School districts around the country are looking forward to a higher likelihood of in-classroom teaching this fall, especially after the CDC's updated guidance cut the social distancing requirements for K-12 classrooms in half to just three feet. They're also working hard to future-proof and have plans for quick pivots and effective communication with students and families. School websites are an integral part of that preparation, leading more and more school districts to make sure their websites are fully accessible to students and family members with disabilities. In addition to providing equal access, website accessibility measures can help school districts avoid complaints with the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and lawsuits alleging civil rights violations.
To help get ahead of legal issues and, more importantly, to further accessibility for everyone, school districts should check their websites for these accessibility basics as soon as possible.
1. Accessibility statement
If every school district website were accessible, there would be no need for accessibility statements. Since most are not, web users look to an accessibility statement to understand the school district's position and action on providing equal access. An accessibility statement usually identifies:
- Accessibility standards used (like WCAG)
- The district's accessibility goals and accomplishments
- Known issues or challenges
Even before a website has been made fully accessible, an accessibility statement can go a long way toward showing commitment and transparency. If you don't know where to begin, contact us.
2. Alt text
Fifteen of New York's largest public high schools had their web pages scanned for accessibility last year. Collectively, nearly two-thirds of the checkpoints tested failed and every single website scanned had errors detected for missing text alternatives.
Alt text refers to the accessible text alternative associated with visual or graphical content. Pictures, logos, charts, and most other forms of non-text content all require alt text to be accessible. A free website scan can usually tell if images have missing alt text.
Each New York high school website scanned also showed failures in identifying link purpose, a common but avoidable error.
Accessible links should always be:
- Visually distinct
- Color contrast compliant
- Keyboard accessible
These guidelines ensure that everyone can distinguish and operate every link as intended. For more information, read a Quick Guide to Accessible Hyperlinks.
Many school district websites unfortunately make the mistake of using headings as design elements, when in fact they should be structural elements that define the organization of each page. This usually happens when design or content teams try to use headings to go for a particular look and feel, forgetting or not realizing that headings serve a distinct function.
Headings that are out of order, inconsistent, or not coded with heading tags at all can create major accessibility issues. Last year, twelve of the nation's top elementary schools also had their web pages scanned. The most-commonly failed checkpoint was related to WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.3.1: Info and Relationships, which requires information to be structured properly and in a way that is available to assistive technology users. Missing important structural elements like headings can trigger that violation.
5. Color contrast
To be readable, content needs to be visually-distinct enough from its background. In the same way text would be hard to read if it were unreasonably small or in a messy font, it can be hard (if not impossible) to read for many people if its color doesn't have enough contrast.
In website accessibility, color contrast is measured in a what's called a color contrast ratio. Anybody can get a free instant color contrast analysis of any school district web page with the a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator.