When the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District launched its new website this month, the district’s public information officer Nicole Thomas had a list of priorities, foremost of which was to make certain the new site was compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and otherwise accessible to people with disabilities.
In the fall of 2017, the district office had received a formal complaint from the Office for Civil Rights, informing the district its website did not meet federal standard for website accessibility. So Thomas got a crash course from Campus Suite on school website accessibility, and put in place a plan to build a new website that not only satisfied accessibility laws, but one that looked professional and was easy for Starkville’s entire school community to use.
“We determined we needed to learn about website accessibility so we used the free resources from Campus Suite,” said Thomas. She and colleagues availed themselves of the School Website Accessibility Education Center and began working with the Campus Suite team to plan their new website.
“We used this opportunity to not only become compliant, but to freshen the look and update the navigation,” said Thomas. It had been five years since the last website change, so “It was time,” she said. To satisfy the Department of Education’s OCR, Thomas wrote a corrective action plan, which, in effect, demonstrates the steps and timetable the district will be taking to make its site(s) compliant.
“Besides the technical support in accessibility, we were looking for a custom design look,” said Thomas, who has been PIO at Starkville since 2006. Thomas and her team at Starkville chose from one of the dozens of flexible design themes. “There were elements of our previous design from a branding standpoint that we wanted to carry forward. The themes allowed us to do that while bringing a contemporary look to the site,” said Thomas.
The wake-up call from the OCR also signaled for Thomas a broader perspective on how a school website should work. “It [accessibility] changes the way you approach your website,” said Thomas. “When you start thinking about formatting content to meet these guidelines, you start examining what information is best for your website.
“A clean, nice design helps people be able to find what they’re looking for, whether they have a disability or not,” said Thomas. “People are coming to our site for a reason, and want to quickly and easily find the information they need.”
Thomas went on to say, “Accessibility is an ongoing process – it’s not like you wake up and everything is perfect and you’ll never have an issue again.”
Campus Suite’s accessibility/ADA-compliance managed services are designed to handle all the technical aspects of assuring schools stay on the right side of federal accessibility laws and have a website that accommodates everyone. Services include ongoing website monitoring, accessibility remediation (fixes), reporting and training for assuring Starkville’s website meeting accessibility requirements.
For more information about the decision-making behind the new Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District new website rollout, you can check out this article written by Charlie Benton of the Starkville Daily News.