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. ADA.gov 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, ADA.gov 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.
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.