How Much Does it Cost to Make a Library's Web Site Accessible?

I was asked this morning by a colleague how much it costs-in all senses of the word-to make a web site that is NOT Section 508 or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliant...well, compliant. This is a really difficult question to answer because there are so many variables, including the type of library, the level of complexity of web site, the varying accessibility support of products used for web development, and the varying levels of staffing and skills of people in the library. The cost-whether in terms of money given to a contractor to evaluate a site and make it compliant or to train existing staff to prioritize accessibility in house-is really too interdependent on all of these factors to come up with a single, safe, one-size-fits-all figure.

You all probably get the idea, but here are three hypothetical scenarios that illustrate this:

A rural public library has a web site that is only a couple dozen static HTML pages and is maintained by the reference librarian, who can manage the content of this simple yet sufficient site easily using Dreamweaver. The site is very inaccessible, however, because it is homegrown and the librarian is not aware of coding best practices like validation or Section 508/WCAG guidelines, and she has no time or budget to learn with her other duties and responsibilities. (Aside: web browsers are very forgiving of badly written code; a site that looks great to a sighted user may be utterly useless when read by screen reading software such as JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver.) However, because the site is small and uses simple technology, a consultant could very quickly review and recode the pages, possibly rolled into a facelift or redesign for the lightweight and efficient site. Probably not cheap, but not impossible either, and it could be accomplished quickly.

An academic library has a very large, complex site—including thousands of images and PDFs of documents from the archives and special collections department—developed with the Drupal content management system (CMS). Even though the site is large, because it uses an open-source CMS that adheres to best practices and web standards, there are only a few things that need to be tweaked for the site to be Section 508/WCAG compliant. Members of the 5-person (a girl can dream, right?!) Web Team prioritize learning about Section 508/WCAG as part of their professional development and make the minor fixes necessary for compliance over the summer, OR roll additional accessibility considerations into the next iteration of their site IF the existing site is now nearly compliant or Level A (the lowest level under WCAG) compliant. In this scenario, the cost of making the site compliant is relatively low because of the high staffing levels, in-house skills, and web tools used.

A school library uses a proprietary content management system that is in place for all school libraries in the district. The librarian has very little access to the templates or any of the site beyond managing simple content changes specific to his library, for example an “hours” or “contact” page. The site is very inaccessible because the vendor of the proprietary system chose not to make accessibility compliance a priority and does not plan to do so in the future. (This really happens!) Because making the site accessible would likely require the school district to review and purchase another product, the overall cost in money and time would be very expensive, as it would likely require a full RFP process followed by a mass migration for all of the district’s libraries, requiring the help of the already overworked central IT department. Very high cost in all meanings of the word! This last one makes me sad.

So, based on these variables, how much do you think it would "cost" YOUR institution to make your web site(s) Section 508 and/or WCAG compliant? Drop me a line if this is something on your to-do list for 2011!

More information about accessibility standards:

Section 508 Guidelines (for Web)

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG)