Charting Your Accessibility Journey in the State of Illinois

National Illinois Day - Remediation

In the year 2020, more than 12.5 million Illinoisans lived with some form of disability. Because of advances in medical science, the number of people surviving disabling accidents and conditions, in general, has grown and the proportion of people with disabilities in society is increasing. As a result of state legislation focusing on education, employment, and access to public and private services and facilities, people with disabilities are increasingly becoming an economic force, as well as gaining access to the cultural mainstream.

Further, a Census Bureau report shows that 850,000 Illinoisans are age 65 or older. By the year 2030, the Bureau estimates that one out of four people will be over the age of 65. The profile of older adults is changing. People over 65 are healthier work longer, are more interested in volunteer opportunities, and have more resources than the previous generation. Increasingly, they will be more involved in government and cultural activities. State agencies must plan for inclusion by providing fully accessible digital infrastructure and programs that welcome people of all ages and abilities.

As these demographic changes take place, the concept of inclusive web design and accessible online content has taken center stage giving a new perspective of inclusion. The goal of digital inclusive design according to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is to make digital ecosystems usable by as many people as possible.

State agencies in Illinois must move beyond old concepts that define people with disabilities and older adults as a “special” group of people. The focus of Illinois-based agencies needs to shift to a policy of inclusion, a way of ensuring that people with disabilities and older adults have the same opportunities as others. Laws around accessibility in the state are very clear on the requirement for digital content and website design. This article looks to bring awareness to accessibility laws in the state of Illinois, so agencies and organizations have a clear roadmap in their digital accessibility journey.

Accessibility Laws in Illinois

Illinois accessibility laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination based on a disability (visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, or neurological) have been around for decades. Unfortunately, laws prohibiting discrimination based on disability have not kept pace with technological advances in communication.

To remedy this gap, the State has amended current laws or drafted new laws to ensure the accessibility of new devices and technologies, namely the Web and mobile applications. Let’s look at the existing laws and their standards as they apply in the state of Illinois.

Illinois Accessibility Code (IAC) (71 IAC 400)

The new Illinois Accessibility Act 2018 (IAC) (71 Ill. Adm. Code 400), which became effective as of October 23, is the culmination of a four-year effort to harmonize the 1997 IAC and the Illinois ADA requirements. One of the most notable changes is the format. The IAC organization was modified to meet ANSI and ADA format and numbering standards. Other than that, many of the IAC requirements remain the same.

Examples of significant changes include:

The New standards add a new technical requirement at section 406.3 for handrails along walking surfaces.

The new Standards provide more flexibility than the 1991 Standards as follows:

Section 4.26.4 of the 1991 Standards requires handrail gripping surfaces to have edges with a minimum radius of 1/8 inch. Section 505.8 of the 2010 Standards requires handrail gripping surfaces to have rounded edges.

Section 4.26.2 of the 1991 Standards requires handrail gripping surfaces to have a diameter of 1 ¼ inches to 1 1/2 inches, or to provide an equivalent gripping surface.

Section 505.7 of the 2010 Standards requires handrail gripping surfaces with a circular cross-section to have an outside diameter of 1 ¼ inches to 2 inches. Handrail gripping surfaces with a non-circular cross-section must have a perimeter dimension of 4 inches to 6 ¼ inches, and a cross-section dimension of 2 ¼ inches maximum.

Sections 4.8.5 and 4.9.4 of the 1991 Standards require handrail gripping surfaces to be continuous and to be uninterrupted by newel posts, other construction elements, or obstructions.

Section 505.3 of the 2010 Standards sets technical requirements for continuity of gripping surfaces.

Section 505.6 requires handrail gripping surfaces to be continuous along their length and not to be obstructed along their tops or sides. The bottoms of handrail gripping surfaces must not be obstructed for more than twenty percent (20%) of their length. Where provided, horizontal projections must occur at least 1 1/2 inches below the bottom of the handrail gripping surface.

Section 4.9.4 of the 1991 Standards requires handrails at the bottom of stairs to continue to slope for a distance of the width of one tread beyond the bottom riser nosing and to further extend horizontally at least 12 inches.

Section 505.10 of the 2010 Standards requires handrails at the bottom of stairs to extend at the slope of the stair flight for a horizontal distance at least equal to one tread depth beyond the last riser nosing.

Section 4.1.6(3) of the 1991 Standards has a special technical provision for alterations to existing facilities that exempts handrails at the top and bottom of ramps and stairs from providing full extensions where it will be hazardous due to plan configuration.

Section 505.10 of the 2010 Standards has a similar exception that applies in alterations.

Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA)

The Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA) requires Illinois agencies and universities to ensure that their websites, information systems, and information technologies are accessible to people with disabilities. While the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act already require the State to ensure accessibility, the IITAA establishes specific standards and encourages the State to address accessibility proactively.

The IITAA requires the state agencies to review their accessibility standards at least once every three years. In 2017, the IITAA Standards Workgroup updated the IITAA standards to harmonize with the revised Federal Section 508 Standards and the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. During the most recent review on November 19, 2020, the workgroup recommended keeping the IITAA 2.0 Standards aligned with Section 508 and WCAG 2.0, while encouraging compliance with WCAG 2.1 and newer guidelines when possible.

Case Studies of Agencies/Companies in Illinois

Agencies and institutions often underestimate the wide-reaching benefits that accessibility initiatives have to offer. While access to people with disabilities is the primary focus, it also benefits people without disabilities. This flexibility also increases general usability and eases consumption of digital content according to preferences like keyboard shortcuts. Accessibility also offers a number of financial and technical benefits that can be felt in the long run.

A good case-in-point is a large Illinois-based university that faced an ever-growing repository of new and inaccessible files that were added daily. This large repository also left the agency open to litigations. In one month, the institute witnessed 66k+ documents being made accessible and as a side-effect, they noted the following benefits:

A 30% increase in natural search engine traffic

A significant improvement in Google rankings for all target keywords

Zero browser-compatibility issues

Accessible to mobile devices

Time to manage content reduced by 10x to .5 days per job

Savings of over $250,000* on website maintenance

Deadline for Digital Accessibility in Illinois K-12 Schools

The post-pandemic academic year has been challenging for educators and students alike.  This is true particularly for students with disabilities and individualized education plans. To ensure digital accessibility for all students, the State passed the HB 26 law on September 29, 2021. The law mandates that all K-12 schools in Illinois adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for digital education tools.  

The measure requires content available on any third-party online curriculum service used in public and private K-12 schools to be WCAG 2.1 compliant and readily accessible for all students with disabilities. WCAG guidelines provide a single, shared standard for web content accessibility with the help of various online tools like text-to-speech and text alternatives for non-text content. Effective August 1, 2022; the new accessibility guidelines will be standard across all digital tools used in schools in the state of Illinois.

Final Thoughts

If your website and web documents aren’t accessible, you could well face an accessibility lawsuit that could not only impact you financially but also impede any progress you’ve made on the accessibility front so far. On the flip side, Illinois State and local government agencies could receive a $1,000,000 federal grant – ED-GRANTS-080521-002 – if they ensure their web resources are accessible.

If you’re looking to get started on your digital accessibility journey, codemantra is here to help. We provide everything from self-help tools, audits, remediation, and implementation support to help you stay ahead of accessibility compliance. Our experience and expertise in accessibility and WCAG compliance success over the years have helped more than a dozen government agencies improve their digital accessibility.

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Ian Smith