Government Website Accessibility Standards: Local and State

government website accessibility standards

By Sam Stemler on May 21, 2019

Local and state government resources are intended to serve the public, and this includes websites as well as buildings. Residents now look for forms and information online more often, making website accessibility even more important. States, cities, counties, townships and other municipalities have a number of government website accessibility standards to adhere to. Here is an overview of government website accessibility standards, and what these mean for local and state government websites.

Government Website Accessibility Standards: Local and State

Government Website Accessibility Standards: ADA and Section 508

Government website accessibility standards for local and state are generally provided by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In cases where federal funding is provided, the site should also follow Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Fortunately, both of these rules require many of the same things, and are built to enforce the same general requirement; equal usability and functionality of public resources for people with disabilities.

Start with an Organized Plan
Download the Website Accessibility Checklist

Additional Documents and Best Practices

While the ADA does not specifically mention websites, as the legislation was built before online resources were widely used, many municipalities have been subject to lawsuits under ADA Title II for inaccessible websites. In these cases, cities, townships, counties and others have been fined and ordered to make their websites accessible.

These cases can be avoided by taking preemptive steps to adhere to government website accessibility standards. outlines best practices for state and local governments, while the Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) from the Department of Justice (DOJ) provides more information on what accessibility means, and where these government website accessibility standards come from, which we will outline below.

Developing a Web Accessibility Policy and Plan

To begin and maintain web accessibility, and the DOJ recommend building a web accessibility policy and plan to start. This should include; a process for implementation, what will be required to make the website accessible, and the expected costs. If you are redesigning or newly creating your website, you might start with a plan to use an accessible platform or template. These policies should be made public, so residents can weigh in on the process and improvements.

Developing Web Accessibility Guidelines

Web accessibility is an ongoing requirement. As web pages, videos, pictures, forms, and other content is added to the site, these things can become inaccessible without due diligence. Have guidelines in place to help everyone working with the site make sure content is accessible. Make sure these guidelines are well-understood, and give employees a contact person or resources they can use to answer questions or solve problems as they arise.

Implementing WCAG 2.0 AA

In the SANPRM, the DOJ explains, “WCAG 2.0 has become the internationally recognized benchmark for Web accessibility….Thus, the Department is considering proposing that public entities comply with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.” While this is not yet the official government website accessibility standard, it is the standard used worldwide and it has the highest likelihood of being written into law in the future. WCAG 2.0 level AA also provides “four principles that provide the foundation for Web accessibility. Under these four principles, there are 12 guidelines setting forth basic goals to ensure accessibility of Web sites. For each guideline, testable success criteria” are also provided. This makes WCAG 2.0 AA an understandable and testable standard for web accessibility.

The four principles, and a good starting point for your government website accessibility policies, are as follows:

  • Perceivable: “Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.” This includes features like captions and audio descriptions for media, acceptable color contrast, resizeable text, and elements that can be interpreted by a screen reader or similar device.
  • Operable: “User interface components and navigation must be operable.” This includes elements required to navigate the site, such as menus, headings, labels, links, and the ability to move with a keyboard.
  • Understandable: “Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.” This includes the predictable and intuitive use of the site, such as with navigation elements, identifiers, and error suggestions.
  • Robust: “Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.” This includes the compatibility with assistive technologies and how these technologies interact with the site.

Conduct Testing

The best way to determine whether or not your website meets these standards is to actually test it. If your website does not work well with assistive technologies, it probably doesn’t meet the government website accessibility requirements. Remember that the goal is based on function—making your site useful to all constituents—and not adherence to specific rules.

With these government accessibility standards in mind, as well as guidelines for how to meet them, your municipality can avoid costly lawsuits, and make your online resources equally available for all residents.

How to Test the Accessibility of Your Website

how to test the accessibility of your website

By Sam Stemler on May 7, 2019

Testing for the accessibility of your website does not have to be complicated. With the right accessibility testing strategy, you can find obstacles in your site and remove them. This will help you make your site usable for all patrons, ensure your site is compliant with rules and regulations, and help you avoid accessibility lawsuits. In this blog post, we’ll explain how to test the accessibility of a website in 5 steps.

Step 1: Test for Links, Alt-Text and Markup
Step 2: Test for Navigability and Operation Yourself
Step 3: Expert Testing for Function and Value
Step 4: User Testing for Confirmation
Step 5: Make a list of changes

How to Test the Accessibility of Your Website

Step 1: Test for Links, Alt-Text and Markup

There are a variety of tools available that can automatically test for a number of different accessibility obstacles like problems with links, alt-text, and HTML markup. When it comes to learning how to test the accessibility of your website, this is a great first step. These accessibility testing tools will show you clear errors in your site that create challenges for people with disabilities. Some of these tools are available for free online, while others are paid programs or subscriptions.

Remember that automatic tools can only take you so far. These tools scan the code and construction of your site to find known accessibility obstacles, but they can’t use, understand and interact with your site as a human would, so they can’t detect obstacles posed by semantic meaning, images, or site operation. Programs and tools can help you check for the following issues one at a time. Accessible Metrics can test a page of your site or your entire website for all of these features and others.

  • Color contrast
  • Alt-text
  • Dead links and link text
  • Tab-index
  • Iframes and embedded media
  • HTML mark-up

Remember, as you use these tools, write down or otherwise record the issues you encounter, so you can develop a strategy for fixing them in the last step.

Keep your notes organized
Download the Website Accessibility Checklist

Step 2: Test for Navigability and Operation Yourself

You don’t have to be a web designer, programmer, or an accessibility expert to test whether or not users can navigate and operate your site with some assistive technologies. You can see how to test the accessibility of your website on your own by making a few small changes to the way you use your site and your computer. Try the following tests yourself and see how your site works. Once again, write down or record obstacles you find.

  • Remove Style Sheets: Web developer plugins, extensions, and add-ons for Chrome, Firefox and other browsers allow you to turn off styles. This means you’ll see the site content only, similar to how a screenreader and other assistive tools would “see” the site. If your site is difficult or impossible to use without stylesheets, it probably isn’t accessible.
  • Use Keyboard Only: A keyboard works with a site similarly to many assistive devices, so navigating your site with a keyboard instead of a mouse will show you whether it is navigable with these tools.
  • Remove Images: Selections in the tools or settings menus can stop your browser from loading images. If you can’t understand or navigate your site without them, visually impaired users won’t be able to either.
  • Use Screen Magnification and High Contrast: Many visually impaired users magnify the screen and/or turn on high contrast to use websites. You can do this yourself by zooming in, adjusting settings or adding your browser’s accessibility extensions.

Step 3: Expert Testing for Function and Value

The previous steps will give you basic knowledge as far as how to test your website for accessibility. However, unless you are familiar with assistive technologies, website construction, or both, you might miss accessibility issues with the more detailed or elaborate functions of your site. An expert can manually test your site and look for issues in your site’s unique construction and code, in order to find obstacles that impact what your site does or value it provides.

The following are functions and features a designer or developer with experience in accessibility might look at:

  • Forum Posting and Moderation: If users can post to and moderate forums as a part of your website, an expert can help to make sure everyone has equal access to it.
  • Form Filling and Filing: A number of accessibility issues can arise if forms are not programmed correctly. If filling out or filing forms is an important part of your site, this should be equally functional and usable for everyone.
  • PDFs and Other Files: Screenreaders and other assistive devices interpret PDFs and other files differently from webpages. An expert can help you make sure these are formatted properly.
  • Chatbots and Popups: In your previous testing, you may have noticed if chatbots, popups, or other features made the site difficult to navigate. An expert can work with these further, and pinpoint specific issues.
  • Specific Programs: There are many other functions or programs your site might provide that are specific to your business or industry. Work with an expert who is experienced with accessibility and the program’s code to test it.

Step 4: User Testing for Confirmation

How can you test the accessibility of your website without asking real users who use assistive technologies? This is an important step in seeing how your site really works when it is used in a non-traditional way. You will get the most value out of this step if your users can test all parts of your site. This might mean fixing some obvious or particularly problematic accessibility issues you discovered earlier.

There are several ways to find testers who use assistive technologies. You might work with local organizations or advocacy groups, put out an ad and organize a testing group or session, or arrange user testing with a private company. The following are common disabilities a user might have which would require assistive devices or other extensions.

  • Visual: This might include blindness, partial blindness, or color blindness.
  • Dexterity: Impairment of fine motor skills like tremors, inability to move the fingers, or a loss of coordination can create dexterity challenges.
  • Movement: Paralysis or other loss of movement to the hands or arms limits the use of a keyboard and mouse.

Step 5: Make a List of Changes

Now that you know how to test the accessibility of a website, it’s time to put your insights into action. You may have already fixed some of the accessibility issues you encountered at earlier steps, and there are most likely others you recorded that you haven’t fixed or aren’t sure how.

The best way to organize these changes is by cost and benefit. Ideally, start with changes that are easy to implement and benefit a large number of people. For example, adding alt-text to important images and links benefits everyone who uses a screenreader, and you can do this yourself. A more difficult, but manageable change might be changing your navigation menu to be operable with a keyboard or similar device. A high-cost change might be hiring a programmer or web developer to fix issues with a special function.

Take on these changes piece by piece. When you have a budget and a plan, making your site accessible will become a much more manageable project.

You now have a thorough method for how to test the accessibility of your site. Remember as you make changes to your site to design for accessibility, and test continually so you can catch issues before they become problems.