Back To Insights

Making Your School Board Policies Accessible

For school districts, having clear and accessible board policies ensures your community can easily access information that governs the district. Too frequently, districts rely on Google Docs or PDF for publishing policies but neither are found when using the search feature on your site. Further, providing policies solely in PDF format is not compliant with digital accessibility standards for individuals with vision or cognitive impairments. 

PDFs can be difficult or impossible to read for those using text-to-speech software or screen magnification tools. Their fixed layout means content may not reflow or resize appropriately on different devices. PDFs also can’t be easily translated into other languages with web browser tools. In short, PDFs create major accessibility issues for people with disabilities or those with limited English proficiency.

By publishing your district policies as web pages instead, you ensure:

  • Compatibility with Assistive Technologies
    Unlike PDFs, HTML web content works seamlessly with text-to-speech software, screen readers, and other assistive technologies used by those with visual, mobility, or cognitive impairments. This allows equitable access to policy information.
  • Responsive and Mobile-Friendly Design
    With responsive, mobile-optimized web design, policies can be easily read and navigated on any device and screen size—from desktop to smartphone. Static PDFs often don’t reflow well on smaller screens. Plus, you may have users with limited computer/phone memory for whom downloading large PDF documents (policies, handbooks, etc.). just isn’t feasible.
  • Language Translation
    Most web browsers allow users to instantly translate HTML page content with built-in tools. PDFs require extra software or steps to translate.
  • Better Search Engine Optimization
    Properly formatted and structured web pages are more easily crawled and indexed by search engines compared to PDFs, making policies easier to discover online.
  • Legal Compliance
    Many laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508, require electronic information like policies to be accessible. Lawsuits have been filed over inaccessible PDF documents. Publishing your policies as web pages ensures compliance.

Google Docs vs. Website Content

While Google Docs may seem like a free, easy hosting solution, it creates potential accessibility issues compared to publishing web pages. Districts should carefully consider the limitations to mobile viewing, translation capabilities, and long-term link integrity. Ultimately, self-hosting policies using your own website and content management system provides more control and a fully accessible experience.

  • Accessibility Concerns
    While Google Docs has some accessibility features, it may not be as accessible as properly coded web content. Things like heading structure, keyboard navigation, and screen reader compatibility are better in HTML.
  • Mobile Experience
    Google Docs can be clunky to navigate on smaller mobile screens compared to responsive web design.
  • Translation Limitations
    Most browser translation tools do not work well with the Google Docs format, limiting non-English speakers’ access.
  • Link Shortener Issues
    Google Docs uses URL shorteners, which can be flagged as spam by email services and create broken links over time.
  • Branding and Control
    Having policies externally hosted takes away control over branding, design integration with your website, analytics tracking, etc.

By prioritizing accessible website publishing over PDFs, school districts avoid discrimination, promote transparency, and empower their community to be informed participants in their schools. In today’s online era, PDFs are an antiquated method of publishing policies and create unnecessary inclusion barriers.

Importantly, districts don’t need expensive policy management software to have their policies live on their website. Standard web pages using accessible HTML can host all policy content. This avoids the costs of proprietary systems while maximizing accessibility and usability for all stakeholders. 

Ultimately, schools should lead by example in accessibility best practices. Having accessible, web-based policies models the inclusive values we hope to instill in all students and community members.

Want to improve your website accessibility but don’t have time to convert your content to web pages? Not sure of the best way to implement accessible policies on your website? Email us, we’d be happy to show you web solutions that our clients have loved.

Published on: June 20, 2024