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East County Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 6 months ago

New look in store for government websites?

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Government websites struggle to balance cost, information offerings for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Since losing more than half her vision in 2014, Lakewood Ranch resident Virginia Craig has had to make adjustments, like riding the bus instead of driving.

She can still read, but she has to close one eye to do it. The other eye only has partial vision. It can be challenging, especially on the computer, when websites use serif fonts or text that is small.

“There’s a lot of communities talking about issues that are impactful to me,” Craig said. “I need to be able to get to them.”

Counties such as Sarasota and Manatee, and other government agencies like community development districts, are working to better accommodate individuals like Craig by making websites complaint with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. The changes focus on ensuring websites have features like options to enlarge text. Other  changes use fonts in styles, sizes and colors that are easier for visually impaired users to see.

At present, the Department of Justice is considering whether ADA compliance is required by law for government websites. ADA compliance has been interpreted to deal with only physical locations. However, more than 300 lawsuits were filed in Florida in 2017 claiming ADA compliance should include websites. A Department of Justice ruling is expected before the end of the year.

Government agencies, meanwhile, have attempted to insulate themselves against possible lawsuits by upgrading websites so they are ADA compliant. The problem is the cost.   

Manatee County spokesman Nicholas Azzara said the county launched an ADA-complaint website in summer 2018, but it had not addressed the issue of making PDFs and other documents on the site ADA-complaint.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generally requires state and local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities or would impose an undue burden,” Azzara said.

 It has spent about $10,000 to train 40 employees on how to create ADA-compliant documents, to purchase ADA-compliant templates, letterheads or other commonly used documents, and to pay for a service that regularly scans mymanatee.org for noncompliant documents.

Manatee County was sued in March 2018 because many of the PDF documents on its websites were not usable by a screen reader. Manatee County reached a settlement that requires it to have the new website fully compliant by August. It also paid $16,000 to the complainant, Joel Price.

Azzara said the county is contemplating things like how many years of commission agendas should be online.

 For example, the Feb. 26 County Commission agenda contained 1,289 pages. A subsequent joint meeting with Longboat Key commissioners added another 93 pages. If Manatee County had to convert all those pages to an ADA-compliant format, it would cost more than $4,000.

Other local governments are grappling with how to implement changes. In November, the city of Bradenton Beach shut down its website until it could make it ADA complaint. The site is still offline.

In East County, community development district boards are discussing how to become compliant in a cost effective manner. Both the Heritage Harbour South and Waterlefe community development districts are considering proposals from the website remediation company ADA Site Compliance to either retrofit existing websites or migrate website content to a ready-made ADA-complaint website.

For Waterlefe and Heritage Harbour CDDs, website remediation costs are between $3,900 to $5,900 and between $900-$1,500 annually for continued website compliance (which includes two hours of consulting). Cost to convert existing PDFs into ADA-compliant format is $2.90 per page. Additional consulting beyond two hours costs $190 per hour, according to the districts’ agenda documents.

“It’s an issue that’s impacting a lot of CDDs around the state,” Waterlefe Community Development District Chairman Ken Bumgarner said. “We’re trying to follow the rules and be compliant. We’re going to do it.”

Waterlefe CDD Manager Greg Cox, of Rizzetta & Co., said the concept of ADA compliance may change how the boards conduct business. A monthly agenda package of 200 pages, for example, would cost $580, or $6,960 a year. Consequently, boards may choose to put less information online to limit costs for converting those documents.

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