Recently, the Santa Fe Public Schools entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, acknowledging that individuals with visual or hearing limitations and those with disabilities affecting fine motor control may not have been able to access some of the content and features on the district’s website.
The school district agreed to be monitored by the office and to take several steps to improve accessibility of its website, including auditing all new online content to ensure it is fully accessible, posting a notice to people with disabilities about how to access current content and providing website accessibility training to personnel.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require that state and local governments and businesses provide individuals with disabilities equal access to programs, services and activities — unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs.
The Department of Justice is considering revising the regulations to establish specific technical accessibility requirements regarding services available on the web. Written comments on the plan must be submitted by Oct. 7.
Even without the new regulations, government agencies will have to ensure their web content is accessible using the minimum accessibility standards, such as the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which were referenced by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in its recent settlement with the Santa Fe schools and others.
A 2015 national survey of people with disabilities, funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, found that 50.3 percent of participants had used the internet and social media when searching for a job, yet 43 percent had issues with online job applications that relied only on images and graphics to convey key information — with no alternative text for people using screen readers.
According to WebAim.org, a web accessibility training program at Utah State University, adding alternative text (Alt Text) for images is the first principle of web accessibility. Alt Text describes any image on a web page for users who aren’t able to see them. The description is read by screen readers.
Screen readers and voice-to-text software are used by individuals with a range of disabilities to navigate the internet, compose a document and read.
While the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility WCAG 2.0 Guidelines are widely considered to be the prevailing standard for web accessibility, they are also known to require a very high degree of specialized expertise to implement.
According to the article “DOJ Creates Web Accessibility Minefield,” published in Business Law Today by the American Bar Association, businesses with public-facing websites should develop and implement a plan to conform core website functions to WCAG 2.0 within a reasonable time.
They should also make accessibility a part of their website development process by training employees, building internal expertise and ensuring that their contracts include appropriate representations and warranties for conformance with prevailing web accessibility standards.
Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center, 800-949-4232. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.