Chapter 4

As website design best practices have evolved, we've learned that design that's good for those with disabilities also happens to be good for those without. Makes sense, really. If people with disabilities can readily navigate, search and engage with your website, all your website visitors will benefit from these efficient design mandatories. Learn what makes for good design, and how to prevent and overcome some of the common obstacles to web accessibility.

Accessible design for good – and for all

Beyond helping those with disabilities, committing to website accessibility encourages good design practices that benefit those without disabilities.

Web accessibility is consistent with the design principles that make for good design. In just about every case, adaptations benefit nearly everyone. Well-organized content, logical navigation, captions and other features are welcomed by all. Transcripts, for example, of audio or video files, benefit not only the hearing impaired, for whom these accommodations are required. Re-examining navigation and semantic naming for pages/headers are just two examples of how everyone wins with accessible websites.

A focus on accessibility also promotes mobile content delivery and keeping pace with emerging AI technologies like audible driving directions and voice recognition programs.

While people with disabilities represent a relatively small portion of your school website visitors and users, they and their needs can serve as a catalyst for designing and maintaining a website that reflects your mission of serving your entire school community.


The percentage of the U.S. population that has a disability.

3 steps to ADA-compliant website design

Before jumping in to begin designing your new, fully accessible website, you need to first understand just where and what about your website is non-compliant. Most schools’ websites, for example, are loaded with PDFs that are not compliant; images that aren’t adequately described or searchable; not enough visual contrast on pages; videos without closed-captioning.


Follow a strategic design approach through by examining of your content; using the right tools on your website’s compliance; keeping a vigilant eye on your content, and keeping up to date with the knowledge and resources to manage the process.


1. Be strategic

In order for your website to be fully website accessible, you first need a shift in philosophy by school administration to embrace the obligation to serve every student, parent, staff and community member. As you begin the audit of your existing school website(s), brace yourself for what’s likely to be a minefield of compliance issues. When you consider that each and every menu, page, link, image, video, pdf, slide show and other component that comprises your site will need attention, the prospect of compliance may seem daunting.


2. Use the right tools.

There are a host of compliance evaluation tools available to check specific components of a typical web page. The W3C has a list of these ADA compliance checkers here. These tools help you examine the parts of a website that are most likely to be out of compliance:

  • Page title
  • Images
  • Headings
  • Menus
  • Contrast ratio
  • Text resizing flexibility
  • Keyboard access and visual focus
  • Forms, labels and error interaction
  • Multimedia
  • Basic structure



3. Tap the human element.

Another important way to gauge a website’s compliance is the human element. People themselves are great resources to use to check your site’s accessibility score.

Ask someone who is actually disabled to take a page for a ‘test drive’ and check pages or page elements. In addition to applying what you know about the issues that put a site out of compliance, people most affected by accessibility are usually more than willing to point out issues and help bring your site into compliance.

Few if any schools will have the in-house resources to tackle converting your website into full ADA compliance. Whether you’re fixing an existing website or starting anew, it’s critical that you build in the website accessibility requirement specifications. Your web development team and suppliers should have a solid understanding of accessibility and have the technical chops to satisfy your requirements.

The content management system (CMS) you choose will have a dramatic impact on how smoothly the process will be. Seek a CMS provider that is versed in understanding the complexities of identifying and resolving ADA-compliance issues and can help you build a website that serves everyone. Some CMS providers offer an accessibility management service that includes regular reporting, fixes and annual monitoring.

How to make web-based PDF documents ADA-compliant

You are required to publish a school website accessibility policy, so follow these steps to creating and publishing yours.

If your school is like most, you have hundreds or even thousands of PDF pages (yes, thousands) linked to your website. And just like your school website is required to be ADA compliant, your PDFs also are required by law to be accessible.

These PDFs, which typically provide important information like lunch menus and student handbooks, or gather information like medical or registration forms, PDFs are as much a part of school as the ABCs. Besides containing important info, however, they may also contain some barriers for those in your school community who have disabilities.

This section sets out to: give you a better understanding of what makes many PDF files unfriendly; provide options for creating accessible PDFs; and point you toward some helpful tools.


1. Identify the most common PDF ‘issues’

In order to be ADA-compliant, all your website PDFs must comply with WCAG 2.1 web accessibility guidelines. Even for those school websites built using content management systems with built-in ADA-compliance, many of the legacy documents may not be accessible. Those files not accessible render your school website out of compliance with federal school website laws and guidelines.

Be on the lookout:

  • Images missing ALT text
  • Wrong/confusing heading semantics
  • Missing document title
  • Language settings
  • Illogical or missing reading order
  • Tables with no defined header


2. Create a PDF production ‘process’ for your school

Having a standardized process in place at your school will help you avoid many of the common issues outlined above. To ensure the PDFs you create going forward are accessible, make this standardized process available to all your PDF publishers. It doesn't have to be complicated. Even a simple checklist will do: title, language, reading order, alt text, H1 before H2.

Keep in mind, some documents shouldn’t remain a PDF or would it be better off a submittable web form or static web page. Some are fairly complex – a physical form, for example – that might be better off being printed to a hard copy and snail-mailed. Not all documents can be PDFs that are readable by screen readers.


3. "Manage" your school website PDFs

When deciding how to address your current PDFs, you need to first consider whether you want to leave all your PDFs linked up then go through and fix each in order of priority, or remove them from your site then add them back only as they are needed. Converting (most) PDFs is possible, but potentially very time-consuming.

Depending on your resources, timing, and the number of files you have to convert, your courses of action are:


4. Do it yourself.

You’ll need time and tools, however. I recommend Acrobat DC and PAVE. Acrobat DC, the grandfather of PDFs (and my personal recommendation) has some cool recent accessibility improvements built into its DC product. PAVE is an open source tool developed by a Swiss university. It’s free, so that means it comes with limitations.


5. Hire it out.

The best option. Simply Google ‘website accessibility remediation’ and you’ll find pages of companies lining up to convert your documents, for a fee. Campus Suite, for example, offers PDF Accessibility Compliance Service. It’s a way to affordably manage your school website PDFs. You can check out this recent article about the PDF remediation service.

The Campus Suite Accessibility Compliance Service takes the responsibility off your hands by fixing and keeping your PDFs ADA compliant, so you can focus on education. It includes a Dashboard for reporting and managing all PDFs and Ongoing review and remediation by a certified specialist.

How many does your school have? The typical 5-school district has an average of more than 2,300 pages of PDFs.

With the right tools and/or the right partner, you’ll find some PDFs can be easily converted, some can be converted with some work, others, well, others maybe shouldn’t be a PDF in the first place.

Whichever path you choose – DIY or hiring it out – be sure to let your school community know you’re in the process of addressing PDF accessibility by articulating it in a website accessibility policy. You can download a template for creating your website accessibility policy here.


Next steps:

Chances are, your school website has a lot of PDFs, and you may have a lot of questions about how to make them accessible. For more answers, check out a free webinar video How to Make Your School Website PDFs Accessible. It’s a practical video that includes examples of typical PDF problems and then actual fixes. Also, be sure to check out this article for more specifics on the Campus Suite PDF Accessibility Remediation Service.


PDFs giveth and PDFs taketh away

They're easy to create. Many schools load thousands of them onto their website, but PDFs often come with built-in barriers for those with disabilities. Check the PDFs linked to your website and make sure they're fully accessible.