7 Steps to Making Your School’s Website Accessible to All

With districts around the country relying on their websites to convey essential information to their communities, accessibility is more important than ever.

A few years ago, an evolution in K–12 websites took shape, with accessibility becoming a priority. Driven by an influx of Office of Civil Rights (OCR) complaints, many districts took the time to review their websites with a focus on how important information was being distributed online—and how accessible that information was to all visitors.

In the last few months, as COVID-19 has led to nationwide school closures, websites have become an essential way for schools to communicate rapidly changing information to parents, staff and the community. Accessibility is now much more than a compliance issue: All visitors need access to information they’re relying on to support and protect their families. These seven steps will help schools and districts make their websites accessible to all.

  1. Review your site for accessibility.

There are many online tools and services that review your website for accessibility issues. The option a lot of our clients start with is a tool by WebAIM called WAVE. It’s an extension you add to your Chrome or Firefox browser that looks for errors based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). We suggest that IT managers and webmasters start by analyzing the homepage to see what pops up. Common errors we see are color contrast, font size, and missing alt text, but WAVE also finds and recommends code updates to work better with screen readers and other assistive technology.

  1. Choose a partner or partners.

Depending on the resources you have in place, your IT department may be able to work with your website partner to address many accessibility errors. If you feel you need more support, compare bids from a couple of ADA specialists. Prices can vary wildly, so make sure training and ongoing support are included.

We’ve seen a large number of districts opt for more dedicated accessibility support like WebAIM, AudioEye, Siteimprove, and Monsido. Those who have received complaints from OCR usually go with one of these partners to reply quickly and get extra training for their staff.

  1. Address the errors.

Once you have a list of errors, either through a full scan of your site by an accessibility solution or a self-assessment by scanning pages with WAVE, bring in your communications team members to discuss next steps. The big question here is whether to undertake a complete redesign or just fix errors. Your website partner will likely have plans prepared for K–12 websites, including updating your design and re-coding. Often a redesign that focuses on accessibility takes care of the bulk of errors.

  1. Review your content.

Is your content organized, or do you see duplicate content in various parts of the site? Another common error we see on K–12 websites is relying on uploaded PDFs and document scans. WCAG requires all content on your website to be accessible, and if the PDF was not created and exported with accessibility in mind, your visitors may not be able to access what is in the document. We encourage districts to add the text directly to a page on the website. Also, review your website menu. Is it too big and disorganized? Again, your website provider can help with tips for serving today’s website visitors—all of them.

Finally, add a Website Accessibility Policy to your site, with details on who to contact for issues accessing content on your website. Make sure that link is on all pages. (Usually, the footer is the best option.)

  1. Train everyone who contributes to the website on the guidelines that apply to content creators.

Anyone who has permission to post to your site should know how to write alt text, and how to stay with high-contrast colors, for example. They should also learn a bit about why this is important, to underline the challenges you may inadvertently create for some visitors by not following a few simple steps.

  1. Review your website regularly to ensure new errors are not popping up.

If your website platform has built-in tools, make sure you have activated them for your site. Also, some accessibility solutions like AudioEye give visitors more control over how they interact with your website, taking some of the ownership of accessibility off the webmaster’s shoulders.

  1. Appoint an internal accessibility manager.

The right person to be your school or district’s accessibility manager doesn't necessarily need to know how to address the technical issues. Select a person who knows your community and can spearhead an accessibility initiative for your website.

With the uncertainty that families are dealing with these days, a website that connects with everyone in the community is not just an operational necessity—it can be an oasis of certainty for those who need it most.

About the Author

Ali Arsan is the CEO of Edlio. He can be reached at [email protected].