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City Hall building - municipal website ADA Sect 508 compliance testing

Municipalities Prepare for Website Accessibility Mandates

Dave Gibson

Web Accessibility is most crucial at the local city government level. Its here that people with disabilities go to get basic information about jobs, voting, taxes, transportation, and other basic municipal services that all citizens have a right to access without barriers. Recently in January, the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board issued their final rule under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requiring all federal websites and digital content conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) level AA.

The web accessibility requirement isn't new to section 508, but the ruling clarifies the guidelines (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)) for public municipalities, schools, and organizations. It also sets a new schedule for compliance: only 12 months. In the public sector, that's not much time, and there's a lot of work to be done.

A Dec 2016 survey conducted by the digital firm Vision revealed that of the 436 municipalities that participated, 9 out of 10 reported that they have  moderate, weak, or no knowledge of federal web accessibility requirements. So there's an awareness gap of both the legal and moral responsibility of Government to provide web content without barriers - even though Section 508 and its requirements for digital accessibility have been known for 20 years.

Of course, ignorance of the law, is no defense in court, and increasingly individuals, activists, and the DOJ are using the course to enforce the law. 

So what is the path for public sector web and IT managers? The first step is to conduct a thorough audit to understand the extent of the situation. Here, its important to get thorough reporting - which won't come with free or low-end testing software. Its recommended to work with a consultant with such expertise. The consultant should also be able to help you establish an accessibility policy, and a plan for either remediation of the existing site, or to properly guide a redesign.