local level. This means that implementation is often not uniform. Some states rely on local legislation, and others advocate for web accessibility through community partnerships and policy commitments based on best practices.
As accessibility guidelines like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) become more accepted by industry leaders, it is important to understand how these practices are implemented at the State and local level.
What are web accessibility standards?
The most prominent set of accessibility guidelines, WCAG, is developed and maintained by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), an initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Though Section 508 requirements for federal agencies existed prior to much of WAI's efforts, WCAG effectively replaced outdated guidance from the federal government when the U.S. Access Board − tasked with rulemaking and developing accessibility guidance − voted to recognize WCAG 2.0 as the technical equivalent of Section 508 requirements, which are applicable for federal agencies and contractors that receive federal funding.
At the moment, however, WCAG is not a technical requirement for Title II entities (State and local government). Still, State agencies have increasingly turned to WCAG in lieu of a prescribed standard by the Access Board or DOJ.
These standards aim to make information technology easily used among individuals across varying ability levels.
Title II entities are in a unique situation. While WCAG has been recognized as the Section 508 equivalent for federal agencies, State and local governments are both not federal agencies nor private enterprises, but often do receive federal funding.
The ADA generally requires that State and local government provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their program or service. This means that while accessibility standards may not be codified into something that would represent a safe harbor for local government, like building codes, government agencies are still required to achieve the same outcome − accessible online technology for their citizens.
Without safe harbor, however, many agencies do not know how to proceed and have turned to State laws and local ordinances, sometimes referred to as "little 508s."
One state that uses such legislation is California. In 2017, the state passed Assembly Bill 434, which affects the content of state agency websites, and requires a signed compliance certification from each agency head. Specifically, the bill required State agencies in California meet WCAG 2.0 AA by July 1, 2019 (though this date was later extended).
In 2007, the state of Illinois passed the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA). All Illinois agencies and universities must ensure the accessibility of their websites, systems, and other information technologies. In 2017 the IITAA updated its standards to reflect WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines and encourages compliance with WCAG 2.1 AA.
In 2004, Oklahoma passed the Information Technology Accessibility Act (ITA), which requires State agencies and departments to meet accessibility standards defined in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. While the State's law was not changed after the Access Board's recommendation, the State has effectively adopted WCAG 2.0 AA as well − due to the Section 508 refresh. In 2009, the State of Oklahoma established the position of Chief Information Officer to oversee the implementation of technology standards.
Missouri mandates accessibility through Statute 191.863, which requires State agencies to develop and procure accessible information technology, and models its accessibility standards after Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (established in 1998) − again, standards that were refreshed in 2018 and updated to reflect WCAG 2.0 AA.
Still, many states do not have legislation regarding web accessibility. Instead, these states empower leadership to set accessibility standards at the policy level.
In 2018, New Jersey's Office of Information Technology revised its accessibility policy and announced a commitment to meet or exceed the recommendations of WCAG 1.0. The State's accessibility statement page was updated in 2021 and now states that New Jersey aims "to meet or exceed the recommendations" of WCAG 2.0.
The State's accessibility page also includes a form where users can report accessibility-related issues.
State and local governments are beginning to take action absent federally recognized and recommended accessibility standards. Some have adopted legislation while others have relied on agency heads to select standards that meet the entities' Title II programmatic access requirements.
Regardless of the path, however, the narrative is becoming increasingly clear and unimpeachable: WCAG 2.0/2.1 appears to offer the clearest path to meeting ADA obligations and is here to stay − whether they are required by the federal government or not.