How to Comply with Colorado’s New Accessibility Rules

By now most people in library land are aware that websites and other “information and communication technology” (ICT) of public entities, like public libraries, need to meet WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standards by July 1, 2024. The law requiring that was passed back in 2021, and at the end of February 2024, the Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) published the final rules for implementing the law. Now that those rules are available, what do libraries need to do to comply with the law?

The first thing you should do is take a deep breath and don’t panic. It’s true that the rules are broad in scope, covering public-facing, vendor-provided, and internal ICT. You might not be able to make everything fully compliant by July 1. But if you can prioritize, plan, and document your efforts to improve accessibility, you should be in good shape.

Accessibility Statements

The rules require you to post in an easy-to-find location an accessibility statement that, at a minimum, has (quoting Section 11.6 B of the rules):

  1. A commitment to a timely response to reports of inaccessible ICT or requests for a reasonable accommodation or modification.
  2. A prominent notice informing individuals with disabilities on how to request reasonable accommodations or modifications or to report inaccessible ICT. The notice shall provide more than one contact method, which could include an accessible form to submit feedback, an email address, or a toll-free phone number (with TTY), to contact personnel knowledgeable about the accessibility of the ICT.

For your website, links to accessibility statements can be added to the site footer and/or integrated in the site’s navigation, so that the link will appear on every page of the site.

A brief accessibility statement will just describe your commitment and response time, and give at least two means of contacting you with any accessibility complaints. A fuller statement might also include the level of compliance you’re reaching for, how you integrate accessibility into your organization’s operational plans, and an honest description of any areas of the site that you know do not at present meet accessibility requirements.

The Web Accessibility Initiative has a good primer on Developing an Accessibility Statement, which even includes an Accessibility Statement Generator to help you get started. OIT has also provided an Example Accessibility Statement.

It’s important that you be able to track the receipt of any complaints, and document how you responded to them. Don’t let accessibility complaints fall through the cracks. Be able to demonstrate (like, in court if it comes to that) what complaints you received, when, from whom, and what changes you made in response, and any other communication you had with the person who lodged the complaint.

Things You Can’t Fix

It’s unrealistic to expect that every ICT you operate can meet all WCAG guidelines by July 1. The rules from OIT recognize this and describe how you can still comply with the law even if your ICT doesn’t always meet the required standards.

Even if your ICT has some accessibility problems, you are still in compliance with the law if (and here I am paraphrasing section 11.7 of the rules):

  • An element of the ICT isn’t exactly up to standard, but its flaws don’t prevent “substantially equivalent” access to and use of your services
  • You provide “reasonable accommodations or modifications” for things that don’t meet the required standard, combined with an accessibility statement, and you can show you’re making progress on an overall plan to fix accessibility problems
  • You have a vendor-provided ICT that doesn’t meet all the accessibility requirements, but you can show that this vendor “best meets” your needs and accessibility requirements; in other words, accessibility should be among the criteria for selecting vendor services, but it doesn’t have to be your sole or primary criterion
  • You can provide a “conforming alternate version” of the inaccessible ICT
  • You can show that meeting the accessibility guidelines would constitute an “undue burden” on your organization

OIT has provided some examples of each of these things in their Plain Language Guide to the State Technology Accessibility Rules and in a recent presentation on Complying with the Technology Accessibility Rules that might help make those exceptions more clear.

Prioritize, Plan, and Document

The accessibility rules require you to publicly post an accessibility statement. They also mention an accessibility plan, without actually requiring you to have one or make it public. But having a good plan, and being able to document how you have been following it, will be really helpful if you are ever facing accessibility complaints or a suit under accessibility laws.

You can prioritize by thinking about 1) what ICT are most likely to face accessibility complaints; and 2) what issues can your organization directly fix or ameliorate. Public-facing ICT are probably more likely to be subject to accessibility complaints. Presumably, if you have staff who need accessible ICT to do their jobs you have already addressed that.

Section 11.7 B of the rules explain what a good accessibility plan might include:

  1. Annual status updates demonstrating progress on advancing technology accessibility.
  2. Prioritization of ICT considering how the ICT will impact the public entity and its users, including aspects such as legal requirements, user impact, usage metrics, and importance to the program, service, or activity.
  3. The steps the public entity is taking to remove accessibility barriers in their ICT.
  4. Timelines when inaccessible ICT will be addressed and the plan for providing reasonable accommodation and modification in the interim.
  5. Policies for regularly testing and remediating ICT.

OIT also provides an example accessibility plan and what information it might include.

There is nothing in the law or the rules that detail a process for dealing with accessibility complaints, or that limits anyone’s ability to file a suit for accessibility issues. An ICT user with an accessibility complaint does not have to first go through your organization’s complaint process–or even file a complaint with you at all–before filing a lawsuit against you.

So even if you do everything the rules call for, you might still be sued. That’s a little scary, but there’s already nothing stopping someone from suing you for any number of frivolous complaints. Have some faith in humanity and try not to worry about everything that might possibly happen. And if you have an accessibility statement, a good plan, and good documentation of how you are following that plan, it’s unlikely that any such frivolous suit would be successful.

In the end I think we can all agree that the goals of the accessibility law are laudable. What’s at stake is full access for all to library services and information, something that librarians have long been dedicated to.