Including accessibility technical requirements in every software procurement process is a simple way to maximize inclusion for students, parents, and faculty and reduce liability for your district or institution. To do it does not require technical expertise or additional burden.
Use the WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
Require all your web-based software to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. This set of guidelines developed by industry and disability stakeholders is recognized as providing consistent accessibility to individuals with disabilities without undue burden for software developers.
Examples of WCAG 2.0 Level AA features include:
- adjustable text size
- meaningful alternative text for photos and embedded URLs
- full keyboard navigation
- in-page text used whenever possible, rather than image based text or PDFs
- captioning of pre-recorded and live videos
- audio descriptions of pre-recorded videos
The blog WUHCAG has a great checklist of all the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
The federal government in 2017 updated its accessibility requirements for federal agencies procuring software to align with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA. For school districts and institutions of higher education, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act entitles every child with a disability to a “free appropriate public education.” While the specific standard for enforcement under Section 504 is fairly general, requiring educational services, programs, and activities to be “readily accessible and usable,” the Office for Civil Rights has cited the WCAG 2.0 Level AA as a standard to strive towards in several of its enforcement actions regarding website accessibility.
Three Priorities When Assessing Accessibility
1. Ability to navigate by keyboard alone.
Web site navigation is one of the most common complaints received regarding web content accessibility and is a priority in the review process for the Office of Civil Rights. For students with mobility disabilities or visual impairments, the ability to effectively and efficiently navigate webpages without a traditional mouse is critical to their success. Students and other end users should be able to navigate throughout a website using only their keyboard—this includes without the use of a monitor as well.
What to look for:
- Is the website free from “keyboard traps” that allow a user to move to a part of a website but not away from it? For example, a user can navigate to a newsletter subscribe box but not away from it.
- Are drop down menus accessible from the keyboard?
- As a user navigates by keyboard, is there a focus highlight so users can see which element of the page they are on at any time?
- Are navigation tools and button labels consistent across the website? For example, the search bar should be in the same place on every page and the “homework” buttons consistently labeled as such.
2. A logical structure and meaningful sequencing.
Webpage content should be presented to users in a meaningful order that makes sure the meaning of the content is not lost on a blind or mobility-limited user. This is particularly important for users requiring a screen reader who would become lost on a page with random order navigation between elements.
What to look for:
- Are keyboard users able to navigate from one element to the next in an intentional order? For example, a user on an English webpage should move left to right and top to bottom but not unnecessarily switch back and forth from a sidebar to the main content.
- Does the webpage content use headings to distinguish between sections of content and between titles and body text?
3. Focus on the main features.
Complaints and subsequent enforcement of accessibility requirements tend to focus on the primary functionality of an online service or website. When considering adopting a technology new to your district or institution or posting new content to your website, always require conformance to the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines. For your existing web content however, focus your remediation activity on the primary features that a student, parent, or teacher would be required to interact with for a course or to participate in a school activity.