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Accessibility Timeline: Making Your District Website Compliant by January 2018
Mia Major

In January 2017, the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the "Access Board") announced that "under the authority of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act... websites and electronic content of federal agencies [are required] to conform to WCAG 2.0 AA by January 18, 2018."

As of now, this leaves districts with about six months to make their website ADA accessible. Here's a month-by-month plan for ensuring your district is compliant by this new deadline.

Accessibility Timeline

June: Get Started (If You Haven't Already)

With the school year complete (or almost complete), and the busiest time of year behind you, it's essential to use these next 30 days to analyze your current website's content to determine what's needed: a total redesign, or just a content clean-up.

To have compliant content and design, here is a sampling of the most common elements you'll need to fix:

  • ALT Text: Every non-text element needs a text alternative (alt text) that provides an equivalent to the image content.
  • Clearly Structured Content: Each page of your website needs to be organized using content headings and lists. Using white space, icons, and illustrations will improve readability. In most cases, this is best accomplished with a redesign, as most districts have hundreds, or even thousands, of individual pages.
  • Color Blind-Friendly Colors: If your district's colors include red and/or green, you'll need to be wary of how those colors are used, as they make it difficult for color-blind individuals to read content. If your district's website is heavily dependent on these colors, a redesign is most likely your best option, as you'll need help re-thinking the use of your district's colors.
  • Ensure Links Make Sense out of Context: Using links like "click here" or "learn more," are confusing for screen reading technology, as they provide no context. Ensure all links identify what content is provided when clicked.
  • Provide Video Captions and Transcripts: While this is perhaps the most cumbersome process of them all, it is essential for ADA compliant content. However, this shouldn't hold back a website launch as you can simply not post a video on your website until it is captioned and transcribed.
  • Create Accessible Forms: Accessible forms are logical and easy-to-use, are keyword accessible, and provide labels with controls, such as "select one."
  • Make All PDFs Accessible or Ditch Them: PDF tags provide a hidden structured, textual representation of the PDF content that is presented to screen readers. They exist for accessibility purposes only and have no visible effect on the PDF file. More information on this process can be found on Adobe's website. This is a time-consuming process, and we encourage our districts to consider making PDF content actual website content to simplify the process.

Further Reading: The Keys to ADA-Compliant Website Content

For most districts, opting for a complete website redesign offers the most flexibility and peace of mind as it means building an ADA accessible website from the ground up, rather than fixing what is broken. A redesign allows you to reconsider website structure, navigation, hierarchy, and the use of color, photos, and videos, to ensure every pixel is compliant from the get-go.

Not convinced on a website redesign? If you're looking to do a website content clean-up yourself, you'll need to do a complete website content audit yourself, or purchase a third-party software to do it for you. At that point, you'll be tasked with fixing all non-compliant website content.

July: Vendor Selection

Once you've determined whether to invest time into fixing your current website or redesigning, you'll need to select a vendor — or vendors.

If you're headed into the redesign process, you'll need to consider the following:

  • Website Redesign Timeline: It will be important to work with a vendor who can guarantee a website launch before the January 18, 2018 deadline. At Finalsite, depending on the selected design package, the process ranges from about one to four months, start-to-finish.
  • Content Migration: Check different vendors' content migration processes to help you speed up the redesign process.
  • Design Experience: Despite what you might think, an accessible website doesn't mean you need to have a plain, boring website. Ensure your vendor has experience with designing an accessible website.
  • Platform: Ensure your vendor provides a platform that makes compliance easy and is nimble enough to quickly update it's software as Accessibility requirements change.
  • Partnerships: 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 a variety of accessibility partners, such as AudioEye, to offer exclusive discounts.

August - November: Website Redesign

During this time, the hard work begins! If you can select your vendor and begin the redesign process prior to the beginning of the school year, you'll get a running start. We encourage clients to dedicate at least 10 hours per week to their website content to ensure an on-time launch.

Looking for tips on the redesign process? You'll find these resources helpful:

Free eBook: Website Redesign Playbook for Public Schools

Download My Copy

December: Do a Soft Launch

Prior to your website's official launch, it is recommended to do a soft launch. This means you hit "publish" without making an official announcement. This makes the launch less stressful, and means you'll get feedback at a more granular pace, rather than all at once.

January: Public Launch

Once you've given your website two to four weeks in its "soft launch" state, it is time to formally announce it — just in time for January 18, 2018 of course.

Post Launch: Ongoing Maintenance

Once your website has been publicly launched, ongoing maintenance begins. Because ongoing maintenance can be extremely difficult, especially with multiple website contributors, we recommend adding on a third-party service. Our recommended product is AudioEye's Ally product, which automatically identifies and fixes non-accessible content. When you purchase Finalsite, you'll receive exclusive discount pricing on this software.

WCAG 2.0, ADA, and OCR: Making Sense of Website Accessibility

Mia Major

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.


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