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School Website Accessibility Worries?

Get and keep your school website compliant; but don’t be duped into paying for services you don’t need.

Worried about ADA website compliance for your school website?

We are getting daily calls from schools around the U.S. about what they are facing with the onslaught of OCR complaints filed against their schools. Here is a common scenario they share:

Step 1:
The school gets notified by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) that someone has filed a complaint against their school claiming their website is not ADA compliant, which means that it doesn’t meet WCAG 2.0 requirements. (All school’s receiving federal funds must meet this standard of compliance.)

Step 2:
They go online, searching for solutions about how to address these issues. Usually this brings them to either a software company that provides automated reporting, or they find a company that can do a full website accessibility audit of their existing site. Often, these services are provided by the same vendor. Pricing for this can start at around $3K for the software subscription and increase to more than $9K or more annually, depending on the school size. 

Step 3:
Then, the school realizes they still have to do all the corrections themselves, and considering there are 16 categories of compliance in WCAG 2.0, with multiple sub-categories, this is no easy task. It requires not only remediation to the existing websites, it also requires training for every single person in the school or district who touches the website or creates attached documents (PDFs usually).

Step 4:
The actual cost for all of this remediation, for the staff training, and the site corrections, is often not tracked. But, if you were to track it, well...it isn’t good news. And, it will be ongoing annually because you’ll need to continue to train your staff, check their work, and review your sites to assure they remain compliant.

Yes. This is often when the weeping and gnashing of teeth begins for the financially strapped schools. That is often when they starting looking for an alternate solution. 

An alternative solution to managing ADA website compliance

Here’s the typical conversation we have with personnel at a school that has either received an OCR complaint or is trying to avoid one altogether and meet the needs of all their students:

Someone at the school contacts us. Jim, our one and only sales guy (and an owner of the company) explains how we work. Jim will tell them:

  • We design and develop your school websites to be ADA accessible. Because we write the copy, edit the images, and design the layout and navigation, we assure it happens. And you won’t have to rely on your own staff to understand the complexities of the website accessibilities requirements.
  • If you require remediation (which in our case would only apply to any PDFs you have posted to your site), we can help you with that. But, what is more proactive and more affordable is to train the folks who create documents to do so compliantly. To help you accomplish this, all of our schools have access to free online training on how to create accessible documents.
  • That’s it! We do the rest. We do all your ongoing site updates, adding content, images, news, stories, and anything else you need each day. That means no training your staff on a CMS system or the ADA web compliance requirements. We train our staff, stay on top of any ADA changes, and even review the sites regularly to assure they remain compliant. Everything from contrast issue to Alt Text to navigational consistency to screen reader accessibility is included as our ongoing website management.
  • We make it REALLY simple to send us your updates (through our customer service portal). We also send out monthly reminders and tips to whoever has access to submit updates. That way, we get a continuous stream of news, updates, and success stories to keep all of your school websites current, engaging, and informative.
  • If desired, we can even manage your social media channels (integrating those communications strategies with your website efforts). If you need public relations help, we will even train and manage a part-time community member for that strategic role with our PR4 Schools services.

Remember, your website IS your primary communications hub. That is why website compliance is so important. But managing it requires far different skillsets than those required of your IT staff, including expertise in areas like public relations, communications, customer service, marketing, and now ADA compliance. So maybe now is the time to reconsider assigning your website development and maintenance (which must include these other aspects) to an already overtaxed IT department. The education sector is the only industry in the world where such a mismatch of training versus duties is expected. 

Implement a process that assures ongoing website compliance

Our processes are ideally suited for small and mid-size schools without large communications budgets. If you are a large metropolitan district, you may have plenty of staff to do what we do for our clients. Great. Just do what we outline above, and you’ll be doing a great job and be meeting those ADA compliance needs before you know it. But it is vital that your staff be trained if you have your school staff or volunteers update your websites. In fact, we have an example about that issue as well.

A few months ago, we were hired by a competitor to bring one of their own client’s websites, which was under audit, into compliance. When it was fully ADA compliant, we turned it back over to the school to manage. Theirs was a CMS system, managed in house by school staff. But, on the very first staff update, the site became non-compliant. It was a simple update, but that is all it took. The staff member didn’t realize all the complexities involved, so just by moving a few items around, it no longer met WCAG 2.0 standards. The moral of the story is, if you are doing your own site updates, training and checking is a must. It isn’t enough to just GET your school website accessible. You must also KEEP it compliant.

Beware of the bad faith players

Whatever you decide to do to get and keep your school website compliant, we fully agree that it is the right thing to do so that everyone, regardless of ability, has access to the information they need. Be wise. Don’t get duped into paying for expensive services you don’t need or that won’t actually help you get compliant. There are free options available.

Here are a few examples we’ve seen just this past month:

  • The school got a phone call from a vendor immediately after they had been notified of the complaint by OCR. The caller offered a software subscription that would give them a report for all their accessibility errors (and other issues like broken links and misspellings, etc.) What they didn’t mention is that their automated reports are inaccurate. Many, if not most, of the accessibility requirements must still be checked manually to confirm if it is actually an issue. As a personal example, we got a call a few months ago from a vendor who claimed we had 300+ errors on our corporate site. When we checked it manually, we actually had 4 issues. (We don’t receive federal funds, so Section 508 doesn’t apply to us, but we still want to be as accessible as possible). We sure don’t need to spend a recurring $3K every year when we can run a similar report for free with software like WebAIM’s WAVE report
  • A few weeks ago, one of our school clients told  us they had received a “fake angry parent” call saying that their site wasn’t compliant for his blind child. He threatened a lawsuit. But, it was a very small school, and the office staff knew each child individually. They had no blind children in the school, and the alleged parent wouldn’t identify himself, his child, or describe what it was that was inaccessible to him. In this case, we happened to know their site was compliant because we manage it for them. We predict that in a few weeks from now, they will get a phone call from an accessibility report vendor telling them they can “solve their problems.” So, just be on the lookout for any smarmy fear-mongering sales techniques.

Don’t get us wrong. Companies need to get the word out about what services they provide. It’s the nature of doing business. As a consumer, I appreciate that knowledge. If you need an automated reporting software, great. Just do your research, and find the services that best meet your school’s needs. But don’t let fear push you into thinking you’ll get a magic bullet that will identify and fix all your accessibility issues. 

Reporting will definitely help you identify potential issues, and that is a great place to start. Just be aware that automated reporting is only step one. The rest will be hands-on, manual reviews, checking each update or new content added to your sites, staying abreast of the ongoing changes to ADA law, and training your staff on the accessibility requirements. 

This also means your staff members who create documents (like school secretaries, school board secretaries, etc.) will need to be trained to create documents that are also ADA compliant. This isn’t difficult. It’s just a new way of working with Word, Excel, Google Docs or Sheets, and PDFs. So, help them get trained. There are lots of free resources online. If you want to track that your staff is actually trained (maybe to use toward professional development goals), and you aren’t already one of our clients, you can sign-up for ADA Accessibility training for $249 per year. Doing so will let you provide access to all of your staff for most document formats. It isn’t fancy, but it’s quite affordable and easy to understand.

Fear not and remember the goal

The goal of Section 508 and the Office of Civil Rights is to assure that everyone has access to the information they need to receive an education, regardless of any disability. I am an optimist and honestly believe they are NOT trying to make achieving this goal an insurmountable problem for schools. 

The law and those charged with implementing it understand that there will always be something that is challenging for a screen reader and various disabilities. Your goal is to strive to make your site as accessible as possible. If you dig deep enough, on any website, you are likely to find something that doesn’t measure up (depending on the interpretation of the requirements and how they are measured). 

But, schools that are striving to serve their students and parents are doing the right thing, and they have no need to fear. While there are some out there trying to threaten and promote an environment of fear, it isn’t the reality unless you deliberately ignore the law. Do what is needed. Set up website management processes that include keeping those updates to the site ADA compliant, and make it easy for those who can’t get access to something they need to get help from a real person. You’ve just read some tips to get you started if you want to do it yourself. If you don’t want to worry about it, give us a call at 888.750.4556 or request a quote

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