This year marks the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law passed in 1990 by Congress to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and remove barriers to employment, places of public accommodation, transportation, and the services, programs and activities of state and local government. During the past 26 years Texas state agencies have developed model programs to ensure equal access to their agency’s services and ensure effective communications to people with disabilities.
The Texas Governor’s Committee is highlighting ten state agencies that benchmark our state’s consistent progress towards equality of access for all Texans. Many of the listed agencies are well-known for serving Texans with disabilities as their primary mission while others agencies on our list identified for a best practice are less known for their service.
The following list demonstrates state agencies’ accessibility initiatives:
Texas Secretary of State
The Secretary of State’s Vote Texas program ensures services are available to voters with disabilities. In every federal election (and most nonfederal elections), each polling place will offer at least one type of accessible voting equipment or Direct Record Electronic (“DRE”) device. This equipment allows voters with disabilities to vote directly on the system or assists voters in marking the paper ballot. Depending on the type of system, voters with disabilities may use headphones or other assistive devices to vote independently and secretly.
Texas Workforce Commission
The Texas Workforce Commission’s Civil Rights Division provides an avenue to file a complaint for individuals who believe they have experienced discrimination in an employment or housing transaction. Job Seekers and Employees can find additional information at Employee Rights & Laws. For individuals wanting to file a housing complaint, additional information can be found at Civil Rights & Discrimination.
Texas Historical Commission
The Texas Historical Commission assists property owners and architects in finding solutions for accessibility issues at historic buildings and sites. Contrary to a widely held belief, historic buildings and sites are not exempt from accessibility compliance. The spirit of the accessibility laws can virtually always be met, if carefully planned, without destroying the historic characteristics of a property. For more information on providing access to historic properties, please contact your county’s Division of Architecture project reviewer.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Texas Parks and Wildlife has created a website describing Wheelchair Friendly State parks and historical sites with accessible friendly facilities. You will also find links to accessible:
- Wildlife Management Areas
- Nature/Education Centers and Community Parks
- Sites on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail
- National Wildlife Refuges
- National Park Service Sites
- National Forest Service Sites
- Great Texas Wildlife Trails
Texas Department of Public Safety
The Texas Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management provides information to local jurisdictions on emergency management planning for individuals with functional and access needs. TDEM also coordinates the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry (STEAR) project which is a free registry that provides local emergency planners and emergency responders with additional information on the needs of people with disabilities and functional access needs in their community. In the past, the registry data has been used to provide evacuation assistance for individuals with disabilities during a disaster. Texas communities use the registry information in different ways. Registering yourself in the STEAR registry does not guarantee that you will receive a specific service during an emergency. Available services will vary by community. For more information on how your community will use information in the STEAR registry, contact your local emergency management office.
Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services
The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services offers a voucher program, the Specialized Telecommunications Assistance Program (STAP) that provides financial assistance to Texans with disabilities for the purchase of specialized assistive equipment or services to ensure their equal access to telecommunications and the state’s phone system. The types of devices available under the program are enumerated on the website at Vouchers and Values. On September 1, 2016 this program will transfer to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
The Talking Book Program is a free library service for people unable to read standard print because of a visual, physical, or reading disability. The Talking Book Program is a division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Since 1931, the Talking Book Program has participated as a regional library of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, a division of the Library of Congress.
Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation
The Architectural Barriers division is housed within the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Registered Accessibility Specialist (RAS) are available to assist Texas businesses by verifying compliance with provisions of the Texas Architectural Barriers Act, including the Texas Accessibility Standards (TAS). Project registration, plan review, and inspection services statewide for both private and publicly funded buildings and facilities is provided through the Architectural Barriers program. Additionally, the website provides links to presentations on making accessible assembly areas, recreation areas, saunas, steam rooms, pools and spas.
Texas Health and Human Services Commission
HHS Accessibility Center for Electronic Information Resources website provides resources to help agencies meet requirements governing the accessibility of information and communications technology information including a model accessibility policy, accessibility training, and accessibility development guidelines and testing checklists.
Office of the Governor – Committee on People with Disabilities
The Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities provides information on Key Laws and Resources for Texans with Disabilities on its website. The resources are organized by topic with a comprehensive description of Texas accessibility and disability laws. Among the most popular resources on this site are the free MS Office Accessibility Training videos created through a partnership of 14 Texas state agencies. These tutorials are currently being updated with new versions for MS Office 2013 and 2016 expected this fall.
David Spears is a member of the Workforce Solutions Navigator team for the Texas Gulf Coast Region. Combining training and education to real world examples, David brings personal and professional experience with disabilities to the table in order to help job seekers with disabilities realize their potential. David has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration with over 20 years of experience in the business world.