A Study in Contrasts: Accessibility and the California State Government

I am, as some readers may be aware, in the process of moving house1 which means that I am skittering about in all directions trying to do things like getting my address changed everywhere and rounding up boxes and impatiently waiting for Moving Day.

I try to do as many things online as possible, so on the off chance that the Department of Motor Vehicles would let me, I went to their website to see if I could enter an online address change. As it turns out, I could! Hooray! But what really interested me was that the DMV’s website is covered in multiple notices about accessibility. Starting right at the top of the page: The topline navigation on the DMV website is skip navigation. Implementation of skip navigation is rather spotty, so it’s really exciting to see it on a government website.

They have a section of the website discussing disability services and accommodations at DMV locations. Yes, the headline on the page includes the cringeworthy ‘the disabled,’ but it covers a lot of topics, from getting ‘terps for doing business at DMV offices to service animals. It also refers to ‘special assistance’ as opposed to just ‘assistance’ or ‘accommodations,’ but I like that the accessibility policy for DMV locations specifically avoids the trap of only discussing certain disabilities, and that it includes information about getting your business done online or over the phone, for people who do that.

There’s also a separate website accessibility policy, which includes this statement:

The Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) website has been developed in compliance with California Government Code 11135, located in Section D of the California Government Code. Code 11135 requires that all electronic and information technology developed or purchased by the State of California Government is accessible to people with disabilities. There are various types of physical disabilities that impact user interaction on the web. Vision loss, hearing loss, limited manual dexterity, and cognitive disabilities are examples, with each having different means by which to access electronic information effectively. Our goal is to provide a good web experience for all visitors. (emphasis mine)

That’s right. The state government thinks that accessibility is important enough that it requires accessibility for new electronic/information technology acquired for government use. Not only that, it recognises that accessibility is complex and multifaceted, and that multiple issues must be considered when designing accessible spaces. The website accessibility policy goes on to talk about specific design features they have implemented and how to use them, and provides general tools for web browsers that could be applied beyond the DMV site. Honestly, and I never thought I would be saying this about the DMV, it’s a resource useful enough that I would probably send people to it if they were looking for tips on basic design for accessibility, and basic browser modifications to make browsing more accessible.

Let’s contrast this with the Canadian government’s decision to go to court to avoid making their websites accessible to screen readers. Now, let’s not misstate things here: The State of California is not a perfect model of Access for All and it shouldn’t be mistaken as such. But the difference between these two situations is quite a study in contrasts. On the one hand, you ┬áhave a government deciding that spending funds on technology that everyone can’t access is not acceptable, and, in fact, so not acceptable that it passes a law about it. On the other hand, you have a government so fervently resistant to one accessibility issue that it wants to go to court to defend its right to deny citizens access.

One government decides, as a matter of policy, that taxpayer funds should not be spent on inaccessible equipment. Another does not. Is California perfect? Certainly not, but they’re making a good faith effort, and it’s a significant step in the right direction. It’s especially significant that the information is readily available and made as visible as possible, because it’s not just available to disabled users of the DMV website. It’s also visible to nondisabled users, and may get some of them thinking about accessibility, and perhaps reframing the way they define accessibility.

  1. Yes, it is very exciting! Hooray! New house! Ok, back to the original topic.

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

One thought on “A Study in Contrasts: Accessibility and the California State Government

  1. Something I’m curious about, on another accessibility-related note, is how many California DMV offices are accessible via transit, compared to Georgia.

    One of the biggest issues when the Georgia secretary of state began requiring state ID in order to vote was that the only place one could get a non-driver ID card was at the DMV offices– many of which, because there was an implicit assumption that only drivers would need to go there, are inaccessible via transit. Somebody realized the issues with this, and the state started making voter ID cards at the election registrars as well– but these IDs are specifically for voting, and still cannot be used as a general ID for other ID-required activities (banking, etc.).

    I never have understood why identification needs to be handled by the DMV. I guess because most people drive, so it’s sort of a “kill two birds with one stone” thing?

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