By Sam Stemler
Accessibility requirements for government websites are intended to allow everyone equal access to online resources. This includes web pages, blogs, event pages, videos, PDF tax files, an online form to apply for a dog license and everything in between. These online accessibility standards for government websites are mostly put forth by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the ADA does not specifically mention websites, which has left some ambiguity as to how to ensure ADA compliance for government websites. In this blog post, we’ll provide helpful resources to make ADA compliance easier, and provide an outline to ensure ADA compliance for your state or local website into the future.
Is My Website ADA Compliant? How Do I Know?
While the ADA itself was designed before websites were common information resources, recent case law has shown that websites fall under the ADA umbrella. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and ADA have offered guidelines and resources to help governments make their websites accessible.
These guidelines, similar to other accessibility guidelines like the WCAG, do not list exactly what governments should or shouldn’t have, but instead outline what the website should do. This gives governments a measurable goal—equal functionality and usability—without using specific criteria that would put limits on how the website looks or what it does.
The ADA and DOJ offer the following documents, among others, to give local and state governments direction as to how and why to make their websites functionally accessible to everyone.
- Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities
- ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments Chapter 5: Website Accessibility Under Title II of the ADA
- ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments Chapter 5 Addendum: Title II Checklist (Website Accessibility)
Start with an Organized Plan
Download the Website Accessibility Checklist
How Can I Ensure ADA Compliance Now and In the Future?
Websites are not static. They change as technology and users’ needs change. This is why you can usually tell when a website hasn’t been updated in five years, and it’s especially obvious when it hasn’t been updated in ten or twenty. So how can you ensure ADA compliance for your government website, today and years down the line?
If your website is due for an update, it’s a good time to innact accessibility regulations along with a new design. Or, if your website is fairly new, you can adopt ongoing policies to ensure the site stays accessible as new content is added and changes are made. Use the following steps to make a solid plan for ensuring ADA compliance now and into the future.
Step 1: Make an Accessibility Action Plan
If you are redesigning your site, consider accessibility as your build your site. Adherence to website accessibility standards will make your website easily usable for people with disabilities, but it will also improve site functionality for all users. Review the ADA accessibility guidelines and checklist for websites listed above. If you aren’t sure what all of these points mean or entail, don’t worry. The following are a few ways that you can start off with a strong accessible framework.
- Use an accessible template: WordPress works with users who are passionate and well-versed in accessibility to create accessible templates. You can make changes to these templates to suit your site, but this is a good place to start.
- Work with an expert: If you are working with a web design company or an outside consultant, make sure they have experience with accessibility, and a good understanding of what it will take to make your content and functions accessible. Remember, some websites can be accessible very easily, but larger or more complex sites will take more skills.
- Keep it in-house: If your on-staff tech expert is well-versed in web accessibility, they may be able to use outside testing tools to identify problems and fix them by themselves. However, be careful not to overextend your tech staff.
Step 2: Make an Accessibility Policy
Now that your website is accessible under the ADA, you want to keep it that way. As new content is added to your site—new pages, blog posts, pictures, links, forms etc.—you need to maintain accessibility. This is where a solid accessibility policy comes in.
The ideal accessibility policy outlines how to add information to the to the site so it remains accessible. Everyone who adds content should be able to understand this. This policy should also be well-known and up-to-date. Afterall, if your staff cannot find this policy, or don’t know that it exists, it won’t be very helpful.
Keep the following in mind as you craft your accessibility policy. This will help you ensure that the policy is useful today and in years to come.
- Complexity: Some aspects of accessible web design require more technical knowledge than others. As you craft your policy, consider creating tiers of use. For example, everyone adding information to the site should know how to add alt-text, use headings appropriately, and add links with the appropriate text. However, only more advanced users concerned with site navigation or functionality will need to know more complex aspects, like the use of ARIA for accessibility.
- Training: Many people are not aware of what web accessibility is, or how to do it. Make sure that new hires who are working with the website have access to your policy, understand it, and know why it is important.
- Easy to Find: Your accessibility policy should be easy for everyone to access when needed. You might include it in a group of shared staff documents, in a training manual, or in a staff-only section of your website. Make sure everyone knows where to find it.
- Able to Ask Questions: Your staff will probably have some questions about the policy, or they may run into issues they aren’t sure how to solve. Give them a way to resolve these questions. Emphasize that it is better to ask an expert than to guess.
Step 3: Conduct Regular Testing
Inevitably, there will be some accessibility issues that arise as you add new content or make changes. Regular testing for accessibility can help you detect and fix these issues before they get out of hand. It’s a good idea to set aside time on a regular basis to conduct testing and also fix the issues that arise. This might include programmatic testing using testing tools, as well as user testing.
With each of these elements in place, you can ensure that your government website is ADA compliant now and for years to come. This will not only protect you from accessibility civil suits, but it will also ensure that all residents and visitors can enjoy your website equally.