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Do States Need Digital Accessibility Coordinators?

A new brief from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers underlines the importance of and reason for having a position dedicated to statewide digital accessibility coordination.

Image shows black keyboard with red key that says "Accessibility" and features a wheelchair symbol.
The role of a statewide digital accessibility coordinator is an important one for states to have, according to a brief release this week by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

As government agencies increase focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, there is a need for greater focus on accessibility — an area that government agencies sometimes fall short on. With the rise of digital government, accessibility is imperative to ensuring equitable access to government services.

The recently published brief argues that states benefit from having staff dedicated to this work. Massachusetts, for example, recently established a new position dedicated to advancing IT accessibility.

The organization reports that at least 15 states have a coordinator role responsible for overseeing a digital accessibility team, with other states planning to create such a position.

“With the expansion of digital government services, accessibility is an imperative,” said Meredith Ward, NASCIO deputy executive director in the announcement. “With nearly 40 percent of citizens over the age of 16 now having at least one disability, making these digital services accessible is more important than ever.”

Such a position may go by other names, including chief IT accessibility officer, chief information accessibility officer and other titles.

Other responsibilities surrounding this position might include improving access to state programs and services; assessing usability and implementing improvements for digital products and services; auditing state websites and other digital platforms for accessibility; offering accessibility training to state employees; and advocating for the use of accessibility best practices across state agencies.

In some cases, the position may work with the state procurement office and vendors to ensure those products are also accessible. In most cases, the position will serve as the main point of contact for coordinating various statewide accessibility-related initiatives.

For states who do not have the role in place but would like to establish it, such a position could be created at the discretion of the CIO, through legislation or by executive order. Funding is the most significant barrier, the report notes. NASCIO recommends that for states without this position in place, assembling a review team can help assess and improve policies and procedures.

The brief states that the NASCIO state IT community believes this role is important because it helps states address accessibility both more effectively and more consistently.

“Simply put, it’s the right thing to do,” said Kathryn Michener, New Hampshire's director of user experience, in the brief.

Not only can this position make government more inclusive, but it can help ensure compliance. For example, the updated Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies to make IT accessible to people with disabilities. While Section 508 applies specifically to the federal government, there are implications that impact employees at the state level. This position can help monitor requirements and implement changes as necessary.