Vella-Wilkinson bill would require state websites to comply with accessibility standards


STATE HOUSE – Legislation proposed by Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson would require that state agencies’ websites be accessible to people with disabilities.

The legislation (2024-H 7159) would require that all newly created websites for state boards, divisions, bureaus, commissions and agencies comply with the latest accessibility standards set by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. Existing state sites would have until July 1, 2026, to come into compliance.

“As a state, we’ve invested significant time and resources into looking at things like curb cuts, widths of hallways and elevators to make sure that our physical spaces are accessible to people with disabilities. But people are also traveling on the internet, and having full access to those public spaces is equally important,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick). “An estimated 15% of the global population has some sort of disability, and of course they need and deserve full access to all the information we provide to the public through our websites.”

The standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium provide guidance to help operators make their websites accessible to people with disabilities by ensuring the content is perceivable and understandable, that sites are operable to people using accessibility tools such as screen readers, and that they are robust, allowing users of all abilities to have the same experience.

The legislation is supported by Secretary of State Gregg M. Amore and the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council. Secretary Amore testified in favor of it at a hearing before the House Innovation, Internet and Technology Committee Jan. 25, saying the Department of State began checking its own site for accessibility since it embarked on an update of its online lobby tracker system in 2023. The department’s voluminous website is currently about 85% compliant, which is the acceptable standard, but he said the department aims for it to become at least 90% compliant.

“When state departments and agencies look to improve or change their platforms like we did, that is a golden opportunity to do this work,” he said, noting that once a site is designed accessibly, maintaining accessibility is not difficult or expensive.

Companion legislation (2024-S 2037) is being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Linda L. Ujifusa (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol).