School Website Accessibility FAQ
What is an accessible school website?
A website that is accessible typically requires that those with disabilities will have access to the same information as those without disabilities. In order to provide this type of access, it requires that the use of a screen reader or other technologies often used by the disabled can crawl or read the website to translate the information there into a format the end user can use. Since most websites have a variety of content formats, like text, images, video, audio, and links, it often requires several strategies to make all of this content available.
Why is website accessibility important?
Not only is it the law (at both a federal level and most state levels), it is also just smart communication. You want everyone who needs to have the information your school website provides available to them—regardless of whether or not they have a disability. For example, if one of your students has a parent who is visually or hearing impaired, you would want to share the information you provide with him/her as well. That requires taking extra steps to make sure your information is in various formats. For example, your latest video should include closed captioning, or a screen reader should be able to read all of your website content (it reads the content out loud to users as they tab through the page). It might mean that you have to check to be sure the color contrast on your website is easy for the visually impaired to view and that all of your images include alternative text describing what information the image provides (if any). All of these requirements make your website information accessible to all, and that is a good thing.
What does the law require of my school website?
The law requires that you not exclude people with disabilities from your online information. If the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) receives a complaint, it will initiate an investigation into the matter. It will look at issues that fall under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. When this happens, your school’s attorneys will typically meet with an OCR attorney to outline a strategy to correct any deficiencies they find. The best way to avoid this situation is simply to get your website complaint in the first place and keep it that way.
What are the main requirements of an accessible website?
There are currently a total of 16 standards to which you must adhere in order to make your school’s website compliant with accessibility standards (based on Section 508). Within each of those areas, there are specific details you must apply to your website content, images, programming, technology, etc. Additionally, the Section 508 refresh requires school websites to comply with WCAG 2.0. To summarize, it includes: providing text alternatives for any non-text content, providing alternatives for time-based media, making content that can be presented in simpler layouts, making it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background, making all functionality available from a keyboard (versus a mouse), providing users enough time to read and use content, avoiding design methods that are known to cause seizures, providing ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are, making text content readable and understandable, making sure your web pages appear and operate in predictable ways, and making sure assistive technologies can use your website.
What types of tools are available to help me evaluate my websites current accessibility?
There are many accessibility checkers, but our personal favorite is called Wave 3.0 at http://wave.webaim.org. The results will provide you with information about where to begin to make corrections. Look first for errors, and tackle those as your first project. For a comprehensive list of accessibility checkers, check out the W3C website tools at http://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/.
How do I set up a process to maintain an accessible school website?
Begin by finding out where your school website is not in compliance. Simply run your website through one of the accessibility checkers. Make a list of all the areas you need to address, and tackle the most critical areas first. The most common first step is to fix all of the ALT Text issues (if any). That is usually the easiest problem to fix. Then work your way through the more challenging fixes, and depending on your software, you might need to reach out to your developer or software vendor to have them help you implement fixes. This is especially important when it comes to navigation. You might also need to get help from your designer to assure your color combinations don’t make text difficult or impossible for people with low vision to see. You might need to make sure all of your videos include closed captioning so they are accessible to people who are deaf. You might need to make sure all of your attachments, like PDF documents, are created correctly so they can be navigated by assistive technologies. (For lots of useful tips, check out the Website Accessibility Resources area on our School Website Accessibility Tips page.)
The next phase is a bit more challenging to most schools. You need to train anyone who adds content to your website to follow all the accessibility processes—and this will be an ongoing process. You also want to create a school policy that will let people know that you are maintaining ADA compliance as well as provide them a way to request access to online information or functionality that isn’t currently accessible to them. We have provided a policy sample on the website accessibility tips page mentioned above. Feel free to edit and tweak it for your school needs. Add this policy and contact information to your website. The OCR also recommends that you do regular audits of your website to assure that it remains compliant. We also encourage you to have someone who uses assistive technology to review your site and let you know what challenges they find. This will give you first-hand experience to help you make improvements.
How would School Webmasters implement and manage my school websites to keep them ADA compliant?
As part of our design, development, and website management services, we create an ADA compliant website from the start. Because we also do the daily updates, all of our staff is trained to comply with accessibility best practices as well. So, your website remains accessible. The only areas we can’t control is any in-house created video, since you will want to be sure you include closed captioning (we can advise you on that), and you will want to make sure your PDF documents will be readable as well. We can provide training for this as well, or we can edit those for you to make them compliant for an additional fee. But all of the rest of the accessibility requirements we include as part of our website management services. We are, after all, your school webmasters, so it is our job to make sure it’s done right. Want to know more? Contact us at Info@SchoolWebmasters.com or call us at 888-750-4556.