For schools and districts, selecting a website platform used to be easy, as the website needed to do one thing: communicate with current families. However, as competition with charter and private schools increased, districts, in particular, realized their websites needed to do more than just communicate with current families; they needed to attract new ones. Numerous districts across the country are now seeking vendors to redesign with a marketing-first approach to improve their brand.
Today, districts are faced with yet another challenge: redesigning to ensure their school website design company is ADA-compliant and provides an experience that's accessible for all.
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.
Web design is something we take seriously at Finalsite — and our hundreds of design awards speak for themselves. Our designers are knowledgeable in designing for color blindness, screen readers, and ADA (Americans with disabilities act) compliance, meaning you don't have to sacrifice a great design that focuses on marketing to have an accessible school website.
2. Training processes and experience
ADA compliance is complicated; the WCAG checklist is long; and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is serious about ensuring your district's website is up to standards. 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 (web content accessibility guidelines) standards to help you build a design and sitemap, and add website content that helps you avoid an OCR compliant.
In addition, our Support team has already helped many school districts update their website content to meet WCAG standards.
When Highline Public Schools received an OCR complaint, the district switched website providers to simplify their accessibility initiatives and district-wide communications. “We wanted to make our website accessible, so we knew that we would need to find the right vendor,” said Tove Tupper, the district’s Assistant Director of Communications. “We wanted to fix the accessibility issues, have the tools to help our brand come to life, and of course, customer service was a big piece, too.”
3. The website redesign timeline
It's important to work with a vendor who can guarantee a timely website launch. 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, 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 the addition of new content.
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 don't need to be an accessibility expert —with Composer, there's a built-in accessibility checker to flag issues so you can easily correct them with just a few clicks.
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 AudioEye to offer schools and districts exclusive pricing and access to these technologies.
AudioEye provides industry-leading Accessibility Compliance Technology to ensure equal access to your website. The software tests for over 400 accessibility issues, while their team of experts provides advice and resolution for every accessibility challenge and custom fixes for issues that can’t be corrected by automation.
7. Simplicity of ongoing maintenance
If your district is like most, you probably have a group of 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.
Creating an accessible experience for all users is a top priority for teams at schools and districts, not just because it’s the law, but because it's the right thing to do. From color contrast and alt text and proper heading structures, learn what’s required to stay compliant while engaging a wider audience.
We’re excited to launch this Finalsite course "Building Accessibility into Your Communications Plans" — register now and you and your team will have first access to the lessons materials, resources, and more.
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
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.