For districts, selecting a website platform used to be easy, as the website needed to do one thing: communicate with current families. However, in the past two to three years, as competition with charter and private schools increased, districts realized their websites needed to do more than just communicate with current families; they needed to attract new ones. Numerous districts across the country sought new vendors to redesign with a marketing-first approach to improve their brand.
Now, districts are faced with yet another challenge: redesigning to ensure their website is accessible for all, and ADA compliant. For most, the search for another new vendor and another new website has already began. Others are now in the crunch-time mode, as there's just six months to launch an accessible website that meets the standards on the WCAG 2.0 checklist.
If you're just beginning the search for a new vendor, or still weighing your options on what to do next, here are the seven main qualities to consider when selecting your vendor.
1. Design Experience
An accessible website doesn't mean you need to have a plain, boring website. Rather, in today's competitive market, having something that makes you stand out is essential for the continued success of your district. Therefore, it is important to partner with a vendor who is experienced in making all types of websites accessible — not just simple, plain text ones.
Web design is something we take seriously at Finalsite — and our 80+ design awards over the past five years speak for themselves. Our designers are knowledgeable in designing for color-blindness, screen readers and ADA-compliance, meaning you don't have to sacrifice a great design that focuses on marketing to have a compliant website.
2. Training Processes and Experience
ADA compliance is complicated; the WCAG 2.0 checklist is long; and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is serious about ensuring your district's website is accessible for all. Therefore, achieving and maintaining compliance is something you do not want to do alone, so you'll want to select your vendor carefully. You'll need to select a vendor that has a deep history in EdTech, and a proven track record with schools and districts on all fronts.
At Finalsite, our project management team has been trained in ADA compliance and WCAG 2.0 standards to help you build a design and sitemap, and add website content that helps you avoid an OCR investigation.
In addition, our Support team has already helped many school districts update their website content to meet WCAG 2.0 standards.
"Finalsite has been a supportive partner helping us to identify accessibility problems and work on corrections. Our next steps will be to focus on training site editors and considering a site monitoring tool to help us keep our website accessible for all users. Finalsite helps to make this easy."
- Cheryl Looke, Information Technician
3. The Website Redesign Timeline
It's important to work with a vendor who can guarantee a website launch before the January 18, 2018 deadline. Ask to see a statement of work or suggested timeline for the design and launch process to ensure that your website will be ready in time.
Here are some important questions to ask to ensure a timely launch:
- How long does the design process take?
- Is there a formal Q&A process? How long does it take?
- Will a project manager help me build my sitemap?
- Will there be training?
- How early can my team begin adding website content?
- How can you ensure my website is ADA compliant when launched?
- How easy is it to reach your support team?
- Can we make changes on our own to the website, or do they have to go through support?
For example, at Finalsite, depending on the selected design package, the process ranges from about one to four months, start-to-finish, on our end. Once contracted, your work can begin in just a few days. You'll have a kick-off call with your designer, front-end developer and project manager, and you'll start your training. In short, you can almost immediately begin the process, giving you plenty of time for the migration of old content, and addition of new content.
Free eBook: Website Redesign Playbook for Public Schools
4. Website Platform
Ensure your vendor provides a platform that makes compliance easy and is nimble enough to quickly update its software, as accessibility requirements change. In addition, you'll want to ensure you can make simple updates yourself, and not have to go through support.
Important platform considerations include: Ability to add ALT text, setup admin rights, and the ability to embed videos with transcripts.
Finalsite's CMS, Composer, makes it easy to maintain a compliant website, and you can learn more about that on this web page.
5. Content Migration
You'll want to check out different vendors' content migration processes to help you speed up the redesign process. Be sure to ask how content is migrated, as you do not want non-compliant content from your old website creeping into your new website.
No website vendor is going to offer you an all-in-one web accessibility solution, which is why you need to not only choose your vendor based on what they offer, but also on who they offer.
For example, at Finalsite, we partner with two of the industry's leading website scanners — Siteimprove and AudioEye — to offer schools and districts exclusive pricing and access to these technologies.
7. Simplicity of Ongoing Maintenance
If your district is like most, you probably have a group of at least ten individuals updating website content. This makes it easy for your website content to become non-compliant quickly, especially if your webmasters aren't thoughtfully adding content.
Finalsite partners with Siteimprove and AudioEye to make frequent website check-ups easy. AudioEye's Ally software even goes one step further by doing the maintenance for you — automatically correcting non-compliant content, and providing tools to make your content more accessible for screen readers.
Selecting your district's website vendor is the most important part of achieving and maintaining website accessibility. Be sure they have a history in website design and development, and are capable of handling the vast requirements of ADA compliance and website accessibility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.