Last week, we teamed up with the accessibility experts at AudioEye to share what the legal landscape for web accessibility looks like for public and private schools in 2019. (You can download the on-demand webinar here.) During the webinar, we asked a group of professionals from districts, universities and private schools: what is your biggest website accessibility concern for 2019?
According to the survey results:
- 70% say their biggest concern is “not having enough time and resources to do it appropriately.”
- 20% say their biggest concern is “providing equal access to their community.”
- 10% say their biggest concern is “receiving an OCR complaint.”
These concerns, inevitably, create a domino effect. Not having enough time and resources to create accessible content often means that your school or district is not providing equal access to your community, and in turn not providing equal access to digital content may result in an OCR complaint.
So what can be done to avoid this domino effect? Let’s take a look into these concerns and their related solutions in a bit more detail.
Top 3 Web Accessibility Concerns & What to Do About Them
CONCERN #1: NOT HAVING ENOUGH TIME AND RESOURCES
Most schools and districts we talk to agree: building and maintaining an accessible website is no easy feat. (And here at Finalsite as we work to maintain accessible content ourselves, we agree with you!) It requires additional software, budget, processes, and even personnel. And what we’ve learned is that no matter the size of the school or district, similar problems arise.
For example, even if a large district has the budget to build a new accessible website, they often have dozens of individual contributors, which means ensuring content remains accessible can be a challenge. On the flip side, a small district or school with a handful of website contributors may not have the budget to create a new accessible website, and so will need to do a lot of the work themselves. In either case, there is a lot of work to be done — and that can be very intimidating.
So what can be done about it?
Naturally, if you have the budget, then building a new website is the easiest way to build an accessible website on a tight timeline. It allows you to start from the ground-up, and ensure your websites design and functionality meet WCAG 2.0 requirements from the get-go. Plus, it also puts the brunt of the work on your website provider, who will be tasked with the project. (For more information on who is responsible for making content accessible, read this blog post.)
Building a new website seems easy when compared to ensuring content remains accessible over time. While there are many simple best practices that ensure content is accessible and your website looks good, teaching and implementing these best practices to numerous website admins of varying skill level isn’t easy. And, even if your website provider offers accessibility guardrails, ensuring that website admins use them is a challenge.
For this reason, we recommend purchasing a managed service for your accessibility initiatives. A managed service takes the workload off your team by automatically and remediating accessibility errors for you — meaning your limited time and resources are no longer an issue.
If budget is an issue for a new website or accessibility solution, you may want to look to other available budgets or discretionary funds to help get the ball rolling sooner, rather than later.
Finalsite and AudioEye's accessibility managed services makes accessibility easy for your school.
CONCERN #2: PROVIDING EQUAL ACCESS TO YOUR COMMUNITY:
Web accessibility is about people — a lot of people for that matter. Here are some recent statistics, provided by our accessibility partner AudioEye, that bring into perspective how many individuals you may be excluding from enjoying your digital content when it is not accessible:
- There are more than 1 billion People with Disabilities (PWD) worldwide, and more than 41 million Americans with disabilities.
- 5-10% of the U.S. population has dyslexia
- 1 in 68 children have an autism spectrum disorder
- 75% of people with disabilities use computers
- 22% of working age adults benefit from accessibility initiatives
So, while limited time and resources is clearly a top concern for educators, it stems from a concern for the people. This is most apparent in the private school industry, where web accessibility is not (yet) enforced, but schools see web accessibility as “the right thing to do.”
For example, Salisbury School, an all-boys private school in CT, recognized the importance of web accessibility before the launch of their redesign project. “When you learn about making your website accessible, you want to do the right thing. And with our redesign happening, we could really do everything the right way from the start,” said Shana Stalker, the school’s Director of Communications.
Here’s how we see it: you wouldn’t construct a new building without ramps and rails, so why would you build a new website without taking accessibility into account?
Start by writing a website accessibility statement (we have some templates here that you can use). A website accessibility statement affirms that your school or district cares about web accessibility, and is making a conscious effort to ensure content is accessible. Whether you are currently building a new site, or manually remediating errors on your current site, it is important to place an accessibility statement on your website.
The next step is to conduct a website accessibility analysis — this is especially important if you’re short on time and resources. An analysis can help you pinpoint where the majority of your errors lie. Here’s some good news, if there are accessibility errors within your website’s design or functionality, your website provider should take care of them for you. However, you are responsible for your website’s content.
CONCERN #3: RECEIVING AN OCR COMPLAINT
No one wants to receive an OCR complaint — yet, publically-funded districts, charter schools and universities are a target of OCR demand letters. It can cost a school or district hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout the process of hiring new personnel, redesigning a website, purchasing accessibility software, and paying legal fees. While only 10% of survey respondents said an OCR complaint was their biggest concern in 2019, it should certainly remain top-of-mind for districts and schools who have not made a cognizant effort to make their website and its content accessible.
In March of 2018, the “mass filer” provision was added to the Case Processing Manual (CPM) for the OCR. This provision allowed the OCR to dismiss hundreds of civil rights complaints that were part of “a pattern of complaints,” or “burdensome” in an effort to alleviate the office. However, in November of 2018, that provision was eliminated, resurfacing hundreds of cases against federally-funded and state-funded institutions.
The only real solution for avoiding an OCR complaint is to ensure your website’s content and design is accessible. And while we don’t believe in fear tactics (but rather, that accessibility is simply the right things to do!), we do recommend taking initiative sooner rather than later. This is certainly a situation where the costs to rectify the situation are much, much more than the costs to prevent it.
Web accessibility remains top-of-mind for public school districts and universities, and is slowly gaining momentum in the private school sector as well. While the majority of school professionals are concerned about having the time and resources to do web accessibility “the right way,” we believe that every good web accessibility strategy starts with doing the right thing for the population.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia shares innovative and helpful content that helps schools and districts create captivating online experiences that increase brand awareness, student and faculty retention, and school-to-home communications. With more than five years experience in the industry, Mia has written more than 200 articles, eBooks, and reports about best practices for schools on a variety of topics from social media to web design. As a former TV and news reporter, and wedding photographer, Mia specializes in sharing how to use storytelling to power your school's admissions funnel. When she isn't busy creating content or hosting her #LIKEABOSS Podcast for FinalsiteFM, you can find her hiking with her Boston terrier, running an army wives meeting at Fort Campbell, or enjoying a well-deserved savasana on her yoga mat.