Making an ADA-compliant school website is a hot topic of late. School boards and administrators may not be quite in the panic mode yet, but according to school IT coordinator and education speaker Keith David Reeves, school districts "Are scrambling to cope" with ADA compliance and web accessibility.
Public schools are required to make accessibility accommodations to enable the disabled public to access the same services as those who are not disabled. Keith recently led a webinar on the topic of accessibility in his role as board chair with the Virginia Society for Technology in Education. You can view the webinar here.
Is your school website compliant? Does this responsibility fall on your lap? While it may sound like a lot of work, it’s incumbent on you to make web-based information accessible for everyone including the blind and handicap.
Now it can be difficult figuring out what you need to do or what it means to have an ADA compliant website.
First, I recommend you talk to your school website provider and see how they approach this challenge. See what tools they have in place to address this issue. A good website provider will also help you address the larger issue of accessibility, which Jay Cooper of Campus Suite writes about in his article, School Web Accessibility Starts with ADA and 508 Compliance.
Even with the right school website provider working with you, it is important for you to understand some ADA basics before taking the necessary steps to making your website ADA compliant.
After checking with your CMS provider, you're going to want to do an audit – a school website accessibility audit that uncovers just where and how your website is out of whack. Check out this helpful article on how to conduct a school website accessibility audit.
I am going to share some of the basics along with a process and some additional resources you can review to make your website ADA compliant.
The anatomy of an ADA-compliant website
While an ADA compliant website has a lot to aspects to determine its accessibility, I will be reviewing the important, basic structure. Ultimately, your website will need to follow the WCAG 2.0 AA standard, see "WCAG 2.0 and what it means for school website ADA compliance" for further information. Some of these items are related to just making sure you complete a couple steps before you publish a web page, and others may require your technical resource to adjust the website template. You can also check out “Creating an ADA-compliant website” by Nicole Bremer Nash for additional details and resources along with Section 508 Accessibility checklists from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
The diagram below covers the basic structure of an ADA compliant website.
- When a page loads for a screenreader, the navigation is the first thing read to the visitor. By adding a skip navigation link, the screen reader will reader bypass navigation and start on the web page content. This is very helpful for visitors not to listen to the navigation each time they click a page. Your navigation will also need to work properly if the user uses the keyword to navigate. All links must highlight as they use the tab and arrow keys. All drop-down navigation must pop open and highlight the links as well. Many times the light blue outline that appears by default by the browser is no suffice, the links must be very distinct when selected.
- Follow HTML formatting standard for your copy. You should use a single H1 for the header and follow H2, H#, H4, etc. for formatting additional headers.
- All images must have a descriptive ALT tag or long description. This is important for the screen reader to communicate what the image is.
- As long as text links are clear on what they are linking to, there is no need for additional description. However, if it is something like “click here” you are required to use the “title” tag for the link and add a description. The idea is to make sure the screenreader clearly reads the links content.
- If you use tables to display data, you will be required to add a table header <TH> tag to the row header. The will allow the screenreader to communicate the information based on the table structure.
- A feedback link in the footer that allow you to gain valuable information to improve the accessibility and address any issues.
- Optional text-only option can provide a non-graphical view of the page.
Planning your ADA-compliant school website
Like anything complex that has multiple people involved, a solid plan will help you effectively manage such an undertaking. Putting together a plan for ADA will not only cover the technical requirements that have to be put in place with your website vendor, but the requirements that your website contributors will need to follow for ongoing content updates. It is beneficial to have a website hosting partner that has a modern CMS that can make a lot of this planning easy.
I have outlined a plan that can be adjusted and tailored for your school.
- Establish a policy
First, you need to set the standards of what is expected of everyone who is a part of managing the website. This may be the website vendor, faculty, staff or anyone else that updates the website. This can be a web page that lists out all of the requirements to maintain an ADA-compliant website. You can even create a form that everyone agrees before allowing access.
- Ensure you have a system that can support
After establishing your policy, make sure your current system can accommodate these updates. Most modern CMSs will cover the page updating, but you may have to have your school website provider handle template modification. If you do not have a compatible system in place, you may want to start planning for a new CMS.
- Run an audit on your website
There are several website that you can use including WAVE, WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool for web sites. Or you can buy a software to run checks on your website. I recommend using SortSite Desktop. SortSite Desktop makes it very simple to run on your website and adjust reports.
- Develop a plan for updating your website
Assess and determine what needs to be done to your website to make it accessible, Create a list of items to be addressed. Focus on the high-level pages first, then work your way down to the secondary pages. You can enlist the help of an intern, parent or student helper that can assist on these updates.
- Make it easy for visitors to provide feedback
Place a link in the footer on the website that says “Website Feedback”. This will serve as a way for visitors to provide any issues or recommendations to make the website more friendly.
- Plan on monitoring the website bi-annually
Schedule a review that entails running an audit, addressing feedback and applying fixes discovered in the review.
- Stay close to your disability group
Build an email list and keep your visitors with disabilities up to date on the new improvements being updated on the website, and ask for feedback.
ADA compliance is just another aspect of school website management that sometimes takes a low priority, given the relatively small number of people it affects. However, it is the law. You need to have an ADA-compliant school website.
By understanding what your school’s obligation is – then putting a plan in place to get up to speed and stay up to speed with ADA-compliance requirement – you can avoid alienating your disabled users and their families and stay on the right side of the law.
Moreover, by making sure your website is ADA compliant, you demonstrate to not only your disabled stakeholders but your entire school community that yours is an inclusive school or district. The more accessible you make your website, the more it will get used, and the more you can extend your communications reach.
Other related articles:
What you Need to Know about ADA compliance and Your School District
7 Signs your School Communications Plan is Weak
Staying on Guard: the top 4 School Regulatory Requirements
School Web Accessibility Starts with ADA and 508 Compliance
As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.