Local government websites are mandated by law to have accessible digital content for citizens living with disabilities. Every government agency need to ensuring their website is accessible to all citizens, as mandated by the law.
Whether the local government is providing accessible content on its website, approaching a website redesign, are about to launch a brand new municipal website, or are simply ensuring the current website is as effective as possible, it’s time to familiarize with all things related to digital accessibility.
Online services offered by Local Governments
The Internet is dramatically changing the way that American government serves the public. Taking advantage of new technology, many State and local governments are using the web to offer citizens a host of services including:
- Corresponding online with local officials;
- Providing information about government services;
- Renewing library books or driver’s licenses;
- Providing tax information and accepting tax returns; and
- Applying for jobs or benefits.
These government websites are important because they:
- Allow programs and services to be offered in a more dynamic, interactive way, increasing citizen participation;
- Increase convenience and speed in obtaining information or services;
- Reduce costs in providing programs and information about government services;
- Reduce the amount of paperwork; and
- Expand the possibilities of reaching new sectors of the community or offering new programs.
Online Barriers Faced By People with Disabilities
Many people with disabilities use “assistive technology” to enable them to use computers and access the Internet. Blind people who cannot see computer monitors may use screen readers – devices that speak the text that would normally appear on a monitor. People who have difficulty using a computer mouse can use voice recognition software to control their computers with verbal commands. People with other types of disabilities may use still other kinds of assistive technology. New and innovative assistive technologies are being introduced every day. Poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities, just as poorly designed buildings prevent some from entering. Designers may not realize how simple features built into a web page will assist someone who, for instance, cannot see a computer monitor or use a mouse.
One example of a barrier would be a photograph of a Mayor on a town website with no text identifying it. Because screen readers cannot interpret images unless there is text associated with it, a blind person would have no way of knowing whether the image is an unidentified photo or logo, artwork, a link to another page, or something else. Simply adding a line of simple hidden computer code to label the photograph “Photograph of Mayor Jane Smith” will allow the blind user to make sense of the image.
Accessible Design Benefits Everyone
When accessible features are built into web pages and content, websites are more convenient and more available to everyone – including users with disabilities. Content creators can provide online forms, PDFs and multimedia in an accessible form to make even complex web pages usable by everyone including people with disabilities. For most websites, implementing accessibility features is not difficult and will seldom change the layout or appearance of web pages. These techniques also make web pages more usable both by people using older computers and by people using the latest technologies (such as personal digital assistants, handheld computers, or web-enabled cellular phones). With the rapid changes in the Internet and in assistive technologies used by people with disabilities to access computers, private and government organizations have worked to establish flexible guidelines for accessible web pages that permit innovation to continue.
Here are 7 things to know about local government website accessibility
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has established accessibility standards for local government websites.
The Americans with Disabilities Act local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities; unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities, or would impose an undue burden. This means that local governments are required, and expected, to ensure all of their digital content are accessible by citizens with visual, auditory, and other physical limitations and disabilities.
2. Your local government website should be designed to accommodate the use of assistive technology.
According to the National Institute of Health, one in four Americans—about 61 million people—live with a disability of some kind. This includes 10.8% with cognitive disabilities, 5.9% with hearing disability, 4.6% with vision impairment, and 13.7% with mobility difficulties. Many disabled individuals use assistive technology to assist them in utilizing computers and accessing digital content. Local government websites must be designed to accommodate the use of assistive technology such as screen readers, optical character recognition (OCR) software systems, magnification software, and voice recognition tools.
3. Non-compliant design can form a barrier to content.
Websites must be optimized to work in conjunction with assistive technology. Poorly designed websites can create barriers for disabled citizens, limiting, or completing inhibiting, their ability to obtain all available information from your website.
4. Including alt text when adding photos to the website is critical.
A visually impaired citizen may not be able to see a photo of a town hall prominently displayed on the home page. The person is reliant on a screen reader to read a description of the image. Screen readers will look to the photo’s alt text when speaking the content of the website aloud. Including accurate alt text to images helps make them accessible to people with disabilities.
5. Standards are available to guide government website design.
Section 508 Standards help government website designers ensure they are continually building compliant websites as technology changes and evolves. All government websites must adhere to the compliance elements specified in Section 508 standards.
6. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0
WCAG is an acronym that stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It is backed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the primary international web standards organization and it represents the future direction for web accessibility standards in the United States.
WCAG represents a higher, more explicit level of accessibility than even Section 508. While there is some overlap in the recommended criteria outlined by both, they do offer separate recommendations and requirements.
7. Failure to comply with accessibility standards could have financial consequences.
Local governments must ensure equitable access to content by all their citizens. If they fail to comply with standards established by the ADA, they could face a financial penalty. Local governments can be fined up to $75,000 for their first ADA violation and $150,000 for any subsequent violation.
What are the essentials to make a Municipal website accessible?
Municipal websites are turning into a virtual town square – a necessity accelerated by the pandemic. The website is the place where all citizens go to for critical information, apply for jobs, pay taxes, and more.
Local government websites function on so many levels with multiple objectives. Providing a clean and uncluttered user experience to people with disabilities is a challenge when a host of features like functions, updates, and data need to be accommodated. Site designers have to come up with an elegantly designed user navigation that enhances user experience for both the stakeholders and their citizens.
Here are top 3 essentials to make a municipal website accessible
Commit to diligent discovery
Municipalities need to bring in their most valuable stakeholders – citizens with disabilities into the conversation via workshops to ensure that their inputs regarding site design, navigability, and accessible features are incorporated.
Build in flexibility
Municipal websites have to be designed in such a way that they can be easily updated, redesigned, or revised as and when new alerts need to be posted, events are planned, and many more to be readily available in an accessible format to all.
ADA Section 508 provides guidelines to ensure inclusive access to the web for people with disabilities. It is imperative for any municipality that is committed to inclusiveness to not only ensure that their website adheres to accessibility best practices but also ensure that their digital files including PDFs, Word, etc. uploaded on the web are available in a accessible format. Mobile accessibility is equally important. Mobile users are increasing on a sharp upward trajectory and municipalities need to ensure that their websites and web content are mobile friendly – meaning that the site can adapt to a mobile screen. Citizens must be able to view and read digital content such as PDFs, Word, etc. without any difficulties.
Digital files in various formats, including PDFs, Word, PPT, etc., have to meet federal accessibility standards like ADA, Section 508, and WCAG 2.1 Level AA guidelines. The ever-increasing need to meet accessibility requirements and compliance mandates the presence of a robust, scalable solution.
codemantra’s accessibilityInsight™, is designed to assist local governments with their federal government mandated 508 compliance requirements. The AI-powered platform can help reduce the amount of time needed to attain 508 compliance and WCAG AA standards.
The multi-phase document accessibility program involves:
- Assess: Complete compliance assessment and detailed reporting.
- Plan: Prioritization of assets and determination of internal, external, or hybrid remediation approach.
- Document processing: Machine-learning and AI-assisted processing merged with human-assisted review and alt text writing.
- Report: Confirm PDF U/A and WCAG compliance and generate a compliance report.
Local governments must provide an accessible experience for all their citizens as it is not only the right thing to do but also required by law. Making sure their website and online files meets ADA Section 508 standards ensures that their citizens are able to access critical information and also be a model for other local governments to follow.
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