On October 14, 2017 California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 434, which will require, beginning July 1, 2019, state agencies and state entities to post a signed certification that the website complies with specified accessibility standards on the homepage of their website. The bill will also require the state's Director of Technology to create a standard form that each state agency's or state entity's Chief Information Officer would be required to use to determine whether the site is compliant with specified accessibility standards, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 minimum Level AA success criteria, or any subsequent version.
In short, this new government code will require state agencies to:
- Obtain a website certification signed by the director and Chief Information Officer
- Display the website certification on the home page of their internet website
Are schools and districts affected by law AB 434?
While the purpose of this bill is intended for California's state agencies, which includes entities that are under the direct authority of the Governor, including all departments, boards, bureaus, commissions, councils and offices such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and California Environmental Protection Agency, we believe it won't be long before similar requirements will be expected of California businesses and other California organizations including California schools.
However, it is important to note that whether California schools are currently covered by these new requirements or not, is irrelevant. All schools, including independent and charter schools, are covered under various sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act:
- Title I for the teachers and staff,
- Title II for students, and
- Title III for the general public.
As a matter of fact, California had the highest number of ADA Title III federal lawsuits in 2017.
In addition, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires schools receiving federal funding to provide equal access to all programs to students with disabilities. Only schools with religious affiliations that receive no federal funding are exempt.
When seeking to address the new requirements by the State of California, schools must ensure their websites meet accessibility requirements now and in the future. In addition, beginning in July of 2019, they must also publically attest to their conformance via a public-facing website accessibility certification.
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What is a website accessibility certification?
A website accessibility certification simply means you are providing a public statement, or accessibility statement, attesting that your school has adopted and is continually adhering to a process for conforming with accessibility standards and best practices. This may also be where you provide website accessibility assistance in the form of instructions for various disabilities or limitations and provide resources and contact information to allow end-users to report accessibility grievances. A website accessibility certification communicates your commitment to providing access for all users.
What is the difference between a website accessibility statement and website accessibility certification?
While a website accessibility statement and website accessibility certification sound like they may cover the same ground, they're actually very different. A website accessibility statement is a simple landing page — like this one from Greenwich Public Schools in Connecticut — that simply identifies that your school or district is actively working to ensure your website is accessible. It also includes contact information for a school or district contact for feedback.
A website accessibility certification, however, in fact certifies that your website is accessible, in compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines, and that you are continuing to update your website to maintain accessibility and compliance. Receiving a certification can be a difficult process, but it is an important step for providing a level of assurance for the teachers, faculty, and students who may rely on the services and information provided across your digital ecosystem.
It is important to note there is no certifying body in the accessibility space. Among other legal precedents established over the last few years, ADA enforcement, as supplied through the Office of Civil Rights, consistently points to WCAG 2.0 level AA as the primary point of reference for validating website accessibility. A certification, whether issued in-house or by a third-party, is a declaration that you attest to your site as being designed and developed to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards, and that you are continually monitoring and updating your site to maintain and continually further your compliance with these internationally recognized ADA-related digital accessibility requirements.
How does my school obtain a website accessibility certification?
Through our partnership with AudioEye, we have developed a streamlined process to ensure that your site achieves and maintains compliance with ADA-related digital accessibility requirements as enforced by the OCR. The AudioEye Certification affirms your commitment to accessibility and that your company is actively and continually striving to maintain accessibility.
The certification process starts with an audit.
Many schools we see choose to complete this accessibility audit in-house. While this might be an economical solution, it likely isn't the most trusted or reliable. Keep in mind that there are more than 200 test criteria within the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, and requirements are continually changing. Oftentimes, the Office of Civil Rights also requests the district to identify an "auditor," which is intended to validate the school's accessibility processes on their behalf.
Another method is to hire a website auditing tool provider. With this solution, there's increased accuracy and, therefore, credibility in terms of the website accessibility audit. However, auditing with automated tools, alone, is not sufficient. Conducting a full audit of all content and functionality requires manual testing to ensure all issues of accessibility are uncovered. Also, depending on the service provider, the audits may only provide a point-in-time snapshot and its important that the audit be conducted, not just once, but over time; especially during the remediation process, which is the next step required in order to achieve accessibility certification.
Here is an example of an accessibility certification provided by our accessibility Partner, AudioEye:
Website Accessibility Challenges
The real challenge with accessibility audits, is ensuring accessibility fixes can be deployed within your environment. Uncovering the issues via the audit, is one thing. Fixing them is another. In many cases, schools rely upon vendors that supply Content Management Systems, such as those provided by Finalsite. If measures aren't taken by the vendor to ensure accessibility of site functionality, schools may be left handcuffed with only limited options for remediating issues uncovered during the audit process.
In order to achieve certification, schools must also consider the process for ensuring accessibility of the content being uploaded to their website. Websites are dynamic, so as new content is added, accessibility is impacted. Once a website is brought up to conformance with accessibility standards, it's up to the content authors and publishers to maintain accessibility, which will be monitored and tracked over time and into the future.
What Districts Can Do To Prepare
To assist our customers in overcoming the many challenges that come with achieving accessibility certification, at Finalsite, we've partnered with AudioEye, the leader in website accessibility technology. The path to achieving accessibility with Finalsite and AudioEye includes automatic and manual testing with the goal of meeting WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards. For customers adopting the Ally Managed Service, AudioEye provides its customers with an efficient path to meeting their obligations under ADA. With the Ally Managed Service, AudioEye continually monitors sites to identify and resolve issues of accessibility to ensure access for users of assistive technologies. AudioEye also provides free assistive tools that allow users with a range of disabilities, such as low vision, color blindness, dyslexia and/or other cognitive, learning or mobility issues, to customize their experience to more effectively consume content.
The AudioEye process has been carefully reviewed and validated with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to ensure sites maintained and monitored under the Ally Managed Service, meet the range of ADA-related digital accessibility requirements.
With our services and guidance, we can help you achieve WCAG 2.0 AA compliance and obtain a website accessibility certification. Get started now with a free website accessibility summary and analysis.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly joined the Finalsite team in early 2018 as an Educational Consultant to work with Districts and Charter Schools in the Southwest region of the U.S. She brings a wealth of experience from the educational industry as her background includes classroom teaching, educational publishing and online learning. With a passion for helping others reach their goals, she's a coach, teacher, and mentor at heart.