Web Accessibility Matters to Independent Schools, Too

What are the best practices for web accessibility? This repost by Hadley Rosen, Finalsite's Director of Communications, details why it's important to consider web access from all perspectives, including those with physical disabilities.  From Finalsite, July 11, 2018.

[10-minute read]

Web accessibility aims to equalize site usability for the nearly estimated 12 to 20 percent of Americans with disabilities such as color blindness and low vision, hearing loss and deafness, dyslexia, and more. Supported by federal regulations that include the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are more than two hundred specific requirements in the recently updated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1), an updated repository of technical details that designers use to bring their website into conformance.  

WCAG 2.1 was released in June 2018, following the release of WCAG 2.0. As of right now, public school districts are only required to meet WCAG 2.0, while state and government agencies must begin efforts to adhere to WCAG 2.1. In both cases, the mandate is clear: all websites must adhere to the WCAG guidelines or risk Office of Civil Rights complaints and possible lawsuits.

But for independent schools, there have been more questions, including: do these rules apply even though we don’t receive federal funds? How will we do this when we have a small team? Can we afford this? Can we afford not to do this and take our chances?

taft website in laptop on desk with ipad
After hearing these concerns, we partnered with AudioEye, the leader in web accessibility, and have worked closely with their team over the past year and a half to understand independent schools’ unique needs and how accessibility fits with their missions and philosophies about learning and access to information.

Ty D’Amore, AudioEye’s Director of Strategic Partnership shared, “Accessibility isn’t just about the threat of litigation. Independent schools are leaders in their communities, and web access for all is about human rights. Just like schools provide ramps for wheelchairs or parking for those with physical disabilities, they need to ensure that they’re being inclusive in their digital environment as well.”

And while schools may think that their student populations don’t need accessible websites, parents, grandparents, alumni, and community members certainly will. To date, more than 84 independent schools, public school districts and colleges in the FinalSite family have signed on to make their sites accessible — with quite a few of those being forward-leaning independent schools.

Because web accessibility isn’t mandatory for independent schools like it is for public school districts and some universities, we reached out to three of our early adopters at independent schools to understand why and how they are prioritizing web accessibility.

“We understand the importance of being able to offer an inclusive experience for all users.”

Taft School is a well-known boarding school with over six hundred students enrolled from more than thirty states and forty countries. Their recently launched best-in-class site offers an inclusive experience for all users.

The topic of accessibility came up in discussion around this time last year as Kaitlin Orfitelli, Director of Marketing and Communications at the school, recently shared.

“We understand the importance of being able to offer an inclusive experience for all users visiting our website regardless of where they were visiting from, while at the same time assure we were as legally compliant as well,” said Kaitlin. “Parents and family members want to be able to go to our website and understand it, so having it be accessible is important and helps improve their user experience on our site.”

Taft website certification


Kaitlin simply reached out to her Client Success Manager Anthony Tata to learn more about their options and the best vendor to go with — AudioEye. Since then, Kaitlin applauded the teams at Finalsite and AudioEye for making the transition to accessibility as seamless as possible.

"Working with AudioEye on the Finalsite platform just makes sense," said Kaitlin. "Implementing the Ally toolbar on our website has been a simple and painless process. If any issues arise, we are able to rely on the accessibility support teams at Finalsite and AudioEye to help."

We look forward to working with Taft School as they continue to improve the accessibility on their website through photos, videos, and more!

“We wanted to do the right thing from the start.”

Shana Stalker, Director of Communications for Salisbury School, had a big project on her hands when she undertook redesigning the school’s site and making the move from Finalsite’s legacy CMS, Page Manager, to Composer this year. As part of a small team managing communications for this prestigious boarding school, her time is understandably limited. The confluence of the site’s redesign and her own increasing awareness about accessibility and the tools offered by Finalsite and AudioEye, however, convinced her that she could undertake the project.

"There's no going back," said Shana. "When you learn about making your website accessible, you want to do the right thing. And with our redesign happening, we could really do everything the right way from the start."

Adding AudioEye’s managed services, including the Ally Toolbar that assists site visitors with creating a custom usability experience, auto-remediation of accessibility errors, and dedicated accessibility engineers manually remediating more complicated issues, made the process easy since it is hands-off for the team at Salisbury.

Salisbury School AudioEye Help Desk


“The process was simple, and they made it easy for our small team,” said Shana. “Now, we’re doing the right thing right out of the gate, and have built accessibility in as part of the way our site works, and can execute on those best practices from now on.”

Their new website is planned to launch in early 2019, but site visitors don’t need to wait until then to have a more accessible site experience: AudioEye’s Compliance Accelerator has remediated issues on the current site (like alt-text on images, for example), and the Ally toolbar is displayed, giving visitors options to submit site feedback and letting them know that the site is currently in phase one of a three-step accessibility process.

“It is extremely important to us that our site is accessible to all.”

Bolles School has an enviable location and a stunning campus—in fact, Architectural Digest has named them as the most beautiful private high school in Florida! Their website provides an incredible experience, and accessibility was central to their school’s philosophy.

bolles website homepage


“As with most organizations with an online presence, it is extremely important to us that our site is accessible and of use to all,” said John Curran, Web and Communications Associate at the school.

“As such, we have become increasingly aware of the needs to be accessible and comply with ADA guidelines. While we have been aware of these needs over the last few years with basic items like alt tags on photos, we understood the importance of diving deeper into the topic to ensure we were meeting all standards in ADA compliance and reaching all audiences who may be interested in our school or a current member of our community.”

After attending FinalsiteU in 2017 and speaking with his Finalsite client success manager and to another Finalsite client who had worked with AudioEye, Jon and his colleague Jan Olson, the school’s Senior Director of Communications and Marketing, felt that it was the right time to delve into accessibility.

Similar to Salisbury School, the timing coincided with Bolles’ complete website redesign and once they signed up with AudioEye, “the implementation was fairly hands-off on our end,” said Jon.

"Finalsite worked with AudioEye and kept us updated over the phases of implementation," said John. "Now with it fully implemented, we have the confidence that our site is compliant and accessible, providing a certificate of compliance and the toolbar for any of our visitors who may need it." 

With options for a customizable site reader and player from the Ally toolbar, every site visitor is sure to have an awesome, optimized experience.

Bolles Website Reader


Key Takeaway

While ADA compliance is about conforming to the laws and regulations set forth by the federal government, web accessibility is a strategic initiative that improves the online experience for your entire community. These three independent schools are paving the way for what's next in the industry for everyone — not just public schools.

click here to learn more about AudioEye


Hadley is Finalsite's Director of Communications and is a former independent school teacher, fundraiser and marketing director with a passion for cooking, travel, and spending time outdoors with her growing family. She founded the FinalsiteFM podcast network and enjoys meeting Finalsite clients from around the world.

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