Articles

    The Emperor's New Clothes: Accessibility for All to See

    By Gregg Turnbull

    %95.8 ADA compliant graphicToday, local government websites have become the most heavily utilized tool by cities and counties for outreach, engagement and two-way communication. Citizens visit the sites to stay in the know, provide feedback, and get access to services, while staff heavily rely on site-hosted tools to carry out their daily tasks. With communities’ increased reliance on their websites, it is more important than ever to ensure they can be accessed properly by all visitors. This includes the estimated 1 in 5 Americans with some form of disability - numbers rising as our population ages.

    A Quick Review of the Laws.

    The American with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title II prohibits state and local governments from discriminating based on a disability for ALL public services and programs. In addition, if the local government is a recipient of federal funds, Section 508 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, passed in 1998, requires local governments to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Litigation over accessibility is an ever-present risk for local governments. If Beyonce can get sued over an inaccessible website, so can you.

    The need for continuous site monitoring.

    Accessibility is tricky to attain when managing high page counts, and even more complex when department staff members are offered a seat at the web editors table. Content Management Systems (or CMSs) lower the tech hurdle to their participation. Luckily, tools are available to continually monitor your site for barriers to accessibility, such as Siteimprove or Monsido. At Larimer County we, as of this publication, have over 130 web editors who add and update content all hours of the day. We partner with Siteimprove to continually monitor and score the site for accessibility, quality and search engine optimization and have made great strides in bringing each score up. In the beginning, these scores were only visible to our staff. It seemed unfair (and anticlimactic) not to share with all, and thanks to Siteimprove’s API, that is what we did.

    Sharing our scores.

    Since the cries for government transparency echo just as loudly as those for accessible websites, we thought it made sense to share our Accessibility (and Quality) efforts in real-time. From start to finish, it took us roughly a week and a half to release a prototype of our Accessibility and Quality Assurance Dashboard, which has since gone through a few minor revisions. Siteimprove’s API is clean, rest based, and was easy to integrate into our site. In order to mimic Siteimprove’s internal graphs and visuals, we leaned on HighCharts scripting library. Since our site is built using Drupal, we built our dashboard using PHP. The code is a simple enough one-page script that could be modified or translated to another language if needed. If you are interested in reviewing the real-time dashboard, visit www.larimer.org/accessibility. If you are ready to dive into the code, we’ve released our PHP dashboard on Github. Note, the only items that require updates in the code are the API KEY and your SiteImprove SiteID. Hope this helps at least a few others to disrobe and share their accessibility and quality scores with the world.