About ADA Compliance
By university policy and federal law, all School of Medicine websites used for official purposes must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other regulations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has increasingly been used as the basis of lawsuits against companies and organizations in regards to their websites, even though it was enacted years before the invention of the internet. As websites become more and more vital to the process of conducting any business with an organization, its easy to see why. Among many such lawsuits, in 2006, the Target corporation was sued for failing to comply with the ADA and they ended up setting out of court for $6 million dollars (and were forced to fix their website).
There are numerous sets of technical requirements that must be complied with in order to meet ADA compliance. Being in full compliance with these rules doesn't ensure an accessible website (that's what usability testing is for) but it's the necessary first step. The first set of rules is the “Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973”, more commonly referred to as just “Section 508.” These are the federal regulations that dictate how all government websites must be built. The Department of Education follows these rules closely and if your .EDU website fails to comply, the Department of Education can withhold all federal funding for the institution (including all federal student loans).
Taking Section 508 further is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium. Per University of Nevada, Reno policy, we insure that our websites meet WCAG 2.0 level AA on all pages.
One of the great things about using a CMS for website management is that most of the accessibility issues have already been dealt with for you. So instead of discussing all of the various issues with accessibility, this section of the Style Guide is just to highlight some of the important issues that you have to deal with as a content editor.
Many Different Disabilities
A common misconception with these regulations is that most people think that they are just about making websites usable to blind people. There are actually many different disability groups that are affected by these regulations ranging from people with motor skills issues who might use a mouth device to navigate the computer screen, to color blind students that can’t see red text on a green background. In short, the compliance with the ADA is simply the best way for us to effectively communicate with all of our faculty, staff, students, patients, and other users.
HTML Must Be Well Formed
Imagine building a house on a shaky foundation. It doesn't matter if you have granite counter tops in the kitchen if the building is going to fall over. Much is the same with meeting accessibility standards. You first must make sure that all the HTML elements on your page are "well formed" (aka "valid") before you can talk about being Section 508/WCAG compliant. The good news is that the CMS will correct most HTML errors when you are editing content. It may miss some errors (or if you have access to the HTML tool), it is possible to put in incorrectly formatted HTML. If you ever question if a page is valid or not, you can test it with the W3C Markup Validation Service.
The good news is that HTML errors are something that we search for and correct for you. The main reason we mention this is that on occasion, you might notice in history that we have edited a page but you can't tell what we did to it. That was often us correcting an HTML error on your page.
It's important to use the appropriate tags for the content you have. For example, lets say we want to create a bulleted or numeric list of items on our page. One way would be to simply put an asterisk/bullet character or number in front of each paragraph such as these:
• Item One
• Item Two
• Item Three
1. Item One
2. Item Two
3. Item Three
To the web browser, these look like paragraphs with a • or number in front of each, and not a list. HTML however has bulleted list type (UL) and numbered list type (OL) which will look something like this:
- Item One
- Item Two
- Item Three
- Item One
- Item Two
- Item Three
While the differences are subtle to our eyes, to the web browser they are very different things and using the appropriate tag for the job is important.
ADA and SEO
As an added bonus to meeting ADA compliance, most of the rules have other benefits, primarily with search engine optimization (SEO). The Google "Bot" that comes and checks our pages is essentially a blind and deaf user: it can't see or hear our web pages. So most of the items in this section will help with making it so users can more easily find our content via search engines (both external ones such as google.com, plus our internal site search which is also powered by Google).