Accessibility Laws for State Governments
Updated: June 3, 2019
With such a diverse constituency, state governments have a responsibility to ensure their communication efforts are accessible to all.
State governments must comply with Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Read below to learn more about how these accessibility laws apply to state governments.
The Rehabilitation Act
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on disability by federal agencies, programs receiving federal financial assistance, federal employment, and in the employment of federal contractors. The act is split into various Sections with Section 504 and Section 508 applying to state governments.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act states that people with disabilities shall not be discriminated based solely on their disability. Section 504 prohibits the exclusion from equal access to any programs or activities by those receiving Federal financial assistance, by any Executive agency, or by the United States Postal Service.
Individuals with disabilities includes “people with physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.” It also protects employees and potential employees who are qualified individuals with disabilities who, “with Reasonable Accommodation can perform the essential functions of the job for which they have applied or have been hired to perform.”
Section 504 applies to:
- Federal programs and activities
- Federal agencies
- Federal electronic and information technology
- Programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance*
- the Executive agency
- United States Postal Service
*Federal financial assistance includes both monetary and non-monetary funds from the government. This applies to state-run programs such as airports, state houses, public schools, colleges and universities, Federal assisted housing, public libraries, police stations etc.
“Program or activity” is defined as a department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a state or of a local government; or an entity of a state or local government that distributes assistance and the department or agency that receives the assistance.
Section 508 states that all information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities including employees and the public.
While it’s debated if Section 508 applies to state governments, there are several instances where the law does apply and states do need to comply. For example, many states have enacted their own “mini 508” laws that apply the following requirements.
Section 508 applies to:
- the Federal government
- State governments through “little 508s”
- States that receive federal funding through the Assistive Technology Act*
*Under the Assistive Technology Act, States whose programs do not comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act will be denied funding.
The law requires an alternative, accessible technology method be provided for disabled employees and members of the public.
The technical standards include accessible alternatives with:
- Software Applications and Operating Systems
- Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications
- Telecommunications Products
- Videos or Multimedia Products
- Self Contained, Closed Products
- Desktop and Portable Computers
When it comes to closed captioning, Section 508 only requires Federal communications to be accessible. However, due to the Assistive Technology Act and individual states’ accessibility policies, state governments may need to comply with Section 508, meaning they would need to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities throughout all of their communication efforts, including online video.
In other cases, if a state has enacted their own “mini 508,” then that state would also need to comply.
Exemptions apply to organizations where implementation of these requirements would cause an undue hardship. However, organizations are still required to provide an alternative method for communicating the information to individuals with disabilities.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
The ADA was intended to apply to physical structures, but through legal action, it has been extended to online content.
Title II of the ADA relates to web accessibility for state and local entities.
Title II of the ADA protects individuals from discrimination by public entities.
Public entities include:
- State and local governments including its:
- other instrumentalities (for example public meeting halls, airports, and police stations)
- Activities, services and programs of public entities
Title II mandates that public entities cannot refuse to accommodate people with disabilities and must provide the necessary aids for such individuals to have equal access.
In terms of communications, public entities are required to provide effective communication for individuals with hearing, vision, or speech impairments that is equivalent to that of others. The Title requires public entities to provide auxiliary aids, unless they alter the “nature of the service, program, or activity” or cause an undue financial and administrative burden. However, if auxiliary aids are unavailable, then they must provide an alternative method for effective communication.
“Auxiliary aids” are services or devices such as “qualified interpreters, assistive listening headsets, captioning and decoders, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDD’s), videotext displays, readers, taped texts, Brailled materials, and large print materials.”
This also means that state governments must make their video content accessible by providing captions and audio descriptions.
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