Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are an internationally accepted set of guidelines developed by a group of web accessibility experts from all over the world. It provides step-by-step instructions on how to make each part of a website fully accessible, as well as explanations about the importance of each aspect. A website’s accessibility is ranked based on three WCAG conformance levels (A-AA-AAA). Your website will reach higher levels when you follow the design accessibility standards more closely. Level A is the minimum level and has some impact on design. Our research shows that nearly all (99%) school district websites have Level A issues and 85% of websites have 10 or more Level A issues.
We recommend striving to meet Level AA accessibility standards since it is either already or becoming legally required for all education institution websites across the US and Canada. This level includes all Level A requirements, too. Currently, 100% of school district websites are not meeting WCAG’s Level AA and nearly a third (31%) of all school districts have over 100 Level AA issues. Here are some ways to improve the overall design of your website so you can work towards achieving Level AA WCAG compliance.
Start by evaluating how well your website is meeting the WCAG compliance standards. There are a variety of free, online tools available that will score your accessibility and will identify where to focus your attention. For example, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) website will scan your website according to WCAG 2.0, allowing you to view errors by element type. You can also use AccessiBe to generate a report that scores you in a variety of categories and gives you a detailed breakdown of successes and failures.
Our research shows that nearly one-fifth (18%) of all school district websites are not using alternative text on all of their images. Furthermore, our findings show that 11% of all school district websites are not using web-friendly images. Alternative text is crucial for ensuring your site is accessible since visually impaired people often use descriptions for images and site readers use alt text to describe visual content. Beyond alt text, it’s important to improve the accessibility of your images by avoiding using images of words, ensuring there is sufficient contrast in the colors and avoiding overlapping text across images.
We found that 100% of all district websites have issues with their link text. Level A requires that all links have descriptive text to tell users where the link goes. People who use screen readers can generate an alphabetical list of links on your site to navigate to them, which means links that are generic or say “click here” reduce their accessibility. Our research shows that generic text is used on 41% of all sites we surveyed and “click here” links on another 3% of websites. To reach Level AA, you must also identify if the link will open into a new tab or window.
Consider that people who use speech recognition technology will be selecting your links with voice commands like “click” followed by the link text, thus you should always strive to use meaningful descriptions that are short and easy to say.
Your school or district’s website needs to offer visitors the option to view the content in the language of their choice. Since many schools have a multinational community of students, parents, and teachers, your website should provide this option right at the top of your site. Of all school district websites we surveyed, 30% do not have a Language option at the top of their homepage. We found that 18% did not present this option anywhere on their homepage. If you’re not already using one, we recommend switching to a CMS that has a language switching option available at the top of your homepage.
Improving the accessibility of the mobile version of your website has specific requirements. Our research shows that nearly 10% of all school district mobile websites have text that is too small to be legible, and another 10% have sites that are not optimized for mobile. Using the WCAG guidelines specific to mobile sites, here’s a list of areas to focus on to ensure your mobile site adheres to Level AA compliance:
Your website needs to resize for different screen sizes without losing the ability to see the content and navigate around the site
According to WCAG, requiring someone to scroll horizontally to view content can be difficult and reduce accessibility. We found that 10% of school district mobile sites have pages that do not fit the screen width, which means they are requiring users to scroll horizontally
Confirm that your site menus, social icons, gallery viewers, and other touch controls are usable. Test these features by trying to activate them using a range of screen, hand and stylus sizes
Your site visitors will require a large area to scroll without unintentionally activating interactive elements. Since your mobile site will be used on smaller screens, if the interactive elements (like links or buttons) are too close together, your users might have trouble navigating around your site. Particularly, this can be an accessibility problem for people with motor control issues
Your CMS should handle these issues, with the initial design and automatically in the background.
If you are looking for more information and steps you can take to improve the accessibility of your mobile site, we recommend visiting The A11y Project.
All of our tips in this blog post looked at how to improve the overall design of your website to meet WCAG Level AA compliance. Next, read about how to make the content of your website more accessible using our Accessibility Checklist. Based on the same WCAG requirements, we created the checklist specifically for you to refer to when creating new web pages, emails, social media posts, and course content. Making these adjustments to every new piece of content you publish will help improve the quality and usability of your site overall so that your audiences will have better success reading and engaging with your materials.
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