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Thought Leadership, Best Practices, Insights and Examples

  

Why You Should Be Serious About Web Accessibility?

by Tom Humbarger
Post Date:10/19/2015

Digital technology has created amazing opportunities for communicating, sharing information and engaging with your community.  But users of digital technology have different needs and as many as 20% of your users may have a disability that prevents them from fully accessing all that your website offers. 

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The DoJ Entered into 14 Accessibility Settlements in 2015

Access to civic life is a fundamental part of American society. In order to ensure that all citizens have equal access, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division began reviewing local and state governments in 1999 to help them begin to come into full compliance with the requirements of Title II of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Title II prohibits discrimination to all services, programs and activities of State and local governments regardless of whether they receive Federal financial assistance.

Over the last 15 years, the DoJ has conducted accessibility reviews at more than 200 locations. While most of the DoJ reviews focus on modifications to physical facilities, polling places and law enforcement services, websites and web-based services have also come under direct scrutiny. The DoJ review project is called Project Access, and you can discover more background information in the Project Civic Access Fact Sheet along with a list of the government agencies who have entered into agreements with the DoJ.

What is the DoJ Doing About Accessibility?  

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has moved accessibility compliance to the top of their regulatory review list, and over the last 15 years, they have conducted accessibility reviews at more than 200 locations. Even more interesting is that the pace of reviews has accelerated this year as the DoJ has entered into settlements with 14 cities and counties in 2015 alone. On a comparative basis, there were only five settlements in 2013 and none in 2014.

The DoJ settlements state that websites and web services must become compliant with the accessibility standards known as WCAG 2.0, and that they must adopt policies and procedures to maintain accessibility for all current and future content on their websites.

As a parenthetical side note, there have been two separate standards that are part of the accessibility topic – WCAG and Section 508. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, published in 2000, requires all federal websites to be accessible and which many local government agencies have adopted for their own accessibility guidelines.  The other accessibility standard is WCAG which was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is a more comprehensive and globally recognized accessibility standard. WCAG 2.0 is the latest version of the WCAG standards and was released in 2008. The United States Access Board proposed a new Section 508 refresh which incorporates the WCAG 2.0 accessibility rules and should be adopted sometime in 2016. The ADA reviews have been using WCAG 2.0 as their standard for accessibility.

What is WCAG 2.0? 

WCAG 2.0 are a series of standards established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) driven by four principles that ensure that website content and functionality is accessible. The four principles are that websites and web content must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. Under these four principles are 12 guidelines which provide the basic goals that should be used to make content more accessible. Here is WCAG 2.0 at a glance

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What Do the Settlements Say?

The County of San Juan County, New Mexico signed an agreement with the DoJ on September 28, 2015. The section on Web-Based Services and Programs is fairly standard across all settlements:

L. WEB-BASED SERVICES AND PROGRAMS

  1. Within three (3) months of the effective date of this Agreement, San Juan County, New Mexico will:

    1. Designate an employee as the web accessibility coordinator for San Juan County, New Mexico who will be responsible for coordinating San Juan County, New Mexico's compliance with the requirements of Section M of this Agreement.  The web accessibility coordinator shall have experience with the requirements of Title II of the ADA, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0, and website accessibility generally; and

    2. Retain an independent consultant, approved by the United States, who is knowledgeable about accessible website development, Title II of the ADA, and WCAG 2.0 to evaluate San Juan County, New Mexico's website and any proposed online services for compliance with the ADA and, at minimum, WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and other Conformance Requirements (WCAG 2.0 AA), and who shall be responsible for the annual website accessibility evaluation.  San Juan County, New Mexico will bear all costs and expenses of retaining and utilizing this independent consultant, including the costs and expenses of any staff.  San Juan County, New Mexico will compensate this independent consultant without regard to the outcome.

  2. Within six (6) months of the effective date of this Agreement, and annually thereafter, San Juan County, New Mexico will:

    1. Adopt, implement, and post online a policy that its web pages will comply with WCAG 2.0 AA, published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), available at www.w3.org/TR/WCAG;

    2. Distribute the policy to all employees and contractors who design, develop, maintain, or otherwise have responsibility for its websites, or provide website content, technical support, or customer service;

    3. Provide training to website content personnel on how to conform all web content and services with, at minimum, WCAG 2.0 AA, Title II of the ADA, and the terms of this Agreement;

    4. Incorporate provisions ensuring that all of San Juan County, New Mexico's webpages comply with WCAG 2.0 AA into the performance evaluations of the web accessibility coordinator and all employees and contractors who design, develop, maintain, or otherwise have responsibility for its websites, or provide website content, technical support, or customer service;

    5. Assess all existing web content and online services for conformance with, at minimum, WCAG 2.0 AA, by: (1) performing automated accessibility tests of its website and all online services, using an automated tool approved by the United States, to identify any accessibility barriers; and (2) enlisting individuals with different disabilities, including at a minimum individuals who are blind, deaf, and have physical disabilities (such as those limiting the ability to use a mouse), to test its pages for ease of use and accessibility barriers;

    6. Provide a notice, prominently and directly linked from its homepage, instructing visitors to its websites on how to request accessible information.  The link shall provide several methods to request accessible information, including an accessible form to submit feedback, an email address, and a toll-free phone number (with TTY) to contact personnel knowledgeable about the accessibility of the website; and

    7. Provide a notice, prominently and directly linked from its homepage, soliciting feedback from visitors to its websites on how to improve website accessibility.  The link shall provide several methods to provide feedback, including an accessible form to submit feedback, an email address, and a toll-free phone number (with TTY) to contact personnel knowledgeable about the accessibility of the website.

  3. Within thirty (30) months of the effective date of this Agreement, San Juan County, New Mexico will:
    1. Ensure that its websites and all online services, including those websites or online services provided by third parties upon which San Juan County, New Mexico relies to provide services or content, comply with, at minimum, WCAG 2.0 AA; and
    2. Assess all proposed online services before they are made available to the public for conformance with, at minimum, WCAG 2.0 AA, by: (1) performing automated accessibility tests, using an automated tool approved by the United States, to identify any accessibility barriers; and (2) enlisting individuals with different disabilities, including at a minimum individuals who are blind, deaf, and have physical disabilities (such as those limiting the ability to use a mouse), to test its pages for ease of use and accessibility barriers.
  • Within 3 months of the effective date of the agreement, the County will:
    • Designate an employee as the web accessibility coordinator for the County
    • Retain an independent consultant to evaluate the County’s website and any online services for compliance with the ADA and WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA success criteria
  • Within 6 months of the effective date and annually thereafter, the County will:
    • Adopt and post online a policy that its web pages will comply with WCAG 2.0 AA
    • Distribute the policy to all employees and contractors who design, develop, maintain or provide website content, technical support or customer services
    • Provide training to website content personnel on how to conform all web content and services
    • Incorporate provisions ensuring that all webpages comply with WCAG 2.0 A into the performance evaluations of the web accessibility coordinator and all employees who design, develop, maintain, or provide website content and services
    • Assess all existing web content and online services for conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA by
      • Performing automated accessibility tests
      • Enlisting individuals with different disabilities, including individuals who are blind, deaf and have physical disabilities such as the inability to use a mouse, to test its pages for ease of use and accessibility barriers
    • Provide a notice prominently and directly linked from the homepage instructors visitors on how to request access accessible information. The link shall provide several methods to request accessibility information including an email address and a toll-free phone number (with TTY)
    • Provide a notice prominently and directly linked from the homepage soliciting feedback from visitors on how to improve website accessibility. The link shall provide several methods to request accessibility information including an email address and a toll-free phone number (with TTY)
  • With 30 months of the effective date, the County will:
    • Ensure that its websites and all online services, including those websites or online services provided by third parties, to provide services or content that comply with WCAG 2.0 AA
    • Assess all proposed online services before they are made available to the public for conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA by:
      • Performing automated accessibility tests
      • Enlisting individuals with different disabilities, including individuals who are blind, deaf and have physical disabilities such as the inability to use a mouse, to test its pages for ease of use and accessibility barriers

What Do These Guidelines Mean to You? 

The new guidelines endorsed by DoJ probably require processes, functionality and content deliverables that your organization or your existing website are not currently providing. At a summary level, you should consider the following:

  • Website accessibility coordinator - you will need to name or hire a web accessibility coordinator who understands Title II of ADA, WCAG 2.0 and website accessibility
  • Accessibility policy – you will need to adopt, post and share an accessibility policy annually
  • Website accessibility notices – you will need notices to instruct visitors on how to request accessible information and how to provide feedback on improving website accessibility
  • Accessibility training – you will need to train your web content personnel on how to author accessible information
  • Accessibility provisions in performance evaluations – you will need to add provisions that ensure accessibility of website and content into performance evaluations of anyone who creates content for the website
  • Accessibility testing – you should be performing accessibility testing with automated tools and with individuals who have different disabilities (blind, deaf and inability to use mouse at a minimum)
  • WCAG 2.0 compliance – you should ensure that all websites, web content and online services are WCAG 2.0 AA compliant, or will be compliant within the next year or two

Bend, Oregon Is an Accessibility Role Model

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In 2004, the City of Bend, Oregon, had a complaint filed against them under title II of the ADA which alleged that the City had not taken steps to provide access to its programs and services. Bend entered into aSettlement Agreement with the DoJ in September 2004, and established a process and procedures to ensure their compliance with the agreement. In July 2014, the city received a letter from the DoJ that it had closed it files on the 2004 Settlement Agreement which stated that “the Department is now satisfied that your City has acceptably progressed in compliance with the Settlement Agreement.”

The Accessibility/ADA Information page on the city’s website provides their Accessibility Mission Statement along with other resources about:

The City of Bend is now a role model for other cities and exemplifies their Accessibility Mission Statement by creating, maintaining and promoting an "accessible inclusive community".

Additional Resources

The rules and compliance enforcement are rapidly evolving which means you want a vendor who you can trust to provide the technology and expertise to enable you to stay ahead of the issue. Vision Internet provides our customers with the tools to be compliant with the current web accessibility standards.

If you’re interested in exploring this issue further, a great source of information is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative website or the Section 508 website. We recently authored two blog posts to help educate our customers on accessibility issues and the history of accessibility:

At Vision, we specialize in helping agencies research and implement user-focused improvements, and are always happy to discuss your particular needs. Request a free consultation now.

Disclaimer

While we are summarizing the accessibility information from various sources in this post for the purpose of educating our customers, we encourage you to conduct your own legal research on website accessibility and discuss any issues with your in-house counsel or agency attorney, as appropriate.

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