RANCHO CORDOVA, CALIF. — Rancho Cordova, a city with a population of about 68,500 located 10 miles from downtown Sacramento, has been thinking a lot about accessibility this last year. That included paying special attention to the city’s website, which was redesigned and launched earlier this month.
It’s something a lot of local governments are just starting to think about with updated Federal accessibility requirements coming later this year.
We’ve internally had a lot of discussions about accessibility,” says Ashley Downton, communications specialist with the city. But website accessibility “wasn’t something that was on the local city radar.”
That changed for Rancho Cordova when it named an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator last year to help the city comply with disability regulations in all municipal aspects. That’s when city administrators learned that its website, which received 100,000 site visits in the past six months, was an area that it needed to make more accessible, says Downton.
Compliance & Best Practices
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 data revealed that one in five Americans have disabilities1. Proposed updates to Information and Communication Technology Standards and Guidelines are expected to now require municipal websites to meet modern accessibility standards. Previously, rules focused on Federal websites. An update to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has been in the works since 2006, along with accessibility updates to the Telecommunications Act. The public comment period occurred last year and industry insiders anticipate that the U.S. Access Board, the Federal body managing the refresh, will publish the revised rule this October2.
Municipalities and others will have six months to comply.
According to El Segundo-based Vision Technology Solutions, LLC, local government leaders need some guidance making online civic services—such as paying utility bills, registering for programs and weighing in on community issues—accessible to all. The company’s recent survey of local government leaders showed that most surveyed do not know about the new website accessibility requirements that are coming.
After learning about the requirements, Rancho Cordova began working with Vision to look critically at its existing website through the lens of a user experience analysis. The analysis included looking for alignment with accessibility best practices outlined in the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These accessibility standards “are a bit higher,” says Downton.
Through the user analysis, surveys, heat maps, interviews and other usability measures revealed gaps and informed the city’s website redesign. The process advised the city on how to accommodate users that have vision and hearing impairments, for example.
“The justification for the ‘why’ before we talked about the ‘what’ made the case,” says Downton.
Costs of Accessible Websites
Rancho Cordova spent about $60,000 for analysis and full website redesign with Vision, which also included production of the city’s new economic development subsite, says Downton.
Ongoing costs for Vision’s proprietary .NET-based content management system (CMS) along with updating, tech support and data storage costs about $6,600 per year.
Accessibility is on a continuum. In a lot of ways the cost depends on how far the city wants to go,” explains Ashley Freuchting, Vision’s senior director of strategic initiatives.
With Vision’s 6th generation CMS designed for government, there is no additional cost for development, but in other CMS packages there could be some coding requirements to update websites for accessibility features, she says.
Maintaining Website Accessibility
The real challenge in developing an accessible municipal website, however, is not technical, according Freuchting. It’s fostering a mindset—how you maintain website accessibility once the technology is in place.
“There are so many elements that have to do with adding information to the system,” she says. Vision is developing resources for managing ADA-compliance content, including a guide and ongoing training sessions in content development for local government clients.
Being on the cutting edge of the accessibility requirements local government will be facing later this year gives Downton a lot of confidence in maintaining her city’s website going forward.
“What I learned is that accessibility is really a work in progress,” she says.
For Freuchting, “it’s exciting to see that shift in local government,” she says. That shift is evidenced by the Federal government pursuing actions for websites that do not meet current Section 508 standards.
“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” she says.
Resource Tip: Try Free Automated Accessibility Checkers
Automated accessibility checkers are tools that scan your website to identify any accessibility issues, advises Freuchting.
If there isn’t one built into your content management system, there are a number of free and paid versions available, she says. Paste a URL into the following free engines, and they will generate a report for that page: