Accessibility is an important topic for municipal websites. Accessibility guidelines apply to websites just as they do physical locations.
Public buildings need careful planning to be compliant with the ADA for public accommodation. Similarly, municipal websites must also take extra steps to ensure website compliance so that all residents have equal access to 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 design allows residents to have access to information about the local government and the services it provides. Website 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 (ADA), Section 508. However, this is about to change.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently stated that they are 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 compliance to ADA Section 508 / WCAG 2.0 Level AA. Where feasible, Level AAA practices can be implemented. This will meet ADA requirements for non-federal government agencies and is inline with the pending DOJ ruling.
It is also worth noting that web accessibility is becoming a hot topic in the courts. The number of website accessibility lawsuits 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. These lawsuits involve plaintiffs with a disability and websites that are not accessible to them.
What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) consists of 12 guidelines organized under four principles. Each has testable success criteria. Included below are the principles and guidelines for a WCAG 2.0 compliant website:
- 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 functions of the website available from a keyboard. Users muct be provided with enough time to read and use content. Content that can cause seizures must be avoided (flashing lights). Users must be provided ways to help them navigate, find content, and determine where they are within the website.
- Understandable: Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
- This includes making text content readable and making web pages appear and operate in predictable ways. Methods of helping users avoid and correct mistakes should be provided.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents.
- This includes being compatible with assistive technologies, such as screen readers. To accomplish this websites should consider current and future user agents, including assistive technologies, during the website design and development process.
WCAG has three levels of conformance.
- Level A is the most basic level. Conformance to just level A often is not sufficient to meet ADA requirements.
- Level AA is the standard for most government entities.
- Level AAA requirements can be extremely difficult. In fact, the WCAG states, “it is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content”.
To provide an example of the different levels and their success criteria, here are the success criteria for video:
- Level A: Captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such. Media alternative for text is media that presents no more information than is already presented in text (i.e. audio only, video only or multimedia).
- Level AA: Captions are provided for all live audio content in synchronized media.
- Level AAA: In addition to meeting the requirements of Level A and Level AA above, sign language interpretation is provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media.
How Accessible is Your Website?
The GovUnity Website Evaluation assists municipalities in identifying how well their website meets the needs of their residents. Website Accessibility, along with other checklist items are evaluated to provide a Total Website Assessment Report. The evaluation provides municipalities with feedback on areas that could be improved to assist the user experience.