May 15, 2019

What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Website Accessibility

You may have already put a lot of work into making your school or district website accessible for visitors with disabilities—but what about the webpages maintained by teachers? Class webpages contain some of the most important information that students and parents need to fully participate in the day-to-day life of the school. A school website accessibility plan needs to include teachers and the class pages they control. 

Teacher Class Pages and Website Accessibility 

School website accessibility has become an increasingly important issue for educational equity. As more information and resources are provided exclusively online, it is critical to make sure that everyone who needs them is able to access them. 

 Increasingly, the work of maintaining webpages and disseminating school information online has been decentralized. Rather than having a single webmaster controlling information, many districts have empowered and encouraged teachers to maintain their own individual pages. 

Teachers use class pages for different purposes. For some, it is simply a place to introduce themselves and the class, post the class syllabus and expectations, and link to a permanent cache of online resources that students or parents may find helpful. For others, the class page is a living hub for the classroom. These teachers post information about upcoming assignments, exams and events; provide online or downloadable homework assignments and study guides; and share current classroom news and announcements.  

Regardless of which approach teachers use, they need to understand that the class webpage is part of the educational experience for their students. As such, all of the information posted on it needs to be fully accessible for students and families. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require schools to ensure that all students and families can fully participate in all of the services, programs, and activities of the school. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has interpreted these requirements to include school websites and other online resources. 

It's important for teachers to remember that these requirements apply to family members as well as the students themselves. Even if teachers are 100% sure that none of their students have disabilities that impact their ability to access material on the webpage, they need to consider that parents and family members may have limitations that teachers are not aware of. Website accessibility is something every teacher who maintains an individual class page needs to consider. 

Six Easy Website Accessibility Tips for Teachers

Fortunately, teachers do not have to become experts in website accessibility or WCAG 2.0 content accessibility guidelines to improve the accessibility of their webpages. There are a few simple steps teachers can take that will address the most common accessibility problems. 

Teachers should understand the basic objective of accessibility: that all visitors to their page should be able to get the same information, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. Here are a few simple website accessibility steps that can make a big difference for visitors with disabilities. 

  1. Make proper use of headings to help people using screen readers understand the structure of the page. Don't use headings just as design shortcuts; make sure your H1, H2 and H3 tags reflect the organization of the page. 

  2. Use high-contrast designs for people with low visual acuity or color blindness. Dark text on a light background is easiest to read; avoid designs with text reversed (e.g., white text on a black background) or without sufficient contrast (e.g., red text on a blue background). 

  3. Add alt-text for images to make this content accessible to people using screen readers. Make sure the text is simple and descriptive for people who can't see the images themselves. 

  4.  If you're using audio or video content, make sure you have a transcript for people with auditory disabilities. 

  5. If you're using a PDF, make sure it is an accessible PDF. Accessible PDFs use tags and navigation aids that make them readable by search engines and screen readers. 

  6. Use descriptive links (not just "click here!") for linked documents and resources so that people using screen readers know what to expect when they click. 

How Schools and Districts Can Help Teachers Ensure Accessibility 

Teachers can't be responsible for website accessibility on their own. Schools and districts need to make sure that they have the tools and knowledge they need to create content on their class pages that is accessible for everyone. Here's how school and district leaders can help. 

Make sure all teachers are using the same CMS platform and have pages that can be directly accessed from the school's main site. Many teachers create their own class pages using free web resources. These pages often do not have the back-end tools needed for website accessibility and may not follow the school's design and branding guidelines. If they are not connected to the school's main site, it is harder for students and families to find them in the first place.  

Make sure the CMS you are using has built-in website accessibility features to help people using screen readers or keyboard navigation. These may include ARIA landmarking, keyboard navigation features, and content creation tools that support appropriate use of headers and alt-text. 

If you have the ability to set design themes, create a high-contrast theme that all teachers can plug their content into. This will ensure visual and brand continuity across all of the webpages and promote best practices in webpage design. 

 Make sure teachers are aware of the basics of ADA and 508 compliance for websites and have the knowledge and training they need to use the accessibility tools they have available to them. They don't need to be accessibility experts; they just need a few basic tactics to make their class pages more accessible for all users. 

Beyond Teachers: Don't Forget Coaches, Advisors and Department Heads!

Teachers aren't the only ones who can benefit from increased awareness of website accessibility. Coaches, students club advisors, department heads, and anyone else maintaining individual class or group pages should all follow best practices in website accessibility.

School website accessibility is a group effort. Everyone in the school who is creating their own web content has a responsibility to ensure that their content is accessible for everyone on the school community, regardless of disability. 

With the right CMS, this doesn't have to be hard. That's why eChalk websites have built-in tools that make accessible websites easy to build and maintain. 

Need help with school website accessibility? Contact us to learn more!