As a result of HB 2819, Texans with disabilities will have easier access to government services available through Web sites and call centers. The bill, signed by Gov. Perry, brings Texas state law into accord with federal section 508 standards, and that has become increasingly important said Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities.

"In 2003 the Legislature replaced a bunch of field offices with call centers and Web sites, so that people with disabilities, instead of having face-to-face interviews, go through call centers or Web sites to apply for eligibility information. So that's why I felt the stakes were higher now."

Borel said there were some standards in place prior to passage of the bill, but said they were a mixed bag of odds and ends, and Borel's group wanted to bring them up to the "gold standard" for accessibility.

Borel said the bill got a lot of support from all branches of state government. "We got pretty good support from the agency that is implementing these standards, the Department of Information Resources. Once the bill was filed, they got in contact with us and made suggestions, and those suggestions were reasonable, and we kind of worked it together. The Texas Legislature is very difficult to pass legislation through, so the fact that we were able to do so speaks to support from individual legislators too."

Part of pushing the bill, said Borel, was educating legislators. Consumers of electronic government services -- one with a visual impairment and one with quadriplegia -- helped legislators understand some of the barriers and what could be done. The Senate passed it in a deadline photo finish, said Borel. "And once the governor got it he was very positive about it."

Borel said the results of passage were apparent immediately. "The bill directed state agencies to develop new standards based on federal section 508. Right now they've published them and are seeking public comment, so they are moving quite rapidly on them. Meanwhile, I'm aware that other state agencies are putting out requests for people to work on their Web sites â?¦ so it's moving remarkably quick."

Support from many different quarters helped get the bill through and passed, said Borel, but even if it had been an uphill battle, the Coalition for Texans With Disabilities was ready. Several members had climbed Mt. Everest a few years before, and at HB 2819's passage, a bottle of spirits brought back from that Everest expedition was cracked open for the celebration.

Wayne Hanson  |  Editor