As of October 30, 2020, at least 25% of the pending cases currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is related to web accessibility. The overall number of web accessibility complaints received by the OCR this year is most likely lower than previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, since COVID-19 has also forced students to utilize online learning platforms, we expect to see this number rise tremendously.
Online learning is only convenient if students can access the content without assistance. With the shift to online learning during 2020, many parents without disabled children experienced a vast amount of frustration as they attempted to help their younger students navigate online learning platforms and updates on their school’s website. Perhaps they gained a little perspective of what a disabled child and parent would experience when attempting to access inaccessible digital content.
For disabled students, the lack of access and need for assistance does not end with primary school. Many colleges and universities are also failing at ensuring ADA compliant website. We see this by the numerous colleges and universities currently pending OCR investigation such as Stanford University, University of Alabama, and Florida State University. We encourage schools to take a closer look at strategies responsible for school website compliance and prioritize web accessibility training for their web development teams.
How to find web accessibility barriers on school websites?
One of the first steps to having an accessible and compliant website is to analyze some ADA compliant school website examples and focus on performing website accessibility testing. Testing should include both manual and automated web accessibility audits as well as accessibility testing by disabled users. As you begin testing, consider some of the most common reasons that students, parents, teachers, and others visit your school’s website including:
- Class registration
- Tuition payments
- Administrative and/or teacher contact information
- Course catalog, syllabi, and school handbook viewing
- Transcript requests
Locate and prioritize these elements and any others you feel are most often accessed by your website visitors as you evaluate your school’s web accessibility based on the general school website requirements. If you provide these or any other content in a document format such as PDF, you will want to ensure your documents are tagged and accessible too.
If your school’s web development team is proactive and ready to address your school website’s accessibility, they can perform a few easy checks themselves. We recommend starting with these three quick web accessibility checks:
- Keyboard navigation
Testing keyboard navigation will often expose many accessibility barriers. Each active element on a web page (i.e., links, buttons, interactive videos, etc.) must receive keyboard focus. This allows keyboard only users to know where their focus is as they interact with the web page.
- Color contrast
All content (i.e., text, images of text, buttons, etc.) must have a minimum ratio of 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text when measured against their backgrounds. Pro tip: remember to test color in all states (hover, focus, active, visited).
- Alternative text
In order for assistive technology such as a screen reader to present non-text content such as images, an alternative method such as alternative (alt) text must be present.
For detailed instructions on completing these simple accessibility checks, view our previous blog article where we discussed getting business websites ready for remote work. You can also download our free Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) checklist to help track progress.
If possible, we recommend fixing simple web accessibility barriers such as those listed above prior to contacting a professional web accessibility auditor (Be Accessible). Of course, we only recommend making repairs without expert assistance if you or your team confidently understand the requirements. Otherwise, it’s possible to do more harm than good resulting in less accessibility.
We’ve posted free resources to help you learn and apply web accessibility into your workflow.
How web accessibility benefits business owners
If you are a business owner, you may be familiar with the term bounce rate. The bounce rate of a website is the rate of how long users stay on a website. Unlike conversion rates that we want to be high, our goal is to have a lower bounce rate. The lower the bounce rate, the longer people are staying on the website.
On the contrary, a higher bounce rate indicates a poorly constructed site. A website that ignores the importance of accessibility and lacks necessary elements would be considered a poorly constructed site. A poorly constructed website includes things like non-responsive design, lack of color contrast, and missing form labels.
Our goal is to keep people on our website longer so that they discover more reasons why they should choose us over our competitors. A study found that 71% of disabled web users will leave a website when it is not accessible. This is a large enough percentage to have a significant impact against the overall bounce rate. Business owners must prioritize web accessibility to avoid potential loss of customers.
How web accessibility benefits developers and Google
If your web developer argues that web accessibility does not benefit them, then it may be time to find a new developer as it is just undeniable how vital web accessibility for developers is, especially nowadays. Developers aim to create high quality websites and know that the cleaner the code is, the faster their websites will run. If a website’s load time is slow or a website fails to rank high in search results, the development team is responsible. Cleaner code means faster, high quality code. Semantically correct code is cleaner code. Accessible code is semantically correct. This means that code is written according to specifications. HTML elements (code) have semantic meaning. Developers optimize a website’s accessibility and performance by using code as it is intended.
Aside from having fewer bugs and making a website load faster, semantic code also helps search engines such as Google and Bing to index the content and achieve higher search rankings. For example, let’s say that a web page is about comparing web development platforms such as WordPress and Shopify. The page visually uses headings to organize its content. The code of the page uses paragraph tags with classes (used for targeting styles) to create the visual appearance of headings like this:
If your school does not have a dedicated web development team, or your IT department is already overwhelmed with the amount of work created with the increased focus on digital content, we recommend going straight to a professional auditor. With their expert web accessibility knowledge, a professional auditor such as Be Accessible will perform a comprehensive web accessibility audit.
The audit you receive includes:
- Summary of major findings
- Detailed list of accessibility barriers
- Instructions on how to locate the accessibility barriers reported
- Guidance on how to repair each accessibility barrier
- Options to confirm accuracy of repairs
- A follow-up meeting to review findings and answer questions
After the audit
Once your audit is complete, repairs should begin immediately. Decision makers should be readily available to approve edits. Moving forward, anyone working on your school’s website should be trained in web accessibility to ensure that all of your team’s hard work remains intact.
If your school utilizes a third-party vendor to manage your website content, their developers may need to make updates to the website platform. We find most vendors are willing to accept guidance and make updates to prevent losing clients. However, if your website platform developers are not willing or able to perform necessary code edits, we recommend quickly finding someone who will.
What laws apply to school website accessibility?
We saved the legal discussion pertaining to web accessibility for the end as we feel the focus of an inclusive website should be on the individuals who benefit from it rather than simply trying to comply with a law.
The numerous lawsuits and OCR investigations on school websites show that many schools await clearer legislation stating web accessibility requirements. However, schools should consider the OCR’s statement from 2010 pertaining to technology:
As seen here, web accessibility is not new requirement to educational institutions. The following laws apply to school website compliance and are a major part of school website requirements:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA addresses nondiscrimination in public entities on the basis of disability and was signed into law in 1990. You can read more about the ADA on our ADA compliance page.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
In 29 U.S.C. § 794(b) it defines a program or activity covered by Section 504 to be:
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Although not listed in the statement above by the OCR, Section 508 requires agencies who receive federal funding to provide accessible websites. In addition to receiving funds from ED, elementary and secondary educational institutions receive funding from other federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services’ Head Start Program and the Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program.
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
IDEA governs how accessibility is provided and was signed into law in 1945.
The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are very similar in that for both laws, a complaint may be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). However, a complaint filed for an ADA violation may also be filed through a private lawsuit in federal court.
As schools continuously improve their focus on student achievement, digital accessibility is vital to ensure inclusion for all students. Schools must take into account school website requirements,, remove accessibility barriers, and prevent legal action due to poor website accessibility.
If your school already has a web accessibility complaint, or If you have specific questions about accessibility laws, we encourage you to contact your school’s attorney for legal advice.
Be Accessible will help your school’s website accessibility
At Be Accessible, our goal is to ensure your school’s website provides an inclusive experience to everyone. We personalize our services to meet your school’s accessibility needs regardless of where you are in the accessibility process. At Be Accessible, our goal is to ensure your school’s website provides an inclusive experience to everyone. We personalize our services to meet your school’s accessibility requirements and needs regardless of where you are in the accessibility process. Our accessibility experts provide services such as web accessibility audits, web accessibility consulting, and various web accessibility training options. Visit our Contact Us page or use the form below to learn more about our accessibility services.
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