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Web Accessibility for All, We Pledge!

Today is a pretty important day at CEL. It’s  Global Accessibility Awareness Day and we pledge to continue to help provide web accessibility for all!

via GIPHY Alt text: Will Smith clapping and standing ovation in crowd at Oscars.

What? You have never heard of Global Accessibility Awareness Day?

That’s OK, because today is the day to learn about this awareness campaign.

Now, if you’ve never thought about website accessibility, then you have never worked with CEL. So, let’s talk!

Our Director of School and Client Services Chelsea Janke has been speaking nationally about website accessibility for more than a year. (Here’s a Tip Sheet she shared with NSPRA members last year.) As an advocate for our school and district clients, Chelsea spends most of her time helping our clients bring their websites into today’s mobile era. That includes making sure each one provides #accessforall.

Do you need a new website?

Most of us hope to launch a new website only once a decade because it’s a big project. But our team helps launch a new school website every few months. CEL has got it down to a really efficient process from discovery to planning to design to build to launch, (but that is a future post). Inevitability, during the discovery phase, we lead an enlightening conversation about accessibility, because few school districts have really dug into understanding the topic — except of course those hit with an expensive civil rights complaint.

Many of the protocols required for web accessibility also influence mobility or mobile responsiveness. So the timing is right to address accessibility and improve the user experience for all.

Web accessibility, according to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, means that “websites are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can: perceive, understand, navigate, contribute to and interact with the Web.” Web accessibility considers disabilities that affect access to the Web, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual. Global accessibility day is about raising awareness and removing barriers to web access.

Think about it. The web was designed to democratize information. But too often website design or coding, not to mention the growing use of images and video, prohibit equal access for individuals with disabilities.

It is ironic. At the same time K12 schools are discovering new technologies to assist in teaching students with disabilities, too many school websites present a barrier for students and parents with special needs to access important information and inspiration through the world wide web.

So what does accessibility mean?

Public school districts were introduced to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The next two decades brought a rush of public construction to ensure buildings were ADA compliant. During the last decade, the internet has become a fundamental building block of American life: commerce, mail, communication, politics, banking, healthcare, and education are fundamentally tied to the web. So it should be no surprise that in recent years, accessibility and ADA compliance are at the forefront of civil rights complaints facing America’s schools and corporations.

What does it take to be ADA compliant?

In the simplest terms, ADA compliance allows assistive technology to read and describe the contents of a webpage and then translate the information so it can be consumed by any user, regardless of their ability to see, hear, read, speak, or move. We know that assistive technology has expanded possibilities for students with disabilities. It actually helps people of all ages and abilities across the globe. Here are four things you can do to improve accessibility on your site.

  1. Use Alt Text on Images – As websites have progressed, image heavy visuals and videos, are difficult to translate into words.
  2. Check Color Contrast – Text and images built in layers, poor color contrast, and busy backgrounds interfere with technology accurately reading a site.
  3. Use Closed Captioning – uncaptioned audio and video limit accessibility.
  4. Make ALL Documents Accessible (even PDFs) – A big problem was Google’s decision to stop scanning PDFs – with some scanned as images and inconsistent optical character recognition for a variety of fonts, PDFs were too hard for a machine to read. That caused problems for a lot of school webmasters who built their timesaving strategy on posting PDFs. Not so easy anymore.      

It’s about more than an Office of Civil Rights complaint.

Many of the protocols required for web accessibility also influence mobility or mobile responsiveness. So the timing is right to address accessibility and improve the user experience for all. Data shows a majority of people are accessing the web from a smartphone or tablet. If your site is not mobile responsive, it is probably not ADA compliant. (You already knew it was time for an upgrade, didn’t you?)

Looking to the future, accessibility is about more than the ADA. Accessibility by design allows one device to talk to another. So as the internet of things and machine learning expand, accessibility is critical. How far in the future is it that parents will say, “Alexa, read me today’s lunch menu for the elementary school.” Or “Siri, when is the first grade play? Put it on my calendar and remind me to pick up flowers for my son; he’s playing the tree.” Or “Google, let’s review this week’s vocabulary list.” Not too far since some of our CEL team already starts off their morning this way!

And have you seen the computerized refrigerator door with its built-in shopping list? Can you imagine it reminding a busy parent, “Your son doesn’t like the dinosaur chicken nuggets on the school lunch menu this week! Remember to pack a lunch.” [OK that may be a few years out, but you get the point.]  Google, Alexa and Siri all rely on technology tools crawling and learning from the accessible web — devices communicating with devices to assist humans through their daily routines.

Let CEL help you design an accessible website

So, if you hate your outdated website, you now have a solid rationale for an upgrade. Contact us to navigate the complex process of a website redesign. We will walk you through discovery and the RFP process and be an extension of your team through the design, build and launch of an accessible new site.

If you have recently upgraded (in the last three years), it is still wise to check your accessibility compliance.

  • Ask your web platform vendor or developer about their tools for auditing accessibility.
  • Consider using a third-party vendor like SiteImprove to assess your site.
  • Contact CEL. We partner with schools to strategically improve communication and prevent problems.

Once you have a compliant site, ensure it stays that way. If you have decentralized web content administration (e.g. many web editors), you will need to provide training, procedures, and hopefully some technical guardrails. We’ve found Finalsite to be a leader in this area. Check out their blog posts to learn more about the importance of accessibility and web compliance.              

So, if you’re looking at your website and know you need to make improvements, use a new lens focused on website accessibility. That picture, worth a thousand words, now requires a lot of Alt-text. Do you have adequate color contrast? Is your site truly inclusive, welcoming and accessible for all? #OhMyGAAD

Whether it’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day or just another day of the week, we pledge to continue educating and advocating for the schools and the communities that they serve! #CELMission

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Published on: May 16, 2019

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