Is your board’s public-facing website compliant with the ADA accessibility requirements governing governmental entities? “Of course!” Many who answer that way grossly underestimate the scope, intricacy, and evolution of the regulations by which they are bound. It’s time to get the facts about ADA requirements; informed compliance can stave off the humiliation and expense of an investigation or lawsuit. Getting ADA-compliant board software is an essential part of the solution, but beware: some brands suffer from the same problem of overconfidence. A sound compliance plan relies on cutting-edge software that actually achieves the compliance of which others merely boast.
How Hard Can It Be?
The honest answer: Harder than you realize. The regulations require public boards to anticipate a number of manual, cognitive, or sensory disabilities and anticipate multiple adaptations to each; only then are their sites fully navigable and comprehensible. A partial list of common adaptations to software includes a text-to-speech feature, high-contrast themes, skip-to-content and skip-to-menu links, enlarged cursors, closed captioning of video, visual cues, keyboard shortcuts, and sticky keys (Jones).
What’s more, the rules keep changing. Section 508, a pillar of regulations, began as a 1986 amendment to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. It has undergone numerous iterations prior to its reworking last year, and it’s only one of the relevant regulations. Compliance calls for more than technical capability; to keep up with fast-changing details coming out of Washington, it’s necessary to keep a finger on the pulse of the political machinations driving future changes.
Rather than hire legal teams and IT staff to track the twists and turns of these developing rules, most boards effectively outsource the work of compliance by requiring their software providers to demonstrate compliance – as part of a broader process of cleaning house internally. Because no third-party certification of perfect compliance is yet available, some software also falls short of regulations without realizing it.
Because it is a more complex task than it first appears, some software vendors think they are compliant, claim to be compliant, and – well – aren’t compliant. Many board portals that claim to be compliant, for instance, lack these required features:
BoardDocs is in complete compliance with the most respected international standards: not only WCAG 2.0, but WCAG 2.0 Level II and WCAG 2.0 Level III. (WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.)
It is imperative to look for software from companies that are themselves deeply engaged with the ADA, even anticipating next-generation requirements. BoardDocs works right alongside the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Health and Human Services as they develop the rules. It’s no surprise that they are right on top of the nuances that others miss.
Why Does It Matter?
The risks of non-compliance are many. Speaking to the spirit of the law, a non-compliant board risks excluding a person with a disability from having equal access to the materials on the board portal: meeting agendas, archived documents, video footage, and meeting minutes. That exclusion could keep your organization from attracting top talent, it could mar your good name with evidence of insensitivity, and it could put you on the wrong side of the law. Recent enforcement activity suggests a climate of rising legal accountability.
School districts have seen the strongest increase in enforcement measures, but the regulations enforced apply to all state and local agencies and any organization receiving federal funding (Samuel). Entities found in violation of the regulations face either lawsuits by affected citizens or – increasingly – administrative investigations by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Justice. In either case, organizations found non-compliant are forced to implement a plan that is much better applied pre-emptively without a humiliating infraction.
Seattle Public Schools faced an embarrassing lawsuit when a blind mother of three successfully charged them with providing unequal access, as she could not help her children with math homework (Cooper). As part of the settlement that ensued, Seattle agreed to:
Similar settlements have characterized the far more numerous cases of administrative investigation. South Carolina charter schools made comparable concessions, adding a promise of regular compliance reports and training for staff on accessibility. Others have agreed to add language to contracts requiring vendors to provide detailed information about how their products and services comply with federal laws. In 2016, the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice was conducting 350 such investigations.
How to Comply
A sophisticated portal provider goes a long way towards keeping a website compliant. Users still need to check their content once it is posted in regular audits. Other tips for bringing your board into compliance are:
Smart boards will center their compliance on software from a company that actually knows the legal and technical standards of the ADA inside and out. Full ADA compliance will make your board management software a showpiece of broadened transparency and outstanding community relations – rather than a public relations nightmare.
Jay Cooper, “School Web Accessibility Starts with ADA and 508 Compliance,” Campus Suite July 27, 2015.
“What is a Cross-Device Compatible Website?” Designs Magazine www.designsmag.com.
Andy Jones, , “Department of Education Increases Investigations in Website Compliance with ADA,” Legal News Lineup May 25, 2016.
Christina Samuel, “South Carolina Charters Agree to Accessibility Changes after Federal Investigation,” Education Week March 20, 2014.
Steve Williams, “How to Make an ADA-Compliant School Website,” Campus Suite Nov. 7, 2016.