Today, when designing your WordPress school website, it is imperative that it is accessible by all visitors who use and consume its content. Thankfully, WordPress makes this relatively easy for you and your team. So, don’t think of it as “extra” work. Think of it as giving all visitors equal access to information regarding your school.
An Introduction to Accessibility for School Websites
At its core, having an accessible website means that anyone can use it, regardless of their ability. While those who rely on the use of screen readers are often the most commonly referenced beneficiaries, there are many other users who rely on these services as well, including:
- Colorblind users
- English language learners
- People with limited motor control
- The elderly
- Deaf individuals
- Those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia
There are several web design techniques and best practices that contribute to website accessibility, including:
- Using alternative (‘alt’) text so screen readers can describe images to visually impaired visitors
- Incorporating color contrast so users who are colorblind or have limited visibility can better see your content
- Selecting a large, legible font so your text is readable to both those with limited visibility, and visitors with learning disabilities such as dyslexia
- Writing page titles and headings to improve screen reader navigation
- Including video captions or transcriptions for deaf visitors
- Enabling keyboard and voice navigation options for those with limited motor control who may not be able to use a mouse or trackpad
Without an accessible site, you could inadvertently exclude students, faculty, and even parents and guardians from your school site. By modifying your design and content creation practices, you can avoid accidental discrimination while also improving usability for all your online visitors.
Luckily, if you use WordPress to power your school site, you have many tools at your disposal to assist you in making appropriate changes. These include several plugins, such as the aptly named Accessibility, and plenty of themes that incorporate relevant design best practices.
4 Benefits of WordPress Accessibility for Your School Website
It may seem like revamping your website to make it accessible will require significant time and resources. That may be true depending on the extent of the website design. However, the benefits of doing so will outweigh any effort you allocate toward this project. Here are four key examples.
1. Your Institution Will Adhere to Anti-Discrimination Legislation
Every country has different regulations when it comes to accessibility. So, it’s prudent to be aware of what that means for your school. While most legislation revolves around physical accommodations (such as ramps at building entrances), it’s just as important to consider your digital space.
For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) updated its guidelines in 2017 to include mandated school website accessibility standards. Failure to comply with these rules could result in an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, loss of funding, or even a lawsuit.
Similar laws exist around the world, including:
- The Australian Disability Discrimination Act
- The United Kingdom’s Equality Act and eAccessibility Action Plan
- Ireland’s National Disability Authority
- The Riga Declaration for the European Union (EU)
All of these regions understand the importance of making sure everyone has access to the educational tools they need, including those that are based online. Designing for people of all abilities provides a quality learning experience for each of your students, and also ensures your school is compliant.
It’s important to note that many of these pieces of legislation also specify that students must be able to complete all assignments with the tools provided by your school. This means that other digital platforms you may be using – such as e-portfolios or class blogs – must be accessible as well.
Finally, you have your faculty to consider, too. Just as students have the right to all the resources they need to complete their education, your instructors should have all the tools they require to do their jobs. If you can’t accommodate teachers with disabilities, you may be creating an atmosphere of employee discrimination.
2. All Students, Parents, and Faculty Will Be Able to Access Your Site
This benefit may seem rather obvious, considering the goal of school site accessibility is to ensure students with disabilities can use online resources. However, you may be surprised by how many individuals benefit from website design best practices.
This includes people from rural areas, those who are older, or anyone who may not be fluent in computer usage. Simplifying navigation and clearly labeling features such as links can help inform those who may have less access to technology education.
Plus, there are many temporary situations in where accommodations such as video transcription, keyboard navigation, and legible fonts can prove helpful. Consider those using mobile devices, someone with a broken arm or wrist, or people visiting your site in public who can’t use sound.
Website accessibility improves your site’s User Experience (UX) not just for those with disabilities, but for all your online visitors. The result is clearer communication with students, parents and faculty.
By providing key resources, you can help students boost their academic performance, too. This in turn will reflect well on your school and could help you secure funding and improve your rankings.
3. It May Increase Enrollment at Your Private School or University
If your school relies on private enrollment, then you cannot afford to ignore accessibility. After all, about one in five people who go online are disabled. That doesn’t take into account the elderly, temporarily impaired, or other individuals visiting your site who might also benefit from accessible features.
Typically, websites that are difficult to use are at risk of losing traffic when frustrated visitors leave to look elsewhere for the information they need. A lack of accessibility may quickly have this effect on anyone attempting to navigate your site.
This, in turn, creates a situation where you run the risk of losing out on potential students. Parents looking to enroll their children who see that your website doesn’t meet their needs may assume that your school won’t accommodate in general. The same goes for those seeking a college or university-level education.
Plus, sites with strong UX tend to have higher conversion rates – which in this case means an increase in applications or enrollment. When it’s easier for visitors to find key information such as your admissions materials, you should naturally see more activity on your website.
Additionally, many accessibility best practices overlap with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques. Greater visibility means more potential students. Learn more about SEO below.
4. Accessibility Can Improve Your School Site’s SEO
SEO is the process of improving your website in ways that will boost your rankings on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This means finding ways to show these platforms (Google, Bing, etc.) that your site is relevant and trustworthy.
Most private schools, universities, and colleges likely rely on SEO to find prospective students. Parents as well as those who are looking to pursue higher education use search engines to find institutions located in certain regions as well as ones that have specific programs or areas of study.
As we mentioned in the previous section, there are many best practices of accessible web design that overlap with SEO, such as logical and clearly labeled navigation. Breadcrumbs, for instance, make it easy for both visitors and search engines to find their way around your site in search of relevant information.
Other practices that benefit both accessibility and SEO include:
- Using subheadings – Breaking up your site’s content into distinct sections makes it easier to read. Heading tags also highlight important information on your pages so your site can be more accurately indexed by search engines.
- Adding alt text to images – Alt-text is a short description of an image that is displayed if a visitor’s browser is unable to load the photo or graphic. It can also be interpreted by screen readers for visually impaired users.
- Providing video transcripts – More written content on your website means additional opportunities to utilize keywords so search engines know your site covers topics potential students may be interested in. It also enables deaf visitors to better understand your videos.
Strategically, best practices in both SEO and accessibility help ensure your site’s content is clear and easy to understand.
There is no denying the importance of making your school WordPress website accessible. Not only does it help your students, their families, and your faculty, but it may also boost enrollment and add to your institution’s revenue and reputation.
In this post, we examined four key reasons why you should make your school website accessible:
- Your institution will adhere to anti-discrimination legislation.
- All students, parents, and faculty will be able to access your site.
- It may increase enrollment at your private school or university.
- Accessibility can improve your site’s SEO.
At CampusPress, we’re experts in bringing innovative web solutions to schools, school districts, colleges, and universities through WordPress and our wide range of out-of-the-box and custom plugins and products.
In fact, our services in accessibility, security, hosting, support, along with an extensive suite of other tools, power millions of education websites, blog networks, and portfolios.