As unpredictable and stressful as these past few years have been for everyone, for government workers, there may be one notable silver lining. For the first time, many governments that were solely functioning in an in-person capacity were forced to switch to a paperless, internet based remote capacity.
Yet, despite this amazing digital transformation of local governments, many municipal websites still look dated. Obsolete websites are relics of the era before digital government, and oftentimes continued reliance on them does a disservice to building your local government's credibility, flexibility, and civic engagement. Meanwhile, the American Disabilities Act mandates that government websites meet specific criteria so that a website is easy to navigate for ALL constituents. Failure to provide digital accessibility for all could result in a lawsuit from the Department of Justice.
But what does the ADA require? And how can your local government make improvements to your website to make it better looking, easier to navigate, and provide more effective communication? Follow along for your everything you need to know guide on ADA compliance standards.
What is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act is a law that has been repurposed over the years with the intention of ensuring that disabled people are not discriminated against, “in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.”
If a public entity fails to make a disabled community member feel included, they can file an ADA complaint which will get passed to DOJ regulators and could result in a legal case being brought forward.
What does the ADA have to do with my government website?
While your local government has likely considered the ADA in many aspects of your physical infrastructure such as ramp requirements, many localities have overlooked the importance of web accessibility for disabled constituents. Failure to comply by standards for disabled community members with hearing or visual disabilities could result in legal troubles for your local government.
Generally, past ADA lawsuits have been brought against private organizations and public entities as a result of not meeting the website standards laid out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
How to make a website ADA compliant?
As mentioned above, the WCAG guidelines provide great insights into how to make your website navigation experience a positive one for people with visual or hearing disabilities.
WCAG breaks down website compliance action items into the following categories:
Level A Compliance: The site meets a few of the overall ada compliance requirements for websites, but does not have a holistic approach to website accessibility.
Level AA Compliance: The most vital aspects of disabled accessibility are met.
Level AAA Compliance: The website goes above and beyond at providing accessibility to the disabled (note: it is not always feasible to expect every landing page to meet these top standards)
Let’s take a look at some of the most important best practices and how you can check them off your ADA website compliance checklist (Note: each action item falls into one of the 3 compliance categories, broken down by how difficult it is to accomplish said item):
1. Helpful Page Titles and Subheadings - Level A
The main title on your page (otherwise known as the H1 heading), page title tag (the title that appears on Google), and subheadings on the landing page should all be descriptive about what the page is about.
For example, for a web page dedicated to your local clerk's office, a good H1 would be “Middletown, NJ Clerk’s Office.” Throughout the page, make sure the subheadings are straight forward too. For example, if there’s a subsection about directions of how to get to the Clerk’s Office, make the subheading for that section “Directions to the Middletown, NJ Clerk’s Office” rather than just “Directions.”
Implementing proper headings and title tags should be straightforward on your Content management systems (CMS).
2. Alternative Text - Level A
Alternative text (otherwise known as alt text) is a written description of an image that is meant to provide people with visual impairments with an idea of the image’s purpose. For example, if you had a picture of your local court on your website, your alt text may say, “Middletown Courthouse, located at 123 Main St, Middletown, NJ.”
Content management systems (CMS) like WordPress or HubSpot offer easy to use tools for adding alt text to your images. Once the alternative text is added to the site, those with visual impairments will be able to listen to a soundbite of the written text (note: this process is also considered an SEO best practice, meaning you’ll be able to improve your Google rankings for relevant searches too!)
3. Use Bold Colors - Level A
Visually impaired constituents may have a tough time seeing your website if you make poor choices for your background and text colors. Use bold, user-friendly colors that will make it easier for anyone (including someone with color blindness or other visual challenges) to navigate through your website.
4. Use Simple Writing - Level A
When writing webpage content, focus on using simple, easy to understand language so that people of all reading levels can learn important information from their local government.
5. Give People the Option to Increase Text Size - Level A
For many, small text is impossible to read. As a result, the WCAG suggests, “Except for captions and images of text, text [should] be resized without assistive technology up to 200 percent without loss of content or functionality.”
Make sure constituents have the option to increase the text size directly from your website.
6. Add Captions to Videos & Live Streams - Level A + Level AA
For videos or audio content posted to your website, it is considered a level A best practice to include accurate, easy to see closed captioning. For any live streams your local government might put on like an online real estate auction or press conference, it is considered level AA compliant to include closed captions.
7. Website is Easy to Navigate - Level AA
It is vital for all users of your government website to be able to get to what they’re looking for quickly. Make sure you website layout is simple enough that anyone can easily find relevant forms or documents.
Keep in mind, if government management software is built into your website for doing things like filing permits and filing for pet licenses, it should be designed to be intuitive and easy for both constituents and government workers. This means that pdf documents should be replaced by end-to-end digital forms
8. No Restrictions on Page Orientation - Level AA
Unless a page absolutely needs to fit within a certain page orientation, users should be able to access from multiple display orientations (think horizontal for iPad / phone users and landscape for desktop users)
9. Take Precautions to Prevent Seizures - Level AAA
Avoid using more than three flashes in a video on the site and refrain from using motion animations unless necessary to prevent seizures from occurring. If you do use a flash, make sure it is at a brightness level that doesn't pose a risk for seizure prone constituents.
10. Use Straightforward Text to Link Elsewhere - Level AAA
When a link is added to a landing page, the hyperlinked text (otherwise known as anchor text) should be descriptive and straightforward regarding where the page links to. For example, if you’re linking from a web page to a different landing page for filing construction permits, make the anchor text, “file construction permits.”
What Are ADA Complaints? What Does It Mean If Your Local Government receives one
Failure to meet the basic requirements of ADA web compliance means that your local government might run into some issues if someone complains. An ADA complaint is when a disabled person files a claim of discrimination with the Department of Justice against a public entity for failing to meet ADA standards.
Once the Justice Department gets involved, the complaint may lead to an ADA mediation to try to alleviate the issue at hand, or the complaint may be passed along to an investigator and a lawsuit might unfold.
Your best bet is to be as ADA compliant as possible to begin with, some that disabled people don’t feel discriminated against using your government website, and timely and expensive website accessibility lawsuits or mediations can be avoided.
How Can Government Software Help with ADA Compliance?
When municipalities sign up for government management software like GovPilot, the intuitive system is immediately implemented onto your government website. Depending on which modules you select, you can allow constituents to file relevant paperwork quickly and easily from the comfort of their computer or phone. The strategic design of the software is intended to make sure the system is easy to navigate for everyone involved, so that no constituents will have an issue using your website.
To learn more about the benefits of government management software, schedule a consultation.
ADA Website Compliance FAQS
1. What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is federal US legislation passed with the intention of preventing discrimination against the disabled from entities such as municipalities, schools, and businesses that have spaces open to the public.
For local governments, that means ensuring that local physical and IT infrastructure meet the standards outlined in the ADA text.
2. What is ADA Compliance?
Complying with ADA means meeting the standards outline to prevent discrimination against the disabled. For government websites, localities are instructed to follow the best practices outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
3. What are some of the ADA best practices for government websites?
The rules outlined in the ADA website guidance essentially encourage governments to make their website simple to navigate and non-discriminatory. That means having a straight-forward website architecture, alt text for images, closed captioning, and bold colors can ensure that your site is compliant.
4. What happens if my local government website fails to be compliant?
If your local government fails to address the ADA and a disabled person feels discriminated against, they can file an ADA complaint with the Department of Justice. Once the Justice Department reviews the complaint, they may file for an ADA mediation or bring forward a discrimination lawsuit against your local government.