In a settlement agreement announced last Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Justice, McClennan County, Texas will improve
all aspects of civic life for people with disabilities. As part of the agreement, McLennan County will make its website accessible to people with disabilities.
According to the settlement agreement, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found McLennan County violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), specifically Title II, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local governments.
What McLennan County Agrees To Do
Within one month of the agreement, McLennan County agrees to:
- Designate an employee as the web accessibility coordinator for the County
- Hire an independent consultant to develop and construct a new County website. The independent consultant will be knowledgeable about accessible web development, Title II of the ADA, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, and will conduct the annual web accessibility evaluation.
Within six months of the agreement, McLennan County agrees to:
- Adopt, implement, and post online a policy that web pages will comply with WCAG 2.0 AA
- Distribute the policy to all contractors and employees who work on the website, including those who design, develop, write content, provide customer service or technical support
- Provide training for website content personnel on how to conform content and services with, at a minimum, WCAG 2.0 AA and Title II
- Assess all existing web content and online services for conformance with, at minimum, WCAG 2.0 AA, by conducting automated accessibility tests of the website and all online services, using an automated tool approved by the United States
- Provide notice
prominently and directly linkedto their website home page on how to request accessible information. The notice will provide different methods of feedback, including email address and toll-free number with teletypewriter (TTY).
- Provide notice, prominently and directly linked to their website home page soliciting feedback from visitors on how website accessibility can be improved. The notice will provide different methods of feedback, including email address and toll-free number (with TTY).
Deadline for Website
McLennan County needs to ensure conformance to WCAG 2.0 AA for its website by November 18, 2016.
- Within 12 months of the agreement, the County will enlist people with different disabilities, at a minimum, those who are blind, deaf, or have physical disabilities to test all pages for ease of use and barriers to access
- The County will bear all expenses of hiring the independent contractor, regardless of the outcome
- All proposed online services will be assessed for accessibility conformance before they are publicly launched, by conducting automated accessibility tests. Testing will be performed using an automated tool approved by the United States, to identify accessibility barriers.
- The County will enlist people with different disabilities, at a minimum, those who are blind, deaf, or have physical disabilities, to test online services for ease of use and barriers to access.
The agreement is effective November 18, 2015 and remains in effect for three years from that date.
What a Difference a Year Makes
What caught my attention were the differences in the McLennan agreement compared to the November 2014 DOJ agreement with grocer Peapod.
While the McLennan County agreement was brought under Title II, and therefore covers a wider range of accessibility issues for polling places, county offices, emergency operations, it was the aggressive deadlines for web accessibility in the agreement that I quickly noticed.
McLennan County has one month to designate a web accessibility coordinator and hire an independent contractor to work on building an accessible website to replace the existing website.
In November 2014, Peapod had 90 days to designate a web accessibility coordinator and hire an independent consultant to advise Peapod on conforming their website and mobile applications to WCAG 2.0 AA.
For the McLennan County agreement, the DOJ provides no details on how the current McLennan County website doesn’t conform to accessibility guidelines (which it did for Peapod).
Highlighting accessibility issues can help other city and state governments understand how their website can be improved.
Two Other Noticeable Items
The DOJ is requiring automated testing initially to assess WCAG 2.0 conformance. Most accessibility professionals agree you shouldn’t rely on automated testing for assessing accessibility; manual review by a person is required.
Though the agreement states individuals with disabilities will also assess the site for accessibility, it was the requirement that automated testing be done first that surprised me.
One thing I noticed about the McLennan County agreement with the DOJ that made me smile: it was published as HTML, not a PDF. Last year’s Peapod agreement was published as a PDF.
Trying to read a PDF on a mobile device is not a good user experience as you often need to pinch and zoom to navigate and read content. I’m glad to see the DOJ has made the change to HTML, a format that is accessible to more people and devices.