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Top 5 States Leading the Way In Accessibility

Greater momentum and advancement are being witnessed across the US to ensure public spaces, learning experiences, work environments and technology are more accessible so that all individuals and audiences can engage with them with equity.

Yet while regulations like the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) require all US states to grant accessibility to the public, its legal impact varies from place to place. In fact, some states with the highest percentage of people with disabilities often have the least accessible websites, meaning that individuals in these areas often can’t access important information.

To provide greater access to individuals with varying needs or disabilities, educators, government professionals and business leaders alike can seek inspiration from these 5 states and a university within each that is doing things right.

Michigan

Michigan is well recognized for its web accessibility, ranking No. 1 in a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. It’s also one of the few states that has adopted accessibility standards on all of its government sites, including WCAG 2, which guides best practices for website usability and access.

Plus, when it comes to healthcare access, Michigan’s government is also ranked as having one of the best Medicaid service systems and the smallest waiting lists for home and community-based services in the country, making it an easier system to navigate for individuals with disabilities.

In education, the University of Michigan offers dedicated resources for students, faculty and even guest content creators that help them create accessible documents, virtual events and presentations both inside and outside of the classroom. One of their key recommendations is to implement live captioning for live-streamed events and online courses to ensure audiences can participate with equity. The university has also established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department and holds itself accountable by publishing an annual strategic report which details the steps the university’s leaders take each year to deliver a more inclusive and accessible learning experience for students and their communities. For example, this year they developing a website which will house all disability and accessibility resources in one centralized location and help students with disabilities easily access the tools and information they need to succeed in one platform.

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Vermont

Vermont has also adopted WCAG 2 standards, in addition to those outlined by Section 508, for all of its government websites. People with disabilities also have access to one of the best healthcare accessibility programs in the country. 98% of their residents with disabilities have health insurance, with only 18% reporting they couldn’t afford healthcare.

Institutions like the University of Vermont also adhere to these standards and provide students and faculty with Equally Effective Alternate Access Plans (EEAPs). These temporary plans are made to deliver accessible alternatives to students in cases where a tool or service being used in their classroom isn’t already accessible. These also serve as helpful implementation plans, for example, when planning online events where participants with disabilities may be likely to attend and need accessibility services like captioning or transcripts to follow along effectively.

Arizona

Arizona leads in the realm of public accessibility. Its cities Scottsdale and Tucson frequently rank in top 10 lists of the best cities for people with disabilities, both in terms of economy and quality of life. These cities are especially inclusive for wheelchair users or individuals with mobility disabilities, who benefit from the dry and flat environment that’s helpful for navigating spaces with ease. Together with public accessibility, Arizona has an accessibility statute in place which covers digital and web accessibility for all Arizona websites. Requirements of it include providing adequate color contrast, keyboard controls and text-only versions of content like video transcripts so that individuals who are blind and have low vision can easily access them with a screen reader.

In the education space, the University of Arizona is renowned for its accessibility efforts for students with disabilities. From its interactive campus map that marks the locations of all of the accessible entrances, elevators and parking spaces across the campus to enlisting captioning and transcription tools in online environments, the university’s leaders are inspiring other schools across the country to follow suit. Its disability services leaders use AST’s captioning to offer equitable learning experiences for students, faculty and staff for both online and in-person courses. The university also offers multi-language captioning, which supports its diverse bilingual community.

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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania ranks as one of the most livable states for individuals with disabilities. It has the third-best transit score in the US, benefitting the 12% of individuals with mobility-related disabilities who use their public transport systems. The state’s senate government also passed several reforms for accessibility in 2021, including a mandate requiring the Department of State to make their website accessible and a bill requiring permit agencies to offer accessible tracking systems for all applicants.

In education, Pennsylvania State University provides its students with a dedicated disability services department, with multiple support coordinators who work to ensure inclusion at every one of its campuses. One of its key programs, Project Spoonies, provides both virtual and in-person peer support for all of its students who are experiencing chronic illness or have disabilities. The project gives students the opportunity to connect and engage with peers with similar backgrounds.

In addition, the disability services department hosts Diversability every April, a disability-focused event that explores topics around accessibility, equality and inclusion through live sessions. Along with educating the current community about disabilities, Penn State leaders also go to lengths to support prospective students with disabilities. As they make the transition to college, they are provided with a checklist of factors to consider during admissions and once they begin their first semester.

California

While California reports one of the highest numbers of accessibility lawsuits – likely due to its size and population – it stands out as one of the most inclusive and accessible states in the US. More than in most states, it currently has three main digital accessibility laws, which require accessibility for information technology like its government websites. AB 434, the most recent mandate, requires California websites to publish a certification on their website certifying they adhere to WCAG 2.

For example, the California Community College (CCC) system offers all of its colleges special funding for video captioning through the Distance Education Captioning and Transcription (DECT) grant. The funds offer much-needed accessibility solutions to thousands of students who rely on captions to consume video and participate effectively. These schools make use of the funding to caption videos and live sessions for students who are Deaf, hard of hearing, have ADHD or other reported needs. Providing them with captions as visual aids and word-for-word transcripts helps them live in class and when studying when they need assistance with note taking.

The University of California at Berkeley (UCB) is also known as one of the best universities for individuals with disabilities to attend. On top of offering a dedicated disability services program, the university provides golf-cart transportation services, known as The Loop, that help students with mobility disabilities navigate the campus more easily.

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Get Inspired to Take Action in Your State

Individuals within every state, whether they’re educators, government professionals or business leaders can all do more to modernize and improve their environments and experiences to make them more accessible. Take a moment to consider actions being taken in these US states as well as what other cities and countries are doing around the world. From accessible building construction initiatives in Berlin and a comprehensive plan helping Barcelona become fully accessible by 2026, much can be learned.

To support accessibility efforts, AST provides trusted captioning, transcription and audio description to schools, businesses and government agencies across the US. Contact us to learn more about our solutions, which are trusted by the likes of 7,000+ customers, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lewis University and the California State University system.

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