I'm a perfectionist. So I'll put it out there, right up front, that I get it: The thought of putting your website — that needs to remain accessible — in the hands of dozens of other colleagues, keeps you up at night.
What if they add dozens of photos without alternative (alt) text and I don't find it for months? And what about PDFs? Will they add captions to their videos? They're all so busy...how can I trust them to take the time to make sure the content they add is accessible?
Although website accessibility is a big investment of time and dollars, it is absolutely essential in 2018 and beyond. Fifteen percent of the world population experiences some type of disability — that's one billion people. We cannot forget about them when we work on our websites.
As important as accessibility is, I can't promise you that every admin updating your website will remember to add alt text and video captions. (I wish I could, really!) What I can do, however, is provide you with some guidance on how to implement the right software and processes that will ease your worries, and ensure that your website is accessible to everyone, no matter who is updating your website, how many of them there are, and how often.
Here are six steps for maintaining an accessible website.
1. Launch a New, Accessible Website
The process to creating and maintaining website content is certainly daunting. However, a fresh start — AKA, a website redesign — is most often the easiest way to begin the process.
Most districts and schools have hundreds, if not thousands, of pages on their website, all which may have been managed by dozens of individuals over the years — meaning it is very difficult to go through and fix everything. Starting from scratch will save your district time and money in the long run.
If you're in the market for a redesign, selecting a vendor who is trained and knowledgeable in website accessibility will be the key to your success.
For example, at Finalsite:
- We have a trained team of designers and developers who take web accessibility into account every step of the way, including color contrast and text sizes
- Accessibility is built into the deployment process with accessibility checks in the QA process to ensure we deliver our clients a website that meets WCAG 2.0 requirements.
- We provide content training to admins who will be adding website content
- We have written (and continue to write) Knowledge Base Articles for our clients so that they can use our platform to the fullest potential, while maintaining accessibility.
- You can contact our Support team, and we will pass any accessibility questions over to our trained accessibility experts. Additionally, we have a great online library of website accessibility resources that are open to the public.
Your district can launch an accessible website in as little as 30 days with Finalsite.
2. Train Your Staff
Depending on the size of your district, college, or school, you may have anywhere from five to fifty individuals contributing to your website — and in some cases, maybe even more if you're a large district. Therefore, it is important that you train all website contributors in website accessibility standards for your website.
There are two key areas in which you should train your staff: what website accessibility means and includes, and then, how to make their content accessible.
What is website accessibility and why it matters: While adding ALT text and video transcripts is a part of the process most website admins will want to skip, you need to train them on why they can't. Website accessibility isn't just about avoiding fines or not breaking a law, it is about doing the right thing and making content accessible to everyone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 Americans have some type of disability that may prevent them from accessing your website content. Share this impactful statistic with your community, and make it personal! Put a face to a number if you can, or, share how many individuals in your school community have a disability.
Trust us — this is a situation where it is important to be proactive, rather than reactive. You don't want an OCR complaint.
Train in making your website accessible: Once you've trained staff in why accessibility matters, it's time to train them on how to ensure the content they add is, in fact, accessible. In a workshop style setting while they have their laptops, show website admins how easy it is to add ALT text and provide style guidelines for using links, header text and forms. In addition, it is important to train staff on how to use and interpret accessibility testing tools, so that they may appropriately use them when adding website content.
3. Provide Staff With Written Guidelines
While in-person training is essential, written guidelines can be helpful for even the most tech-savvy user. We recommend creating a print-out of steps for adding each piece of content to the website for website admins to have on their desk. In addition, we suggest asking website admins to sign an "accessibility policy" that shows they acknowledge their requirements.
Keep the written guidelines simple, by avoiding complicated jargon and terms used in WCAG 2.0 that website admins may find confusing. Rather, show them how accessibility can be achieved on your website in particular, using words and terms they understand.
Even a checklist can go a long way. In most cases, website admins will just be adding text and photo content to the site, so it can be something as simple as this:
- Does your image have ALT text? Y / N
- Does your video have captions and a transcript? Y / N
- Did you appropriately use headings and paragraph links? Y / N
- Can your links be understood out of context? Y / N
- Can you tab through the online form on the page? Y / N
4. Implement a Formal Editing Process Based on Admin Rights
If you take the time to train staff and provide them with resources, you will be well on your way to maintaining website accessibility! However, one important safeguard you can put in place (so ALT text doesn't keep you up at night) is a formal editing and approval process.
Using website admin rights, you can select which website admins have the right to view, add, edit, or publish content. Creating a small group of accessibility super-users, who can review all website content before it gets posted will help you rest easy, and also ensure content gets updated in a timely manner. This group can also use a free testing tool like WAVE to check for any accessibility errors or alerts. These individuals can have publishing rights. Then, you can restrict access to the remainder of admins who can edit or add content.
In addition, you can invite your constituents to test and give feedback on your site.
5. Minimize Your Use of PDFs
PDFs are the most difficult and time-consuming piece of content that needs to be made accessible. Although we've hosted webinars, shared blogs, and created guides on the topic, our districts agree: even with help, the process isn't easy.
In many cases, the content of PDFs can be digitized into online calendars, forms, news articles, and even just simple website pages. Be sure to delete old, outdated files so that there is less content to maintain, and really, only use PDFs if you absolutely have to!
6. Choose Platforms That Makes it Easy
With more than 100 requirements as a part of WCAG 2.0, it's important to have a good foundation of support.
Schools, districts and colleges that want to maintain an accessible website need both a website platform and an accessibility partner. (p.s. We've written a complete vendor checklist to help!) In short, you want to select a website provider and an accessibility partner that help you, rather than create more work from you — which is why we recommend choosing an accessibility remediation service over an accessibility scanning tool.
Accessibility scanning tools simply scan your site and point out issues that are wrong, but offer no assistance in helping you. A remediation tool, like AudioEye, actually fixes the accessibility errors on your website for you, saving you countless hours and headaches.
Creating and maintaining an accessible website is no easy feat. It takes a lot of time, effort, training, and in some cases, more of the budget than you're willing to spend! However, with the right partners by your side and partners in place, there won't be any nightmares about OCR complaints in your near future — and that's priceless.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, and Marketing Manager for Public Schools, Mia creates content that is helpful to public schools and districts. As a former TV and news 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.