7 Things to Know About Local Government Website Accessibility

The accessibility of your digital content has very tangible implications for citizens living with disabilities. Ensuring local government website is accessible to all citizens needs to be a top priority on your digital marketing to-do list. Whether you are approaching a website redesign, are about to launch a brand new municipal website, or are simply ensuring your current website is as effective as possible, it’s time to familiarize yourself with this list of seven things to know about website accessibility.

1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has established accessibility standards for local government websites.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and, if the government entities receive Federal funding, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, generally require that State and 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 is 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 five Americans—about 53 million people—has a disability of some kind. Many disabled individuals use assistive technology to assist them in utilizing computers and accessing digital content. Common forms of assistive technology include 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 your civic website is critical.

A visually impaired citizen may not be able to see the photo of your town hall prominently displayed on your home page. He is reliant upon his screen reader to both read the on-screen text, and describe the included images. Screen readers will look to the photo’s alt text when speaking the content of the website aloud. Without providing accurate alt text, your disabled citizen won’t be given the opportunity to absorb your entire message.

5. Standards are available to guide government website design.

To help government website designers ensure they are continually building compliant websites as technology changes and evolves, Section 508 Standards have been established and are continually updated. More than just guidelines, Section 508 are required compliance elements to which all government websites must adhere.

6. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0

WCAG is an acronym that stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.  Version 2.0 was released in Dec. 2008. WCAG 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.

Civic Tip: Understanding the difference between WCAG and Section 508

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It’s important to understand that Section 508 and WCAG represent separate guidelines. Overall, while not federally-mandated, 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. More specifically, of the 38 WCAG 2.0 A & AA success criteria:

  • 22 are phrased differently but equivalent to current Section 508 criteria
  • 16 are not included or equivalent to Section 508 standards

7. Failure to comply with accessibility standards could have financial consequences. While your top priority is undoubtedly the equitable access of content by all your citizens, it’s important to understand that local governments that fail to comply with standards established by the ADA could face a financial penalty.

With CivicEngage®, we build every local government website with accessibility standards in mind. Our best practices include code-base updates and content standards that reference WCAG 2.0 A and AA, which encompasses and surpasses Section 508 standards.

Click below to see a demonstration of the CivicEngage platform, and learn how it can help you provide an equitable experience for all citizens.

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Author
Deb McNew

Deb McNew

Deb McNew has been with CivicPlus since its inception. She began with CivicPlus as a trainer and consultant and over her tenure worked with hundreds of municipalities all over the United States and Canada. She now holds the position of General Manager for its CivicEngage division and is a Vice President and member of CivicPlus’ executive leadership team. Deb has a very passionate vision of how the municipal website can and will help government work better for the staff that work there and the citizens it serves. She works to push our products and services to be the best of class to deliver on that vision.