What municipalities need to know for web accessibility

BY SANDY REESER
VC3 Chief Executive Officer

With rising number of lawsuits and residents expecting online services, municipalities need accessible websites.
What is web accessibility?
In simple terms, web accessibility is providing website content and features without barriers to those with disabilities. If you want to dive deeper, it’s important to know about Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA Standards of Accessibility.
Section 508 requires government agencies to provide disabled employees and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others.
The WCAG offers a clearer picture of what is needed for a compliant website. It was published by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the internet’s primary international standards organization. WCAG outlines how your website should interact with a variety of assistive technology tools including screen readers, screen magnification, and alternative input devices.
Why is Accessibility Important?
You want to better serve your residents and avoid a lawsuit.
Better Service
An accessible website that engages and serves ALL of your residents is a powerful tool. Your website should be a central hub of communication with your residents, pushing out notifications, encouraging participation, and simplifying payments. It serves a critical role for your municipality and you need to ensure everyone can use it efficiently and easily.
Avoid Lawsuits
In 2018, 2,258 ADA lawsuits were filed. This is a 177 percent increase in lawsuits over 2017. Average settlements were around $15,000 with penalties up to $75,000. That’s on top of the cost to update your website and make it accessible. Save money and avoid lawsuits by ensuring your website is accessible now. Not after a lawsuit.
What to Do Next?
Let’s take a look at the two main components for web accessibility compliance.
First, you need a modern, properly developed website to meet many of the requirements from WCAG’s 2017 update. If your website was developed prior to 2017, it’s a good idea to ask your website partner about doing an audit to check for accessibility compliance. Some examples of common errors are:
• insufficient color contrast,
• text that is too small,
• website menu isn’t keyboard accessible, and
• screen reader issues

Second, you need to consider the website content. Accessibility is an on-going effort that requires accessibility education for everyone adding content to the website.
Here are a few common items to check:
• proper HTML header tag order,
• alt tags applied to all photos,
• screen reader accessible PDFs,
• Text transcripts for audio files
• Avoiding images with text on them

Tools to Check Your Website’s Accessibility Health
If you’d like to get some information about your website accessibility health, there are a few useful online tools. Keep in mind these tools are not equivalent to a company doing a full accessibility audit. But, these tools will help you understand at a high level if your website needs attention.

Web Accessibility Checker
https://achecker.ca/checker/

WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool
https://wave.webaim.org/

WebAIM Contrast Checker
https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/

Information & Education
https://webaim.org/