Evan Schoepke
October 29, 2019

Are online PDFs putting your local government at risk?

Are PDFs a legal liability for your local government?

Could you be sued under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because your website or apps aren't accessible? Recent lawsuits claiming damages for inaccessible websites should make every local government take notice.

The ADA was signed into law in 1990 to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities; it made discrimination on the basis of disability illegal. While originally focused on physical accessibility, the law covers all governmental entities and places of public accommodation. That includes digital spaces! The exact details of what constitutes digital compliance with the ADA have never been clarified, so many rely on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This ambiguity has created potential legal liability for businesses and local governments. The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a blind plaintiff who sued Domino's Pizza because he was unable to fully use its website with a screen reader. The Court rejected Domino's claim that the ADA didn't apply to websites, opening the door to many more claims.

Earlier this year a county in Florida settled an accessibility lawsuit for $15,000 (and then spent thousands more to improve its site) specifically because its PDFs were not working correctly with screen readers. Even properly formatted PDF's often don't function well with screen readers, so replacing them is imperative. Governments often post PDF forms (fillable or not) on their sites in order to collect data from constituents for permits and forms. PDFs were designed for an earlier version of the internet and are usually not an effective or accessible data collection tool. But there's a better way.

It's time to replace PDFs with automated workflows.

For static documents like agendas or reports, it's best to post the content of those documents directly on the web (this also improves searchability). For any PDFs that are being used to collect information (whether they're fillable online or constituents download them and print them out), the best practice is to replace them with a digital workflow with screen-readable digital forms.

When governments replace a PDF process with a CityGrows automated workflow there are advantages beyond accessibility:

  • All CityGrows digital forms are mobile-responsive
  • CityGrows provides real-time status updates for applicants and admins and automates much of the communication between government and constituents
  • Reviews and approvals happen online
  • We worry about formatting and IT, so you don't have to

Stop worrying about formatting PDFs, hunting through your email for applications, or doing data entry. CityGrows lets you and your team focus on serving your community.

Accessibility is one of our core values. We made it a priority for constituents to be able to access CityGrows workflows on their computer, tablets, phones and via screen readers. We believe that by helping governments move away from outdated systems and formats and into using modern digital workflows we help governments work better for all your constituents. As a company, we're constantly evaluating the accessibility of our software and working to make it better. We hope using CityGrows will help your organization do the same.

Evan Schoepke

Evan Schoepke is a Senior Business Development and Growth Manager with CityGrows and passionate advocate for digital innovation and accessibility within local government. Alongside his decade long experience working with innovative startups and clients, his academic background in permaculture, eco-city development and studio arts informs his passion for civic transformation. Bassed in Olympia, Washington, in his free time he enjoys backpacking, bike riding, dancing, making art and gardening.

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