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Why Government Agencies Can’t Ignore Online Accessibility

Millions of Americans require captions and other accommodations to access vital government resources, websites and online content. While the law mandates that public entities must adhere to accessibility laws, in practice, many state and federal agencies are falling short. When the government denies access for those with disabilities, even unintentionally, it can be classified as illegal discrimination.

Recently, an increase in lawsuits is sending government entities a clear message that accessibility is non-negotiable. Failing to offer access will cost the agency — and taxpayers.

Fortunately, partnering with professional accessibility experts with expertise in the government sector makes offering high-quality captions and other tools for accessibility easier than ever. Here are some of the reasons and times when it’s essential for government agencies to prioritize and deliver online accessibility.

Web Accessibility Remains a Hurdle for Government

Recently, a survey of government websites found that nearly all lacked accessibility. The only site that seemed to adhere entirely was Section508.gov. Even the website for the ADA had a few minor issues. The websites for the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and many other pages had several errors that threatened access for users.

Failure to adhere to accessibility laws exposes these entities to legal liability and costly litigation. Additionally, some statistics suggest these types of cases are increasing, putting more pressure on agencies to pay more attention to accessibility.

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Online Accessibility Laws To Keep in Mind

Online access to the court system, municipal websites and other government services continues to grow. As it does, the need for equal access to online resources does as well. These are just two of the laws that hold public entities accountable.

Title II of the ADA

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies directly to public entities. Thanks to the ADA, no State or local government can discriminate based on disability. The law creates requirements for programs, services and activities that the government offers to the public, with few exceptions.

While the ADA entered into force before government agencies had websites, courts now apply its accessibility standards to virtual resources.

Section 508

The ADA is not the only law that demands accessibility. In 2017, Congress amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and expanded the federal government’s accessibility requirements. The updates state that electronic and information technology must be usable for individuals with disabilities.

There are also state-specific laws that may contain additional requirements. One way to ensure that sites meet the appropriate standards is to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). While the WCAG standards are not legal mandates, policymakers turn to them when creating accessibility best practices. WCAG evolves along with technology, and government entities should strive to meet the most recent updates. Currently, WCAG 2.2 is the most stringent set of widespread standards. WCAG 2.1 is the benchmark the Biden administration says it is aiming to achieve. Unfortunately, many federal and state agencies are still falling short of the earlier WCAG 2.0’s standards, leading to legal battles.

Lawsuits are a Real and Growing Threat

Although government entities enjoy certain immunity from lawsuits, accessibility legislation explicitly waives those protections. As a result, qualifying individuals impacted by inaccessible government sites can file lawsuits demanding that the entities take the necessary steps to remedy their shortcomings.

These lawsuits are becoming more common, and in some cases, forcing government agencies to pay large sums of money in attorneys’ fees. While plaintiffs cannot collect damages in Title II ADA cases or Section 508 claims under federal law, the legislation states that violating defendants must pay attorney fees. In some cases, those fees add up to shocking sums, and the threat of paying fees after lengthy litigation causes many entities to settle.

Furthermore, some state laws allow plaintiffs to collect damages when they file a successful claim based on government entities failing to offer accessibility. New York and California are two of those states, and litigation in such places is on the rise.

While plaintiffs who file many accessibility claims may risk an unflattering reputation, the law made these lawsuits the remedy for lacking accessibility. Luckily, agencies can prevent becoming a target by ensuring access to their websites and physical locations.

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Captions are Critical for Online Accessibility

The best way to prevent accessibility lawsuits is to be proactive when offering accessibility tools. Offering high-quality captions through an experienced government agency captioning provider like AST lets agencies offer one of the most widely used accommodations. Also, with so much online video content, captions are more crucial than ever.

Here are just a few of the places where government agencies need to think about captions:

  • Live streams of meetings, town halls, emergencies and other events should have real-time captions
  • Training videos for new employees
  • Instructional videos aimed at the public, including information about filing taxes or acquiring business licenses

However, captions are not the only tool that agencies need to consider. Transcriptions, audio descriptions and contrasting colors that allow people with color blindness to read information are a few other standard accommodations websites should include.

AST works with government agencies to caption video and audio content. Contact us to find out more about how our accessibility tools help government entities meet legal standards while supporting people with disabilities.

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