Northern California Record

Sunday, April 5, 2020

State documents disappear from Web as agencies struggle with ADA reading requirements


By John Sammon | Mar 23, 2020


SACRAMENTO – Documents are being taken down from public view as California state agencies struggle to comply with a 2017 law intended to ensure Web readability in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Businesses are also finding ADA strictures difficult.

“The steep costs of making websites ADA accessible can be burdensome for California’s businesses, especially small businesses who are more impacted by such an expense,” Kyla Christoffersen Powell, President and CEO of the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC), told the Northern California Record. “The fact that large state government agencies are experiencing challenges with compliance demonstrates the level of difficulty. And even when a business tries to make their website accessible, ambiguities in the law still leave them vulnerable to shakedown lawsuits.”

Agencies including the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Department of Water Resources, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and other agencies are reportedly removing documents from the Web, according to a report in The Sacramento Bee.

Some critics have likened the document dumping to a reduction in state government transparency.

However, state officials told The Sacramento Bee that taking specific nonessential documents down from public view on websites makes it easier for the public to find what they are searching for on the sites without having to wade through clutter. Some have expressed doubt at the claim.

“You certainly want to have documents being accessible to the disabled and the blind, but if doing that causes these documents to become unavailable for many years or even permanently to the public, I think there’s a trade-off there that’s pretty large,” Jay Lund, professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California, Davis, told The Sacramento Bee.

The Sacramento Bee's report said a state audit in 2015 found serious accessibility problems on several government websites.

Some state websites, including the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) and the California Community Colleges system, were equipped for screen readers that read questions aloud for visually impaired people. However, some who are visually impaired are still unable to take a job exam online or apply for a college.

Caltrans has reportedly removed nearly 2.5 million documents from its website as part of its clutter removal. The department is revising approximately 13,000 documents, containing about 350,000 pages, to comply with ADA standards and plans to repost them, officials told The Sacramento Bee.

The department selected documents required to post by law and documents that program managers considered essential for operations.

CAL FIRE is undergoing a similar process. The agency removed historical fire statistics reports, dating as far back as 1943, among thousands of other documents, accorrding to the Sacramento Bee.

Lynda Gledhill, spokesperson for the California Government Operations Agency, said the Department of Veterans Affairs considered a revision of its website analytics a few years ago. The most popular searches on its website were searches for information on obtaining veterans' license plates. The department provides a link to the Department of Motor Vehicles site where the specialty plates can be ordered.

“ADA accessibility will be standard practice,” Gledhill said, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Powell indicated that CJAC supports a common-sense approach to document accessibility for people with disabilities.

“There have been several proposals during this legislative session that attempt to address some of the challenges of website accessibility compliance,” she said. “CJAC supports proposals that establish clear, fair and reasonable standards for compliance, which will promote adoption of accessible websites under the ADA and benefit both consumers with disabilities and businesses.”

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