While The American Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted prior to the rise of the Internet, the law was established with the expectation that it would change over time. As our understanding of web and digital accessibility has evolved, many schools are still not clear about what the actual standards and requirements are for website ADA compliance.
And despite the importance of achieving ADA compliance, many schools and districts are failing to meet the requirements due to a lack of time, budget restraints, or staffing needs. Some sites forge ahead with their current website, unaware of the threat of a complaint being filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
School website accessibility is a federal regulation and there is an estimated 61 million people with disabilities in the U.S. — making web content accessible is something schools should care about on both a moral and institutional level.
That being said, how does your school or district achieve and maintain ADA requirements?
Step 1: Be aware of accessibility issues
ADA compliance stretches far beyond adding ALT text to every image. It's a start, but there are dozens of requirements that districts need to be familiar with and maintain AA compliance (or better) within WCAG 2.0 requirements.
Just knowing all of these requires quite a bit of training on the subject, never mind the ongoing training to keep up as standards change. With multiple editors per website and some districts with dozens of schools...there is a lot of room for error.
If your district's website is more than two years old, and/or you've had more than one person updating content, you'll need to keep reading.
Step 2: Conduct an accessibility audit
A district that has not been monitoring its website accessibility for a few years may easily find thousands of issues that need to be reviewed and resolved. Those issues can include improper header use and CTA language, color contrast problems, missing ALT text, and so on. While there are many free tools on the web that can give you an idea of the state of your website, wouldn't it just be easier if your CMS already had a checker built in? Yes!
Finalsite's content management system, Composer, includes an accessibility checker that highlights any concerns and suggests what's needed to correct the issues. Furthermore, any images or resources uploaded without ALT-text are easily searchable within the Composer's Resource module, so you can begin to add those descriptions that make your site's content even more accessible.
Step 3: Select a website provider
Once you've secured a budget, you'll want to inquire with your current website provider to determine if they offer the type of tools and support required to obtain and maintain an ADA-compliant website. In most cases of accessibility, open-source solutions like WordPress will do more harm than good.
When selecting your website provider for ADA compliance, consider the following:
- Design experience: Is the website provider both savvy in design and ADA-compliant design? One challenge districts face is that in order to make their site complaint, they must sacrifice the design. At least at Finalsite, we make sure our clients don't have to make that choice.
- Website platform: Will the website platform make updating your website easy? What kind of safeguards are in place to ensure not everyone has publishing rights?
- Content migration: While we recommend starting "fresh" with your new website, in most cases, some content will need to be brought over, so work with a vendor who is willing to help.
- The simplicity of ongoing maintenance: Does the website platform make it easy to ensure the website maintains ADA compliance?
Step 4: Select a website accessibility partner
In addition to your website partner, you'll want to select a website accessibility partner. Because we understand this pain point, we've partnered with AudioEye, the industry leader in web accessibility to offer schools and districts accessibility software that automatically detects and fixes non-compliant content, saving you time and a lot (a lot!) of headaches.
AudioEye's advanced software also includes a toolbar embedded on your district's website, that offers website visitors with a disability the opportunity to personalize their experience.
Step 5: Create a plan for ongoing maintenance
Depending on the website provider and accessibility partner you select, you will also have to come up with an ongoing maintenance plan. Who updates the website, and when? If you go with a scan/report tool, who is responsible for making the updates detected by the tool? How do you prioritize items? What do you do if you get a fine from the OCR?
With dozens of website content contributors in your district, implementing a maintenance plan will be key to ensuring your website remains compliant. At Finalsite, we'll provide your district with everything you'll need to meet AA requirements. We take a lot into consideration during deployment — like color contrast, ALT text, links, page structure, and so on — however, from the moment we hand the website over to you, content and accessibility are in your hands.
Why to invest in an accessible website
Building and maintaining a compliant website is an investment of time and resources, but avoiding the issue altogether can be even more costly. To avoid a fine and maintain compliance, your school has three options:
- Option 1: Don't make any investment in new software and risk receiving multiple fines from the OCR — In one instance, a public school district received an OCR complaint that culminated in a settlement agreement estimated to exceed $800,000.
- Option 2: Hire an individual to manage your website and maintain compliance, which can quickly become costly when you factor in salary and other training expenses.
- Option 3: Invest in your website and accessibility partner. This investment ranges on the size of your district but many vendors can work within your budget.
Providing an accessible web experience is more than a consideration, it's a right. Creating a greater awareness among your team and seeking guidance from trusted experts is a great first step toward building and maintaining an ADA-compliant website. Researching what built-in accessibility tools and partnerships are available to you and your team will help ensure your site and its content are accessible to a much wider audience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.