Colorado passes new laws to support people with disabilities

“We can do the same thing as everyone else,” the 41-year-old Colorado Springs resident Mitch Routon said. “It just may be at a slower pace.”

Routon has intellectual disabilities and is now an advocate for himself and others at The Arc of Colorado, an organization that promotes policies to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Supporting Coloradans with disabilities was among the topics that gained traction in the state’s legislature this year, with lawmakers passing a slate of bills aimed at protecting people’s rights, preventing discrimination and increasing access to services 31 years after the federal Americans with Disabilities Act became law.

Routon, who serves on The Arc of Colorado board, has endured his own fair share of discrimination at previous workplaces.

As an infant, Routon suffered a stroke, followed by a seizure disorder until he was about 11, both of which affected his development. Routon said that despite the progress he’s made, there are always more setbacks, which continues to inspire his work advocating for equal rights, particularly for those who do not have a voice or support system.

“I would like to see the entire country do what Colorado is doing because it is very important that people with disabilities get paid equally,” he said of the sub-minimum wage law.

Rep. David Ortiz, a Littleton Democrat and the first Colorado lawmaker to use a wheelchair. In addition to a website access law, Ortiz co-sponsored three other pieces of legislation related to rights for people with disabilities, including HB21-1169, which prohibits discrimination in organ transplants for people with disabilities, and HB21-1318 creating an outdoor equity grant program. The third, HB21-1065, allows private employers to prioritize hiring those with disabilities.

The new website law cosponsored by Ortiz requires state agencies to make their websites more accessible to people with disabilities through options like text descriptions.

This year, Littleton Republican state Rep. Colin Larson co-sponsored a new law requiring training for first responders and two other disability-related bills because he believes the issues people with disabilities face are not regularly addressed.

Larson also hopes the legislature will address issues including a lack of available housing for people with intellectual disabilities. Ortiz said a lot of topics that lawmakers are trying to address need to be thought of equitably across the board, taking into account not only the disabilities but also race, gender identity and sexual orientation.