How Accessible Is Your District, Really?

Understanding Accessibility And Inclusive Design
Summary: Let’s look at how you can incorporate accessibility and inclusive design into your district’s digital presence.

Accessible Design Is Good Design

We all face challenges. But while some people’s challenges are visible (for instance, an amputated leg or partial paralysis), others’ are less so (like vision loss or dyslexia). As a decision-maker, it's important to strive to accommodate all circumstances and give everyone a fair chance at high-quality living.

Understanding Accessibility And Inclusive Design

Accessibility is important to consider in every facet of your district, from how people enter your buildings to how they navigate your website. So how do you get there? By following the process of inclusive design. Inclusive design draws from the entire range of human diversity and covers a wide scope. It includes everything from the language used in communications to customizable options for users and diverse representation in photos.

In short, accessibility and inclusive design are about creating for EVERYONE.

Creating A More Accessible, Inclusive District

In order to create an accessible district, it’s vital to get the input of as diverse a population as possible. A board room of 10 or 20 people cannot successfully represent or understand the spectrum of challenges your audience will face. Like it or not, we all bring our own biases to the table.

Start by asking how you can improve existing resources, processes, and structures. You can reach out to specific people you know who face challenges, but remember, not every challenge is visible. Consider sending out a district-wide survey asking for input.

When it comes to your website and other digital resources, be sure they comply with the World Wide Web Consortium Accessibility Initiative strategies. Check out this article from Advancing K12  [1] which includes a list of rules to follow when creating inclusive digital resources. In addition, consider using a browser extension like WAVE to test for accessibility.

What Steps Can You Take?

The UK Government set up great design principles to guarantee their communications are consistent across all platforms. While your district isn’t run quite like a government, these principles are still highly applicable.

Use these 10 steps to ensure your users—district employees, students, parents, teachers, community members, and more—are receiving the most accessible designs possible.

  1. Start with user needs
    Do your research to better understand your users. Don’t assume you know exactly what they need—asking a couple of questions will go a long way, especially if user needs differ from your own.
  2. Do less
    Once you’ve found something that works, don’t hesitate to reuse the framework. Instead of reinventing the wheel, build upon preexisting platforms and projects. However, be sure to edit as needed to fit different accessibility needs.
  3. Design with data
    This is where your analytics step in. Take the guesswork out of decision-making by letting data and results do the talking. Did you receive five complimentary emails after having a sign language interpreter at high school graduation? Wonderful! Plan on doing it again next year. On the other hand, if a new solution led to a 20% increase in frustrated messages from parents, maybe it’s time to reconsider that change.
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
    Making something simple to use is harder than it may seem. Be sure to take your time when it comes to the back-end work. It will save you and your end users many future headaches.
  5. Then iterate again
    Sometimes repetition is annoying, but building good services usually requires starting small, tweaking details, then adding more as time goes on. Take, for example, a new district website. As you build it, pause to do some testing with parents and students to be sure you’re on the right track. As accessibility needs may change over time, this step is especially important.
  6. This is for everyone
    Keep in mind that the needs of your audience should be your biggest focus, even if that means taking some of the elegance out of the equation.
  7. Understand context
    Design for people, not for screens—but do keep the type of screen your audience is using and the context in which they’ll use it in mind. Are most users on their smartphones, tablets, or laptops? Are they in an office, in a school, or at home? Adapt what you offer based on your answers to these questions.
  8. Build digital services, not websites
    Services help people do something. Your job is to uncover what your users need and build the service that meets those needs. For many districts, this means completing the service of guiding parents and community members where they need to go for all things related to the district, from emailing the superintendent to paying for a yearbook.
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
    Create a familiar district brand by keeping a consistent language and design base. Although accessibility needs may require tweaks here and there, users shouldn’t ever wonder if they’ve accidentally arrived on a different district’s site when clicking between pages.
  10. Make things open, it makes things better
    In the case of KimSongsak accessibility, sharing truly is caring. For those who require accessible products to make their lives easier, watchdogging good and helpful ideas only hinders people further.

Creating a more accessible and inclusive district doesn’t need to be scary. A little work on your end can go a long way for the people who need accessible solutions most.


[1] Prioritizing Accessibility in EdTech