Website Accessibility for School District Communicators

Awoman gives the thumbs up. To her left are accessibility icons.

 Your school district’s websites should be accessible to all website visitors, especially those who need accessibility tools to browse the internet. Here’s what you should know about website accessibility as a school district communicator. 

Your school district’s websites should be accessible to all visitors, especially those who can’t see or can’t use a mouse. Your school district is responsible (and perhaps even legally required) to ensure your online content is accessible. Website accessibility is tremendously complex, and it can be overwhelming to know where to start.

When it comes to school district websites, website accessibility compliance falls into two categories: what needs to be done by the website developer and what needs to be done by content editors adding and updating content on the website.

A magnifying glass sits on the bottom right hand side of a webpage. There's an accessibly icon in the magnifying glass.

What is website accessibility? 

Website accessibility is highly complex and technical. There are international guidelines to ensure that websites are accessible to all visitors, called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines work to ensure that anyone, of any ability, can access information online. 

Not every person navigates the internet in the same way. Fifteen percent of the world’s population is affected by some form of disability, which could impact the ability to use a computer the same way as a visitor of full ability. These visitors have specialized tools that help them access information on a website - as long as the website is developed with these tools in mind. 

Accessibility tools use the website’s code to present content to visitors in a way they prefer: a different font for people with dyslexia or high-contrast colours for those with vision impairments. People who use accessibility tools will have their preferences and tools set up to their needs so they can easily browse the internet. These tools are designed to interact with your website’s code, as set by your developer.

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Why does website accessibility matter?

If someone uses a wheelchair, can they still navigate through your schools? Likely, your district has added ramps or elevators to ensure these people can still access offices, classrooms, and program space. Why would your websites be any different? 

We don’t all navigate through websites in the same way, but that doesn’t mean that those members of your community should be excluded from accessing your website’s content. Too often, website visitors who rely on assistive technology can't access sections of a website or get trapped in one part with no way to exit because their needs were not considered when the website was built.

Depending on where your school district is located, you might have a legal requirement to ensure that these visitors can access your district’s website content. More than that, most accessibility requirements follow the best practices for creating a positive user experience on your website - meaning they make your websites better for all users.

A woman with a laptop sits at a table. She's giving the thumbs up and there's a check box by the computer.

What’s Done by the Website Provider

When choosing a website developer for your school district, ensure you choose one offering accessible websites. A good website developer considers accessibility needs right from the start and builds accessibility requirements into their Content Management System (CMS). Your web developer should ensure that the website is coded correctly so that website visitors can use accessibility tools easily on the website. This includes the ability for visitors’ tools to reformat content, change fonts, use a screen reader, have keyboard navigation, and more. While many of these details are technical, a capable developer ensures your website is compatible with all of these accessibility tools. Here are some common features that impact a website’s accessibility: 

Consistent, user-focused navigation is a huge part of website accessibility. Consider how users find pages on your website: 

  • They look for a page name in your menu.
  • They see a page name displayed clearly at the top of each page.
  • They can read the page names easily in their browser tabs.

Your web developer's responsibility is to ensure page names are delivered in these readable, consistent ways all across your websites. This makes the user experience better for everyone, but it's important for visitors using assistive technology to read your website.

Your URLs should also be friendly and reflect the page they refer to. For example, at a glance, you can see that will take you to our blog page. It’s common to see a long string of characters and numbers following a domain, making it impossible to guess which page the URL refers to.

We know schools and school districts love an image carousel. While they seem like a great way to get content in front of visitors, they often hide important content and can create accessibility barriers. People read at different speeds, and it can be very frustrating for anyone with a reading disability to read through text on a carousel before it changes. They'll leave your website if there's no way to pause the carousel or flip through the images. This is why many website providers don’t recommend carousels - they’re not very effective at communicating information, and some visitors can’t engage with them. Only put an image carousel (or other moving content) on your website if visitors can control it themselves.

Your developer should also consider accessibility in the website’s design. Proper contrast between different colours makes the content easier for visitors to read.  A professional designer will choose colours that make it easy for all visitors to see your content and ensure that an inquisitive web admin can't accidentally change those colours.

We could list many requirements here, but as a school district communicator, ensure you’re checking with your website provider if their websites meet the current accessibility standard: WCAG  2.1 Level AA. We recommend using a third-party tool, like Google Lighthouse, for automated accessibility testing rather than a developer’s built-in solution that might not show some development errors. While automated tools like Google Lighthouse are great for identifying lots of common accessibility issues, many WCAG guidelines have to be tested manually. A good web developer knows how to test for possible issues that automated scanners will miss.

While you can find many products or overlays that claim to make outdated websites accessible, these products can interfere with the tools users with disabilities already rely on. There is no substitute for building your websites to be accessible right from the start.

Learn More!

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What Content Editors have to do 

Your content also has to be accessible to visitors, and if you or your school webmasters add or update content on your websites, that means you could be unintentionally adding inaccessible content. We see this often regarding images, links, and forms on school district websites.

If someone can't see, they may use an accessibility tool to read online content aloud. But how do you read an image? These accessibility tools can't pick up any text included in a PNG or JPG file. When adding images to your website, always ensure they're not full of important text. 

Alternate Text Descriptions for images are really important. If a visitor uses a screen reader to access content, it will use the alt text to describe the image. If there’s no alt text provided, there won’t be any information for that person (and alt text provided by an AI might not be accurate either). See if your website developer has a setting to make alt text mandatory, so this important step is remembered. 

Learn more about image best practices!

School and school district websites contain  links to other schools, the district, and external websites. But how many of those links are clearly labelled for their destination? If your links are simply a “Click Here” hyperlink, it won’t be clear where that link goes to visitors using a screen reader.

If your school or district websites have forms, label the form fields. Otherwise, visitors with visual, reading, or cognitive impairments could need clarification about what content they’re supposed to provide for the form. 

Using headers and page titles properly keeps your websites accessible to all visitors.  Read more about different ways to make websites accessible

Your school district should have websites accessible to all visitors, even those who use assistive tools to access information online. We hope you have a better understanding of what website accessibility is, why it’s important, how your website provider should be supporting accessibility, and how your end-users can keep content accessible in your district!