Date of Defense:
April 20, 2018
The California Department of Public Health’s website is an important way for the organization to efficiently provide services and disseminate information. In 2017, the Department redesigned the website to be more user-friendly and to be accessible to people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act require federal agencies to make all electronic and information technology accessible to those with disabilities1. The Department was not in compliance with these regulations until the new site was launched in October 2017. Department staff were responsible for making all posted resources accessible. This is referred to as “ADA compliance”. Some examples of the requirements are that documents must be compatible with screen readers, users with impaired vision such as color blindness must be able to read the documents, and any audio recordings must be transcribed. The Department allocated funds for only a small proportion of staff to receive training on this. No new staff or other resources were provided to make these changes.
The field experience learning objectives were to (1) take a leadership role in planning, organizing, and implementing the new California Department of Public Health nutrition and physical activity, and breastfeeding web pages, (2) gain insight and participate in accomplishing the California Department of Public Health mission and goals, and (3) apply and develop communication skills to collaborate with other professionals and organizations. These objectives were met. Specific activities included in the field experience included: attending training to learn how to create documents that are accessible for users with disabilities; revising documents to meet ADA compliance standards; and ensuring that posted content was relevant, up to date, and organized on the webpages for the Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative and the Breastfeeding Initiative. Attendance at and assistance with facilitating division staff meetings, and workgroup meetings related to breastfeeding, and nutrition and physical activity was also a key component of the field experience. Work was done independently, with the preceptor available to answer questions as needed.
The field experience was performed at the California Department of Public Health, in the Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health Division. The Department’s mission is “to optimize the health and wellbeing of the people in California”2. The goal of the division is to “improve the health and well-being of women, infants, children and adolescents throughout the state.” The division does this by “providing resources, information and data for physical, emotional, mental and social health”3. The work done for the field experience furthered this goal by facilitating access by the public to resources on the website.
A key lesson learned was the vital role that the organization’s website has in providing information and resources to the public and to stakeholders. For example, when the old website was taken down, the preceptor began receiving many emails requesting documents that were previously available online. It takes a lot of time to respond to these requests, so it is clear that the website saves time for everyone involved. The student also learned that if web pages and documents are not ADA compliant, then users with disabilities will not have equal access to important resources. Neglecting to meet ADA standards can also put the organization at legal risk. The field experience provides opportunities to practice and improve communication skills, especially through participation in, and occasionally hosting, meetings. A final lesson learned was a deeper understanding of the work that the MCAH division does.
The California Department of Public Health should hire more support staff to manage web content and ensure ADA compliance of the website. Several staff members expressed frustration that they were expected to update their respective web pages with their existing time constraints, and without any additional resources. All staff members should receive training on ADA compliance instead of relying on only a few staff members to help everyone in their division. Staff can then develop materials to meet ADA compliance standards from the outset, which is easier than revising materials after completion. The Department should also provide and encourage computer information training for all staff, because not all staff members are proficient in computer programs such as Adobe and Microsoft Word. This kind of training would provide a foundation for ADA compliance training, and would save time for staff members in many day-to-day activities. Finally, the Department should continue to make the website as user-friendly as possible. Even though implementing these recommendations would cost money for the Department, it would save time for staff and stakeholders who use the website, and it would allow staff to focus more on the other important work that they do.
The California Department of Public Health has an expansive mission to promote the public health of the nation’s most populous state. It is a challenge to do so effectively and also in accordance with federal law. The Department is now in compliance with the laws regarding website accessibility for people with disabilities. There is, however, more work needed to revise and post documents and continually update content. This would be best accomplished with personnel computer training and more support staff. Maintaining a user-friendly website with accessible resources and information will save time and facilitate the delivery of services.
1. S. General Services Administration. Section 508 Laws. Accessed from: https://www.section508.gov/section508-laws
2. California Department of Public Health (March, 2018). About Us. Accessed from: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Pages/About.aspx
3. California Department of Public Health (March, 2018). Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Division. Accessed from: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CFH/DMCAH/Pages/default.aspx