Putting together a school website accessibility policy is a critical and fundamental first step toward ADA compliance. It will not only form the foundation of your implementation plan and steer your website design going forward, but will create a mechanism for handling any issues or complaints about how and where specifically your website presents obstacles for those individuals with disabilities.
Having such a policy in place and suitably promoted is not only a great start toward accessibility, but will help ward off any possible complaints about your website from the Office for Civil rights.
This article outlines how to assemble your policy document, and how to encourage dialogue with your school community on the subject of website accessibility and ADA compliance.
How to create your school school website accessibility policy
1. Build your team
Assuming your school or district has the full support of its school board and superintendent, assembling a web accessibility team is your first step in forming your policy. Your team should include a senior communications and IT staffer to handle overarching content and technical issues.
This is the time to appoint a web accessibility coordinator who assumes the responsibility for not only making the website accessible, but keeping it so, and training your contributors going forward. Your team should also include representation from key content contributors who can share the technical direction required to create content properly and fix the problems when they occur. Certainly, if there’s a person with disabilities on your staff who wants to participate, such perspective is very valuable in the journey to compliance.
2. Spell it out
Write a short and succinct web accessibility mission or summary that speaks to your commitment to making your district’s website and other digital communications ADA compliant. This should come from your superintendent. Your school board and all school leadership need to embrace your web accessibility mission.
3. Review the rules
Provide an overview of the standards you’ll be following to bring your website into compliance. No need to go overboard or drill too deep here, but WCAG 2.0 is the international standard the U.S. government and educational institutions is adopting to steer their website design. Nothing has been formally communicated to school districts, but 2018 is the expected target date for schools to have their web accessibility plans in place, if not implemented. Commercial websites also will be required to follow this standard.
4. Map out your plan
If you have a time frame in mind share it. You’ll probably need to phase in the steps toward full compliance, but believe it or not, with this step, you’re well on the road, for demonstrating you’re taking the steps toward compliance is a huge hurdle to cross. TIP: Check with your existing or new website CMS provider to help you map out a realistic time frame for making your school website ADA compliant.
5. Make it easy
Create a vehicle to document and promote that your school is on the road to website ADA compliance and accessibility. This is easily accomplished by establishing a dedicated page on your website that outlines your mission and gives your school community a way to submit any issues or complaints about areas of your website that need your attention. This final step is critical to creating a dialogue and helping you prioritize the issues of greatest and specific concern to your website visitors.
Policy in place; what next?
The most convenient and effective way to share your policy with your entire school community is to include it on the school website itself. We also recommend sharing it via other channels and make it available elsewhere for public viewing (e.g., posted in school offices, mailed and emailed to parents and members of the school community). For purposes of having centralized, easy-to-access content, posting this information on your website is recommended.
Here’s a link to a template that makes it easy for your school to create a Web Accessibility Policy in minutes.
Once the policy is created, access to it should be included via a link in the footer of your website. In addition, you should include a link/mechanism that will allow a visitor to report a potential violation they find on your website.
For information on creating a school website that serves everyone in your school community, refer to this School Website ADA Compliance Accessibility Guide to learn more about the technical standards required and how to put your policy to work.
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @jay4schools.