Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Will It Take Thousands of Dollars to Make Your Website Accessible? The Followup

Back in November I made a post Is Your Website Accessible? and promised to report after going to my local school district to talk about their website.   Last month, just before the holiday break I attended the School Board Meeting, where I made a brief presentation during the public comment period.   The rules don't allow the Board members to respond, they just listen.   I gave them two handouts, the OCR press release referenced in the prior posting, and summaries from two different web accessibility tools.  I don't expect anyone to simply accept my statement that their website isn't legally accessible, especially if they don't know me,

I heard from the Superintendent the very next day.  She said in part:
I wanted to let you know that we started today trying to figure out how to go about improving our website to be compliant. My technology staff is researching options for us...
Are you aware of any grants or other financial assistance in helping small districts like us to create and maintain websites that are compliant? We use a free service now and my preliminary contacts with two companies today said the initial cost would be thousands of dollars.
My first reaction was directed the two contacts who told the Superintendent it would cost thousands of dollars.  The only problems identified by the accessibility tools were lack of ALT tags.  I doubt the companies saw the reports or bothered to look at the site.  Ideally the companies would not have given an estimate without some investigation.  I'm afraid the companies she contacted might not fully understand what an accessible website is, or what it can take to make it compliant.

I suggested to the Superintendent that the accessibility issues could probably be handled by the district's computer science students.  I referenced the WebAim page on Alt tags. The Superintendent said the tech team would review my email at their January meeting.  I've not heard anything this month.

I took the response as positive.  Of course, action will be the proof.

As for the question about grants, I don't know of any.  In my role as Public Policy Chair of  TxDLA I have been talking with my state representative about proposing a bill to get money to help educational institutions bring their digital resources into compliance, but he doesn't believe we can get the funds this session, but did outline a plan to be successful at the next session.

The bottom line to the story is that the lack of labels for graphics on websites (the alt tags) are the most commonly cited problem in the dozens of OCR and DoJ reports I've seen, and they are one of the easiest things to fix, if the folks posting graphics and photos would just use the dialog box that asks for the description.  It won't take thousands of dollars.


Hazel Owen said...

Really insightful post as always Ray - thank you :) Great that the response from the response you received from the superintendent was so speedy and proactive - but what a shame that the companies she then approached appeared to be so ... flippant!

I really like the idea, however, that you mentioned around computer science students working on the issue. Some of the benefits would be the raising of student awareness of the importance of accessibility, and a greater sense of understanding of the fundamental impact of design on usability. This focus could even be part of a wider social science project focus with groups of students collaborating to (re?) design a school's website, which could include going through a design thinking process to design and develop a site that met the needs of the users in their immediate context.

I also did a quick bit of digging around after reading your post. I couldn't see any funding available in NZ, Australia, or the UK for organisations to work on the accessibility of their websites, although there was funding for, for instance, for people who live with blindness or low vision around tools to assist access to online spaces. There may also be discretionary funding (e.g. through lottery organisations) that communities may be able to draw on to draw on support to make a community web site accessible. :)

I also put the Ethos Community Web site through this tool: Some of the elements identified are part of the 'out of the box solution' (Ning), but there are some elements I can (and will) easily work on such as the contrast...and the ALT tags for images :)

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