Web Accessibility in the State of California

On October 14, 2017, the California Governor signed into law AB 434 as an amendment to Government Code Section § 11546.7. Assembly Bill 434 (Chapter 780) requires all state agencies and entities to certify that the content of their public websites complies with accessibility requirements by July 2019. The law demanded the agencies/entities post the certification on their website signed by the director and C.O.I. and renew it every two years. The law specifically refers to WCAG 2.1 standards or subsequent revisions at a minimum of the A.A. success criteria.

Since 2017, the state entities and agencies have spent a lot of time and money reviewing and remediating millions of web pages, documents, and forms to ensure compliance with the accessibility standards.  In this article, we want to explain what AB434 is and why it is important.

 

What is AB 434?

The Internet and web content are essential in every aspect of our lives. No matter where we live and what we do, we need to connect to the Internet and use online content in one way or another.

Surveys show that more than 47% of Californians report using online government services, and the number is growing as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased attention to digital services. Hence, making such a service available to people with disabilities is critical to provide them with equal opportunities.

Following the physical accessibility laws, such as parking spaces and public signs, AB 434 establishes the accessibility requirements of websites and online content to people with disabilities. The associated standards require web developers and content authors to design and implement features that assist impaired users.

Accessible websites should provide greater access to the state government by simplifying the complex materials and enhancing the ability to search for services, forms, and information.  Simplifying the components in the content and using text wherever possible are the basics in documents to comply with accessibility requirements.

For more than two decades, experts in IT industries have worked hard to provide assistive technologies and features to facilitate Internet access for people with disabilities. Such technologies help individuals with physical or mental conditions overcome barriers to use web content. You can find many features on your computer, smartphone, or tablet to address accessibility issues. To name a few, you can set features such as voice-over, zooming, magnifying, hearing devices, and subtitle recognition.

AB 434 governs the state agencies and entities to ensure the fulfillment and continual improvement of accessibility standards and provide equal and timely access to online information and services for people with disabilities. California Government Code Section 11546.7, originating from AB434 (2017-18) requires state agency Directors and their Chief Information Officers certify their agency website complies with Government Code Section 7405 and 11135, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, or a subsequent version, published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium at minimum Level AA success criteria. These certifications must be signed by July 1, 2019, and then on July 1 every other year thereafter.

The California Department of Technology (CDT) provided the Website Accessibility Certification Technology Letter (TL 18-05) to raise awareness to the state agencies and provide the essential tools and guidelines.

 

What is WCAG?

AB 434 regulation requires compliance with the WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) Conformance Level AA standard. WCAG guidelines are published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium, an international consortium to develop Web standards and guidelines.

WCAG is a set of recommendations for making Web content more accessible, primarily for people with disabilities on any devices, including mobile phones. It provides detailed information, instructions, evaluation criteria, and practical techniques to implement accessibility features and maintain accessible content.

 

How to start?

Learn the basics

Meeting accessibility standards is a big undertaking with various challenges in designing, developing, and publishing public content. Hence, it is essential to start the process with education.

Fortunately, the California Department of Technology (CDT) offers different courses to cover various web accessibility standards. You can register for the appropriate training courses on the CDT’s Online Course Schedule web page.  In addition, there are plenty of businesses that offer accessibility training services.  California Department of Rehabilitation provides a list of vendors for training and other services related to digital accessibility.

 

Audit the current environment

If your organization is new to digital accessibility, you need to assess where your organization stands. Many tools and services in the market can be of assistance in evaluating your websites. The DOR Accessibility Assessment web page identifies and explains automated and manual methods to assess the accessibility and usability of your websites. You can also download Web Accessibility Assessment Checklist (an MS Word document) to understand what you need to assess.

 

Plan

An accurate and realistic plan is essential to implementing an effective accessibility effort. A good plan should contain an accessibility policy, define the scope of work, assign responsibilities, determine resources, and identify the monitoring framework. You can find more information on the DOR Accessibility Planning web page.

 

Implement

Implementing an accessibility plan could be time-consuming and expensive. Make accessibility implementation part of any process or project that creates digital content to manage the cost of implementation, minimize the overhead, and improve the overall quality of the outcome.

Prioritization is another critical factor in effective and successful implementation. You may want to prioritize the most popular, mission-critical, and recent content. Also, rather than fixing all issues per document, it makes more sense to prioritize the highest impact issues or require the lowest effort to repair.

 

Maintenance

Maintaining the accessibility standards is a necessary ongoing process for any completed and new projects. The state agencies and entities monitor the status of digital content and related procedures to follow up on any required activities and ensure that accessibility remains a priority. Tracking the web content, engaging the staff, tracking related standards and legislation, utilizing new technologies, incorporating feedback from users, and improving the procedures are some of the essential tasks for maintaining accessibility.

 

References

California Department of Rehabilitation

For anyone interested in learning and practicing AB 434 law, the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) website is a great location to find the materials, instructions, toolkits, and references they need.

The DOR website is compliant with accessibility requirements, and it can be used as a model for California state government websites.

It is highly recommended to start designing a new website or creating a new document with accessibility requirements in mind. Considering certain design elements is essential and enables users with disabilities to adjust different aspects of the websites, such as font size and color contrast. A developer can learn from the DOR website’s structure, features, and custom settings. DOR Accessibility web page explains some of the elements and custom setting.

 

Web Accessibility Toolkit

DOR Web Accessibility Toolkit is also a great reference for finding tools, forms, checklists, training materials, and digital communities that help its audience find the right path to make your website compliant with accessibility standards.

One of the great facilities provided by DOR is the “Web Accessibility Community of Practice (WACoP).” You can join the community to attend the online meetings, ask questions, or read the valuable materials provided by other state employees from different entities. The community is created in Microsoft Teams and accepts new members by invitation. You can send your request to AB434toolkit@dor.ca.gov to become a member of the community.

 

Digital Accessibility Laws

DOR Accessibility Laws is another great reference that provides a collection of laws and policies on digital accessibility. You can find references to California code sections, federal laws, and other related regulations on this page.

 

IT Accessibility Resource Guide

The California Department of Technology (CDT), in partnership with the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) and the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), developed IT Accessibility Resource Guide (SIMM Section 25). The document aims to assist the state agencies in meeting accessibility requirements in IT projects and digital content.

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