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Navigating HB21-1110: Colorado's Government Website Accessibility Mandate

Colorado's HB21-1110 requires web accessibility for government sites - learn how to stay in compliance with this new legislation.

Hats wearer Hayden Anderson. Owner and Founder of Jolly Web Consulting. Based in Boulder Colorado
Hayden Anderson
April 19, 2024

In a landmark move, Colorado emerges as the first state to mandate comprehensive web accessibility standards for both state and local government websites through House Bill 21-1110. Signed into law by Governor Jared Polis on June 30, 2021, this legislation bolsters protections for individuals with disabilities, providing them with stronger legal recourse against government websites that fail to meet accessibility standards.

The Origins of HB21-1110

Disability activists including the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and the National Federation of the Blind, laid the groundwork for HB21-1110 with representative David Ortiz emerging as a pivotal figure in championing the cause of web accessibility in Colorado. Ortiz became disabled after injuries sustained in a helicopter crash while serving in Afghanistan, and is the first wheelchair user elected to the Colorado General Assembly. Ortiz became a champion of accessibility and instrumental in creating the new HB21-1110.

Against this backdrop of advocacy and legislative determination, House Bill 21-1110  was passed into law on June 30, 2021, marked a historic moment in Colorado's history, affirming the state's commitment to equality, accessibility, and social justice.

Understanding the Provisions of HB21-1110

HB21-1110 introduces several key provisions aimed at bolstering current Colorado laws pertaining to disability rights and accessibility. Among these provisions are:

  • Establishment of Accessibility Standards: The Chief Information Officer in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) is tasked with setting accessibility standards aligned with the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 AA). These standards serve as the benchmark for accessibility across state agency websites.
  • Protection against Exclusion and Denial of Benefits:Individuals with disabilities are safeguarded against exclusion from participating in or being denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities provided by public entities or state agencies.
  • Deadline for Accessibility:Public entities and state agencies are mandated to be in full compliance with the accessibility guidelines established by the Office of Information Technology (OIT) by July 1, 2024.
  • Promotion and Monitoring of Accessibility Standards:The Chief Information Officer in the OIT is tasked with maintaining accessibility standards for state agencies' information technology systems and promoting and monitoring their adherence to these standards.
  • Implementation Deadline:State agencies are required to submit written accessibility plans to the OIT by July 1, 2022, and fully implement the sections of their plans related to accessibility standards by July 1, 2024. Non-compliance after this deadline constitutes a violation of state laws against discrimination and may incur remedies as stipulated in statute.

Implications and Enforcement Mechanisms

HB21-1110 establishes clear accountability mechanisms for ensuring accessibility compliance:

  • Liability Allocation:Responsibility for noncompliance regarding content rests with the public entity or state agency managing the content, while noncompliance regarding the hosting platform falls on the entity or agency managing the platform.
  • Appropriation and Resource Allocation:The law appropriates funds to the Office of Information Technology to facilitate implementation, emphasizing the importance of adequate resources for achieving accessibility objectives.
  • Consequences of Noncompliance: Noncompliance with accessibility standards exposes government agencies to various consequences, including court orders requiring compliance, monetary damages, and fines of $3,500 payable to each plaintiff from the disability community.

Understanding Accessibility Standards: A, AA, and AAA

Accessibility standards serve as benchmarks for ensuring digital content is inclusive and usable by individuals with disabilities. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), provide a comprehensive framework for evaluating and improving website accessibility. These guidelines are structured into three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA, each representing progressively higher levels of accessibility.

  1. Level A (Minimum):
    • Level A conformance addresses the fundamental aspects of accessibility, ensuring that websites are navigable and usable by a broad range of users.
    • Compliance with Level A standards focuses on eliminating barriers such as low color contrast, inappropriate headings and lists, and lack of text alternatives
    • Level A compliance may not fully address the needs of all users with disabilities.
  2. Level AA (Detailed):
    • Level AA is required in HB21-1110 - building on the principles of Level A, providing more accessibility features and accommodations.
    • Some standards in level AA include closed captions on videos, screen reader usability, and enhancing navigational elements for an improved user experience.
  1. Level AAA (Stringent):
    • Level AAA conformance represents the highest level of accessibility, encompassing advanced features and accommodations to maximize inclusivity.
    • Compliance with Level AAA includes providing sign language interpretation for audio content, ensuring the website can be navigated using a keyboard, and an increased requirement for compatibility for assistive technology.
Person using Braille keyboard

What This Means for Government Websites

The ramifications of HB21-1110 extend beyond legal compliance - Colorado agencies must adhere to WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines, ensuring digital content and materials are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for users with disabilities. This encompasses, but is not restricted to, text, hyperlinks, images, forms, PDFs, documents, and integrated third-party applications.

The Road Ahead for Non-Government Websites

While HB21-1110 focuses on government entities, it is also of note for non-government websites. The law signals a growing emphasis on web accessibility, foreshadowing potential legislation that may encompass non-government websites. Businesses and individuals are encouraged to proactively prioritize accessibility to preempt future regulatory requirements. Incorporating accessibility features from the beginning reduces the necessity for expensive retroactive modifications - serving as an incentive for taking proactive steps towards accessibility.

Jolly Web: Your Partner in Accessibility Compliance

As Colorado prepares to enforce HB21-1110, Jolly Web Consulting is ready to support government agencies, businesses, and individuals in embracing online accessibility. With our deep understanding of accessibility standards and regulations, we are ready to assist in crafting compliant digital experiences for our clients.

Whether it's conducting accessibility audits, implementing design enhancements, or providing ongoing maintenance, Jolly Web Consulting ensures that your website aligns with WCAG accessibility standards, mitigating risks and ensuring compliance with the new legislation. Contact us today for a 30 minute discovery call!

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