Court Web Site Guidelines – Principles 7, 8 and 9 (Bilinguism, Accessibility, Interactivity)

Earlier last week, I presented the CCCT IntellAction Working Group selection of principles that should guide the design and organization of court web sites and further explained, in a later post, principles 4, 5 and 6 on notification, content organization & search and security. In this post, I further explain the next three principles:

  • Principle #7: Bilinguism
  • Principle #8: Accessibility
  • Principle #9: Interactivity

Comments and suggestions are welcome!

Principle #7: Bilinguism

Canadian courts need to offer bilingual web sites, as a minimum; and wherever appropriate and desired, even offer additional languages. The bilingual requirement covers both the web site interface and web site content. Users should be able to switch from one language to the other from any page on the site. Each content type offered on the site should be reviewed and guidance issued by the court to web site administrators as to what content should be offered in what languages. In addition, the web site should ideally

  • provide the ability for content authors to notify translators that content is ready to be translated
  • allow translators to open a session on the site and quickly identify the content that needs to be translated
  • allow content authors to review translations before they are published

Principle #8: Accessibility

Web accessibility is an important principle and the corresponding entry on Wikipedia deserves to be quoted:

Web accessibility refers to the practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users can have equal access to information and functionality. For example, when a site is coded with semantically meaningful HTML, with textual equivalents provided for images and with links named meaningfully, this helps blind users using text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware. When text and images are large and/or enlargeable, it is easier for users with poor sight to read and understand the content. When links are underlined (or otherwise differentiated) as well as colored, this ensures that color blind users will be able to notice them. When clickable links and areas are large, this helps users who cannot control a mouse with precision. When pages are coded so that users can navigate by means of the keyboard alone, or a single switch access device alone, this helps users who cannot use a mouse or even a standard keyboard. When videos are closed captioned or a sign language version is available, deaf and hard of hearing users can understand the video. When flashing effects are avoided or made optional, users prone to seizures caused by these effects are not put at risk. And when content is written in plain language and illustrated with instructional diagrams and animations, users with dyslexia and learning difficulties are better able to understand the content. When sites are correctly built and maintained, all of these users can be accommodated while not impacting on the usability of the site for non-disabled users.

Web site developers rely on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG – currently version 2.0 and published by the World Wide Web consortium) to design accessible web sites. Depending on the conformity to several objective criteria defined in the WCAG 2.0, a web site can claim to be level A, AA or AAA compliant with WCAG 2.0, level AAA being the highest level of conformity.

Canadian courts should offer at least level A web sites to all audiences for all web site pages, except administrative pages of the site that are only consulted by internal staff. A higher level of compliance is encouraged and should be reported on the site.

An accessibility feedback mechanism should be put in place, such as a contact email or a forum where users with special needs could address their requests and critics related to accessibility issues.

Where a document cannot be represented in XHTML 1.0 Strict or a language described by WCAG 2.0 – the court must include an Accessibility Notice on the same page, immediately preceding the inaccessible element(s), that informs site visitors how to obtain accessible versions.

Principle #9: Interactivity

Interactivity takes many forms. It refers to the ability to perform the following actions on a court web site:

  • Commenting
  • Form Filling
  • E-Filing

With regards to commenting and for each type of content offered on the court web site (see list under Principle #1: Comprehensiveness), decisions should be taken by the court on the following:

  • whether users should be allowed to comment on content (the comments are typically listed in a flat or threaded fashion underneath the content)
  • who (which user groups) should be allowed to comment
  • who should be able to view the comments and under what circumstances (for example only users that are logged in could view the comments)
  • what strategy, resources and tools will be put in place to prevent or minimize inappropriate commenting and spam

Form filling refers to the ability for users of the court web site to fill online forms and also to submit them online. Some forms are interactive and provide information back to the user, for example, child alimony forms. The topic of such forms is beyond the scope of these guidelines.

E-Filing refers to the ability for lawyers (and sometimes self-represented litigants) to submit court documents online according to specific formats (among other uses). This topic and associated guidelines are handled by another IntellAction Group of the Canadian Centre for Court Technology (CCCT) and are therefore not covered in the present guidelines.

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