Greater momentum and advancement are occurring across the US to ensure public spaces, learning experiences, work environments and technology are more accessible. These important efforts are helping to ensure that all individuals and audiences can engage with their communities with equity.
Yet while regulations like the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) require that all US states grant accessibility to the public, the legal impact varies from place to place. In fact, some states with the highest percentage of people with disabilities have the least accessible websites. As a result, individuals in these areas often can’t access important information.
To provide greater access to individuals with varying needs or disabilities, educators, government professionals and business leaders alike can seek inspiration from these five states. We’ll look at a university within each to showcase an example of an institution that’s doing things right.
Michigan has a reputation for promoting web accessibility. The Great Lakes State ranked No. 1 in a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. It’s also one of the few states that adopted accessibility standards on all of its government sites. Michigan looks to WCAG 2 for guidance and best practices for website usability and access.
Plus, when it comes to healthcare access, Michigan’s government ranked as having one of the best Medicaid service systems and the smallest waiting lists for home and community-based services in the country. Those accolades indicate that Michigan’s healthcare system is easier to navigate for individuals with disabilities.
In education, the University of Michigan offers dedicated resources for students, faculty and even guest content creators that help them create accessible documents, virtual events and presentations both inside and outside of the classroom. One of their key recommendations is to implement live captioning for live-streamed events and online courses. These steps ensure their audiences can participate with equity. The university also established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department and holds itself accountable by publishing an annual strategic report. That report details ways the university’s leaders deliver inclusive and accessible learning experiences for students and their communities. For example, this year they developing a website that will house all disability and accessibility resources in one centralized location. That site will help students with disabilities easily access the tools and information they need to succeed in one platform.
Vermont has also adopted WCAG 2 standards, in addition to those outlined by Section 508, for all of its government websites. The state offers people with disabilities access to one of the best healthcare accessibility programs in the country. 98% of their residents with disabilities have health insurance, with only 18% reporting they couldn’t afford healthcare.
Institutions like the University of Vermont also adhere to these standards and provide students and faculty with Equally Effective Alternate Access Plans (EEAPs). These temporary plans deliver accessible alternatives to students in cases where an accessible classroom tool or service isn’t already available. The university’s steps also serve as helpful implementation plans. For example, the plans offer guidance for planners of online events where participants with disabilities may attend and need accessibility services like captioning or transcripts to follow along effectively.
Arizona leads in the realm of public accessibility. Scottsdale and Tucson frequently rank in the top 10 lists of the best cities for people with disabilities. The rankings apply both in terms of economy and quality of life. These cities are especially inclusive of wheelchair users or individuals with mobility disabilities. Arizona’s dry and flat environment helps these individuals navigate spaces with ease. Together with public accessibility, Arizona has an accessibility statute in place which covers digital and web accessibility for all Arizona websites. The requirements include providing adequate color contrast, keyboard controls and text-only versions of content like video transcripts. With these accommodations, individuals who are blind and have low vision can easily access content with a screen reader.
In the education space, the University of Arizona is renowned for its accessibility efforts for students with disabilities. The campus boasts an interactive map that marks the locations of all of the accessible entrances, elevators and parking spaces across the campus. Also, the university enlists captioning and transcription tools in online environments. Now, the university’s leaders are inspiring other schools across the country to follow suit. Its disability services leaders use Verbit’s captioning to offer equitable learning experiences for students, faculty and staff for both online and in-person courses. The institution also offers multi-language captioning, which supports its diverse, bilingual community.
Pennsylvania ranks as one of the most livable states for individuals with disabilities. It has the third-best transit score in the US, benefitting the 12% of individuals with mobility-related disabilities who use their public transport systems. The state’s senate government also passed several reforms for accessibility in 2021. The reforms included a mandate requiring the Department of State to make its website accessible and a bill requiring permit agencies to offer accessible tracking systems for all applicants.
In education, Pennsylvania State University provides its students with a dedicated disability services department. The university employs multiple support coordinators who work to ensure inclusion at every one of its campuses. One of its key programs, Project Spoonies, provides both virtual and in-person peer support for students who are experiencing chronic illness or have disabilities. The project gives students the opportunity to connect and engage with peers with similar backgrounds.
In addition, the disability services department hosts Diversability every April. The disability-focused event explores topics around accessibility, equality and inclusion through live sessions. Along with educating the current community about disabilities, Penn State leaders also go to lengths to support prospective students with disabilities. As they make the transition to college, they are provided with a checklist of factors to consider during admissions and once they begin their first semester.
While California reports one of the highest numbers of accessibility lawsuits – likely due to its size and population – it stands out as one of the most inclusive and accessible states in the US. It currently has three main digital accessibility laws, which require accessibility for information technology like its government websites. AB 434, the most recent mandate, requires California websites to publish a certification on their website certifying they adhere to WCAG 2.
For example, the California Community College (CCC) system offers all of its colleges special funding for post-production captioning through the Distance Education Captioning and Transcription (DECT) grant. The funds offer much-needed accessibility solutions to thousands of students who rely on captions to consume video and participate effectively. These schools make use of the funding to caption videos and live sessions for students who are Deaf, hard of hearing, have ADHD or other reported needs. Providing them with captions as visual aids and word-for-word transcripts helps them live in class and when studying when they need assistance with note-taking.
The University of California at Berkeley (UCB) is also one of the best universities for individuals with disabilities to attend. On top of offering a dedicated disability services program, the university provides golf-cart transportation services, known as The Loop, that help students with mobility disabilities navigate the campus more easily.
Get Inspired to Take Action in Your State
Individuals within every state, whether they’re educators, government professionals or business leaders, can all do more to modernize and improve their environments and experiences to make them more accessible. Take a moment to consider actions being taken in these US states as well as what other cities and countries are doing around the world. From accessible building construction initiatives in Berlin and a comprehensive plan helping Barcelona become fully accessible by 2026, there’s a lot to learn.
Verbit provides trusted captioning, transcription and audio description solutions to schools, businesses and government agencies across the US. Contact us to learn how our solutions support our 6,000+ customers, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lewis University and the California State University system.