"One way of providing equal access to information is to make sure government websites are accessible."
How would you access the Internet if you had difficulty seeing your computer screen, strained to hear sound, or had trouble using a keyboard or a mouse? In the U.S. today, 1 in 5 citizens has a disability and many struggle to visit their local government websites to pay utility bills, register children for Parks and Rec programs, and weigh in on community issues.
Vision, the company dedicated to creating solutions that promote resident access and participation, today released a Digital Accessibility Checklist to help guide local government leaders in making online services available to the nearly 60 million Americans with disabilities. The Vision Digital Accessibility Checklist is now available at info.visioninternet.com/accessibility-checklist
"Government leaders at all levels have a legal and a moral obligation to make public services accessible to citizens with disabilities," said Ashley Fruechting, Vision's senior director of strategic initiatives. "Just as poorly designed buildings can prevent citizens with disabilities from entering, poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers to full civic participation in the digital age."
Despite nearly 20 years of laws governing digital accessibility, Vision's 2016 survey of hundreds of local government leaders across America revealed that 89 percent of respondents had moderate, weak or no knowledge of Federal web accessibility requirements.
"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; the DoJ entered into settlements with 14 cities and counties in 2015 alone. By comparison, there were no settlements in 2014 and only five in 2013" Fruechting said.Mandates for accessibility are outlined in Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a 1999 amendment requiring websites of Federal agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible to all users. In 2000, the World Wide Web Consortium developed the first Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which were updated as WCAG 2.0 in 2008. In the proposed Section 508 refresh, the U.S. Access Board incorporates WCAG 2.0 accessibility rules and ADA reviews now use these guidelines as their standard for accessibility.
Recognizing local governments' need for assistance and best practices in this area, the Vision team has made accessibility a priority and is working with cities and counties across the country to comply with WCAG 2.0 standards that require websites and web content to be "perceivable, operable, understandable and robust."
The company has worked with a number of municipalities that have come under DoJ scrutiny, including the City of Bend, Oregon. Bend entered into a Settlement Agreement with the DoJ in 2004 and the DoJ closed the file on its review in 2014.
"To be fully inclusive, cities and towns need to ensure that every citizen, regardless of ability, has access to the same information," said Karin Morris, Bend's accessibility manager. "One way of providing equal access to information is to make sure government websites are accessible. That means making all content, including PDF links, etc., accessible as well. This can be increasingly difficult for some due to cost and time constraints faced by many governmental entities."
The Accessibility/ADA Information page on the Bend website now provides their Accessibility Mission Statement, a list of current ADA construction projects, Accessibility Committee minutes and other important Accessibility Program forms and documents.
"Today, the City of Bend and its Accessibility Manager Karin Morris are role models for other cities and exemplify their Accessibility Mission Statement by creating, maintaining and promoting an 'accessible inclusive community,'" said Fruechting.
In Rancho Cordova, Calif., the team working to revamp the city website found that compliance with accessibility standards had implications for the colors they could use as well as for the design itself. The result is a simple, clean site that is easy to read and navigate.
"Website accessibility is a top priority for Rancho Cordova," said Communications Specialist Ashley Downton. "In the beginning, we knew what the federal requirements were but didn't know how to meet them, so we partnered with Vision and others to make it happen. Vision went above and beyond by walking us through the process and allocating resources to make sure Rancho Cordova was on the cutting edge of accessibility. It's an ongoing learning process, but we couldn't have asked for a better partner!"
Fruechting said that accessibility rules and compliance enforcement are rapidly evolving making it difficult for many municipalities to keep pace with the technology and expertise required to stay ahead of the issue.
"The new guidelines endorsed by the DoJ require processes, functionality and content deliverables not provided by many agencies and their existing websites," she said. "That's why we are making the Vision Digital Accessibility Checklist available as a resource to all local government agencies working to bring citizens with disabilities into the digital fold."
Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., Vision is a national leader in government website development with more than 700 government, non-profit and education clients in U.S. and Canadian communities with populations that range from less than 1,000 residents to more than 5 million. For more than 20 years, Vision has created cost-effective solutions that increase government efficiency, transparency and interactive communications with citizens. The company's powerful, easy-to-use visionLive™ content management system continues to evolve with feedback from hundreds of municipal clients. In 2016, Vision was named to Government Technology magazine's GovTech 100, a listing of leading companies developing innovative or disruptive offerings to improve or transform government.
To download the checklist, visit info.visioninternet.com/accessibility-checklist
For more expert insights into digital accessibility issues, visit the Vision Blog at blog.visioninternet.com/an-introduction-to-accessibility-for-local-government-websites or call 888-263-8847.