Accessibility is an important topic for municipal websites. Just as all public buildings need to be ADA compliant to meet the needs of all residents, municipal websites must take the extra steps of ensuring that all residents have equal access to the website’s information.
What is Web Accessibility?
Web accessibility means that websites are developed so that people with disabilities can use them.
Approximately 18.7% of the U.S. population have some type of disability that impairs their online access.
Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the internet, including:
- Visual impairments including blindness, various common types of low vision and poor eyesight, various types of color blindness;
- Motor/mobility: e.g. difficulty or inability to use the hands, including tremors, muscle slowness, loss of fine muscle control, etc., due to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, stroke;
- Deafness or hearing impairments, including individuals who are hard of hearing;
- Photo epileptic seizures caused by visual strobe or flashing effects.
- Cognitive and intellectual disabilities including developmental disabilities, learning difficulties (dyslexia, dyscalculia, etc.), and cognitive disabilities of various origins, affecting memory, attention, developmental “maturity”, problem-solving and logic skills, etc.
Why is Web Accessibility Important to Municipalities?
Having an accessible website allows municipalities to have access to the pertinent information of the local government and the services it provides. Accessibility increases participation and involvement. Residents are more aware of events and more willing to participate in local government when information is readily available.
The current requirement for most local government entities is the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 508. However, this is about to change. The DOJ recently explained that it is considering proposing WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the accessibility standard for websites and web content. The DOJ noted that WCAG 2.0 has become the internationally recognized benchmark for web accessibility. The Revised 508 Standards are based on WCAG 2.0.
To stay ahead of the changing legislation, we recommend that local governments focus on both the WCAG 2.0 Level AA and the ADA Section 508 requirements.
It is also worth noting that web accessibility is becoming a hot topic in the courts. The number of website accessibility lawsuits where plaintiffs with a disability could not use websites because they were not accessible to them filed in federal court under Title III of the ADA exploded in 2018 to at least 2,258. That is an increase of 177% from 814 such lawsuits in 2017.
What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
WCAG 2.0 consists of 12 guidelines organized under four principles. Each has testable success criteria. Included below are the principles and guidelines:
- Perceivable: Information and the user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This includes providing text alternatives for non-text content, providing alternatives to time-based media and making it easier for people to see and hear content.
- Operable: The user interface components and navigation must be operable. This includes making all functionality available from a keyboard, providing users enough time to read and use content, be aware of content that can cause seizures and provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
- Understandable: Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable. This includes making text content readable, making web pages appear and operate in predictable ways and helping users avoid and correct mistakes.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. To accomplish this websites should maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.