17 School Website Accessibility Questions - Answered
Mia Major

The climate around web accessibility is absolutely torrential. With a swarm of new jargon and acronyms, dozens of vendors reaching out to tell you your website isn't "ADA-compliant," and millions of dollars in lawsuits, it is certainly easy to get lost in the commotion.

As a website company that works exclusively with schools, districts, and school groups (like a BOCES), we've helped our clients face web accessibility and ADA compliance head on — which means we've received hundreds of questions along the way.

In this post, I'm answering seventeen frequently asked questions about web accessibility and ADA compliance.

hands typing on laptop

Website Accessibility FAQs

1. What is the difference between web accessibility and ADA compliance?

The terms "web accessibility" and "ADA compliance" are often used interchangeably in the industry, but they do in fact refer to two different concepts. Web accessibility refers to the initiative of ensuring your website's content, design, and functionality are accessible for all, regardless of an end-user's abilities. ADA compliance refers to conforming with WCAG 2.0 guidelines and other best practices, which are enforced through ADA and ADA-related laws, including Title II and Title III of the ADA, Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), among others.

2. How do I know if my website needs to be ADA compliant?

Regardless of whether your school receives federal funds. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit disability discrimination. Title II applies to all "public entities" at the local and state level, while Section 504 encompasses all local educational agencies, systems of vocational education, or other school systems. It also expands the reach of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to protect a broader range of children with disabilities within K-12 schools. IDEA ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that meets their specific individual needs.

Does your school receive any federal funding? At all? Even a $5,000 grant for your library? If the answer is "yes," then your site also falls under the purview of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 applies to federally funded agencies and their digital services providers. Under the January 2018 Information Communications Technologies (ICT Refresh), Section 508 requires website functionality and content to maintain conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA Success Criteria.

For private institutions, Title III states that the ADA requires equal access in "places of public accommodation", and a myriad of rulings and legal precedents have been established that require private schools, colleges and universities to make their websites and digital content accessible.

Many states also have their own accessibility laws, which typically emulate Section 508 and its approach to ICT.

3. What is the difference between Blackboard Ally and AudioEye Ally?

So you've heard the term "Ally" used by a few different vendors and now you're more confused than you already were about all this accessibility stuff? We hear you.

First, let's start with why everyone uses "Ally" - what it really means is A - 1 - 1 - y, which is a numeronym that uses "A" with 11 letters and a "y" - to represent the word, Accessibility. However, instead of using the number one, it has been called Ally.

Don't worry, "Ally" isn't another accessibility term you need to use, rather, it is two companies offering two very different product offerings with the same name.

The main difference between these two products, is of course, their capabilities. Blackboard Ally is a scan and report tool that leaves its users to fix the issues on their own. AudioEye Ally is a Managed Service which is end-to-end and includes scanning, reporting, automated and manual testing, remediation and ongoing monitoring to ensure sites achieve and maintain accessibility in compliance with ADA-related requirements. AudioEye Ally also includes the Ally Toolbar, which enhances the usability of your website, providing assistive tools that allow all users to customize their experience so they can better consume content. In addition to accessibility and usability, the AudioEye Ally Managed Service includes the AudioEye Trusted Certification, and a Help Desk so users can communicate directly with AudioEye should they encounter any accessibility issues. This helps ensure people don't get lost in the wrong communication loop.

More than 40 Finalsite clients used AudioEye and love it. Read this case study from Avon Grove School District in Pennsylvania to hear about their "set it and forget it" accessibility experience.

4. Does anything besides my content need to be compliant?

YES! Your navigation, functionality, forms, and design all need to adhere to the WCAG 2.0 Level AA regulations. This is often why a scan and report tool is difficult for districts. While adding ALT text to images is easy, re-coding the navigation so it works with keyboard navigation by tabbing, is not as easy. If your users cannot access your accessible content, you've only accomplished half the battle.

5. Where should the remediation of PDFs fall on my ADA Compliance to-do list?

PDFs on your website should be accessible, as they are in fact content on your website. Therefore, it should fall close to the top of your to-do list, right behind website navigation, structure, and design!

6. How can you avoid using PDFs?

Unfortunately, districts have a lot of content that, by law, needs to be on their website in PDF form.

On the upside, however, there are dozens of ways to turn PDF content — such as reading lists, lunch menus, schedules, event announcements, calendars, and more — into digitally accessible website content.

For example, rather than posting a PDF flyer for an event on your website, you could build a page for it instead. This will most likely even save you time and increase awareness about the event because the link can easily be shared in email and across social media.

Suggested reading:

7. Adding video captions is hard, do I really need them?

Yes. Adding captions to your videos manually can be cumbersome, especially if you have a longer-length video. In Finalsite's Resources Manager, clients have the ability to upload and associate closed captioning (vtt) files when they upload videos. We recommend using 3Play Media to easily caption videos. Additionally, videos can easily be captioned when uploading to Facebook.

8. What is more important from an ADA perspective, site structure/navigation or content?

When it comes to web accessibility and ADA compliance, there is never a "more important," category. Equal access to all is equally as important at all levels. However, it is important to note here that picking a provider who provides a turnkey solution is critical. Make sure they do automated and manual testing, including testing by people with disabilities.

9. Are spelling errors and broken links an ADA issue?

Yes. Accessibility is about providing content to all of your users that is clear and understandable. A page with spelling errors or empty links will not help any user, and, especially with empty links, will confuse and frustrate users.

10. Does it matter what I put in for Alternative Text?

Alternative Text (ALT text) matters. ALT text needs to be descriptive of the image being shown, but don't worry about getting overly descriptive.

Let's go over some examples using this picture of a cupcake:

vanilla cupcake with sprinkles

  • Bad ALT Text: cupcakes778.png
  • Acceptable ALT Text: cupcake
  • Good ALT Text: cupcake with sprinkles
  • Best ALT Text: Vanilla cupcake with colorful sprinkles
  • Overly descriptive, but still OK: Vanilla cupcake with white frosting and rainbow sprinkles on a white plate with a pink gradient background

In most cases, when you upload an image, it will either automatically have no ALT text, or inherit the text of the image file name. You will want to change this to something descriptive of the image, but you don't have to spend too much time being overly descriptive. Examples 2 and 3 above are both acceptable.

11. When tackling ADA Compliance, where should I start?

When looking to tackle ADA compliance, a good place to start is educating yourself on the topic. (We have a great library here!)

Once you've learned some basics, the next step is to research some potential vendors. While the initial next step may feel like you should run an accessibility test of your website, these can often be misread or confusing, and may make you feel worse or even better off than you really are.

12. What can I do about ancillary sites, like my portals or athletics microsites that are separate from our website?

All website content and structure associated to your brand needs to be accessible, even if you use different platforms. For a consistent brand and user experience, we recommend that schools and districts use the same website platform so that your accessibility solution can be applied across all sites in one instance.

For example, many Finalsite clients opt to use Finalsite's website, CMS, portals, and athletics management tools so that the AudioEye managed service and toolbar can easily be used across all instances.

13. How many hours of training on ADA Compliance should I expect to give each editor? Is there a difference between type of editor?

Any individual that posts, edits or creates content on your site should be trained in digital accessibility. This includes training your teachers, who post on their class pages, to parents, who upload images to Twitter. The amount of time required to train your resources will be relative to the type of content being uploaded. If they consistently use the CMS to create and deploy new web pages, there are a handful of considerations for that user and a single training session covering the best practices for publishing content via the CMS will suffice. If they are uploading PDFs, additional training will be required to ensure that user knows the steps to take when creating accessible PDFs. If they are deploying video content, again, more training will be required to understand the steps required in order to properly transcribe and caption video content.

Many districts manage and enforce digital accessibility standards by providing best practice checklists to their content creators that check for the most common accessibility issues, along with several training sessions. They've also limited who can publish content on the site to a team of trained individuals who can check content for accessibility before publishing the page to the site. No matter the method, the effort to train staff and content creators will pay off when your content is accessible to everyone!

14. What are some tools that I can use to check for compliance?

There are different evaluation tools for different web roles since developers, designers and content creators have different responsibilities. There are also different costs for testing tools; from free, in-browser testing tools, such as WAVE, that test one page at a time, to paid automated testing cloud-based software solutions, such as the Digital Accessibility Platform offered by our partner, AudioEye, that, as part of its managed service offering, can scan an entire site to identify issues of accessibility and, further, deploy remediation through the integration of a cutting edge dynamic remediation technology.

15. Where can I find a resource that explains what this is so I can share it with my boss?

Finalsite has a great online resource center available here, although you may just need to share this helpful blog you've been reading. Requesting a free accessibility analysis is also a great start, as we can help pinpoint key areas of concern on your website, and identify how we can fix them.

16. What are the potential fines of an OCR violation?

In a recent case study of Avon Grove School District — who uses Finalsite and AudioEye to maintain an accessible website — Gary Mattei, Director of Technology shared that districts should want to avoid an OCR complaint at all costs, as web accessibility is a case where prevention is always more affordable than reaction.

If you receive an OCR violation, the following fines and associated costs may incur:

  • Actual cost of the fine amount
  • Lawyer fees
  • Fees for a new website and accessibility solution
  • Fees to hire an accessibility specialist at the district
  • Training fees to teach content creators how to make accessible content

Please note that all fees are taken on a case-by-case basis and the above information may be different in any scenario.

To provide additional insight, one can look at the costs incurred by Seattle Public Schools, who settled with District Courts, after a plaintiff sued the district for failing to comply with their obligations under ADA Title II / Section 504. "According to the board's briefing on the issue, the cost to implement the decree is estimated to be between $665,400 and $815,400 over its three-and-a-half year term, including $385,000 to hire an accessibility coordinator, and $150,000 for an audit and corrective action plan. Web accessibility testing has been budgeted at $90,000, and another $105,000 will be needed to train the staff designated in the agreement" (Source: Website Accessibility Settlement Reached with Seattle Public Schools).

17. How limiting will this be on my design?

Accessibility is leading designers to create simpler, more elegant and usable solutions for everyone. When you work with the right website provider, you won't have to sacrifice a stunning design for an accessible user experience.

Finalsite + Website Accessibility

The biggest issue with many accessibility options out there today is that they simply address content, and that's it. However, many elements of accessibility (and ADA compliance) refer to site structure, navigation, and design — which many scan and report tools cannot identify or fix.

Because Finalsite takes a holistic approach to website accessibility, building accessible designs, navigation, and structure from the ground up, we deliver our clients with a solid foundation. Once they have the foundation, they can use our easy-to-use CMS to add content that can easily be read by assistive technology. The last piece is AudioEye, our premier accessibility partner. AudioEye provides our clients with scan and report technology, that also includes automatic and manual remediation of accessibility issues — meaning you can spend less time trying to make your site accessible, and more time engaging your community.Learn more cta

Request Your Accessibility Analysis


Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, and Marketing Manager for Public Schools, Mia creates content that is helpful to public schools and districts. As a former TV and news 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.

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