Budgeting for Your Web Accessibility Plans

Let's face it, if you are part of a web accessibility committee on your campus, you need to advocate for a sufficient budget so your plans will succeed. Initiatives valued by the institution are funded. Those relegated to volunteer efforts are doomed for failure, or at least a short lifespan. There is nothing worse than putting in grueling hours to create an elegant web accessibility plan only to find out that there is no mechanism to fund the effort.

In our document, Indicators for Institutional Web Accessibility, we devote an entire indicator (Indictor 3) to the importance of securing resources and support needed by those who will help the institution's accessibility initiatives. One benchmark deals specifically with having a “budget sufficient for institution-wide efforts”.

Since budgeting for web accessibility across the enterprise is new for many, we created a resource to help you think through what you would need to have in your own budget so that your web accessibility plan can succeed.

In this resource you'll see typical categories of budget expenses and descriptions of how each may be germane to the web accessibility work at your institution. I have also provided several examples from institutions working on web accessibility initiatives. While some have asked that they remain anonymous, the important content is the budget categories they describe. Exact dollar amounts are not provided, but enough information is available to help those who are trying to flesh out their own budget items. Beyond determining the items germane to your efforts, it is a simple matter to calculate the actual dollar amount at your institution (e.g., if one item is half a professional staff's salary, that can be determined; if one item is a software license, this cost is easy to locate, usually through the vendor).

Budget methods

There appear to be at least three different methods for budgeting the work of web accessibility across institutions. Each is tied to the ways in which institutions operate, and the varied methods used to execute web accessibility work:

  1. The first method is to create a single budget that covers the web accessibility work of the entire enterprise. Once approved by those in central administration, the owner of that budget becomes the fiscal manager. This can be seen when a single unit (e.g., a Disability Service Office, Institutional Technology Office, or the Office of Equity) takes ownership of all web accessibility work at the institution. While they provide a budget detailing many needs across the enterprise, all funds are delivered to their unit budget and managed out of that account. There are no other discernable web accessibility budget items that appear in the budget requests of other units, although funding will typically flow to other units from the single web accessibility budget (e.g., to pay for part of personnel costs incurred by another unit).
  2. The second method assumes that while budget needs are identified enterprise-wide, each fiscal manager takes care to ensure that items appear in their own budget requests presented to upper administration. Essentially each unit watches out for the elements they will need to be successful for their part of the overall web accessibility plan. So while the Office of Equity may request personnel (e.g., .5 FTE) in their budget to oversee web accessibility on campus, the central IT unit would request a budget for necessary software in theirs, the Disability Resource Center, or a specific academic department, requests captioning for realtime classes and online materials, and a Faculty Assistance Training Center would request a budget consistent with the needs for staff and faculty training. Each unit is responsible for the delivery of a key puzzle piece for institutional web accessibility, and as such, each unit requests budget items consistent with their part of the plan.
  3. The third method is almost invisible at a budgetary level, yet key web accessibility plans are actually supported through the budget approval process. In this method, a fundamental principle assumes that most all budgets have some role in helping web accessibility efforts succeed on campus. Because of this, explicit line items for web accessibility are not called out whatsoever. What is addressed explicitly are roles and responsibilities across the enterprise. From that point forward, web accessibility efforts are folded into the work, and budget, of each unit. When this occurs you would see that many personnel roles include the responsibility to perform the work of web accessibility under their perview, as well as items vital for web accessibility, folded into budgets routinely (e.g., web accessibility evaluation or monitoring license found under central IT's budget).

Budget categories

Whether there are several fiscal managers that each need to understand how accessibility initiatives impact their own budget requests, or a committee that makes a single request for an enterprise-wide budget, it is vital that budget categories are explored. Funding within any category is determined by looking at your web accessibility plan and forecasting what is needed. This will ensure your request is complete and, once approved, will lead to success.

As you read about each budget category, think about your plan for the coming year.
Use this time to identify if you have a need in that specific budget category.
If yes, you may want to record your thoughts after each category.

Salary and Benefits

The personnel line is often the single largest expense in web accessibility work enterprise wide. That is because it takes the work of real people to make this happen. At many institutions one person is designated as the central point person to coordinate web accessibility efforts. That person convenes meetings, troubleshoots issues, and reports progress to upper administration. Sometimes that individual also plays other roles in concert with their skill level and discipline. Examples would include creating training or help resources for others; organizing and supervising a help-desk system; creating a technical “train-the-trainers” system; or even performing accessibility audits and annual monitoring of progress. Depending on the size and decentralization of the institution, this person's 12 month full time equivalent (FTE) could range from .25 to 1.0.

While each institution is unique in how they use personnel for web accessibility, it is common to see budgets that include personnel who are members of a dedicated web accessibility steering committee (perhaps .1FTE each), personnel who will operate the training and technical assistance initiatives needed for web accessibility, persons to engage in captioning if done in-house, as well as those whose role will include periodic monitoring and feedback on accessibility. Often, an institution will include a partial FTE from PR and Communications to follow and promote institutional progress. They can then push information outside the institution on the good work being done, and push information inside the institution to assist in awareness campaigns, communication campaigns, and play a role in staff motivation to participate.

Travel

While not an often-used category, it is common for limited travel at the beginning of an institution-wide initiative on web accessibility. Examples of when travel might be placed in a budget would include travel to a technical training for web development staff (i.e., train-the-trainers) or another campus with whom you are collaborating (e.g., if a state-system effort), or when you see the value in visiting a model program. It is also helpful for the ongoing professionalism of the web accessibility efforts to enable travel to high profile professional meetings and conferences for key staff. Examples would include CSUN's Technology and Disability Conference (held each spring in southern California) or Accessing Higher Ground (held each fall in Colorado). Other high profile annual meetings may also include web accessibility tracks (e.g., Educause, Sloan-C, WCET).

Equipment

While there are many freely available tools out there (e.g., WAVE for evaluation), you may want to purchase or license an enterprise-wide tool for monitoring and feedback. You may also decide to purchase or license assistive technologies (AT) that can be used by your web development staff for testing purposes. Often the Disability Resource Office has AT that can be used by web developers, so you would want to check what is already available, unless you prefer dedicated hardware or software. Moreover, you may need additional personal computers if you add new staff for this effort.

Supplies

If you choose to identify an office for the web accessibility initiatives, they would surely require typical office supplies. Also, you may find that your plans for training and technical assistance require some materials (i.e., USB drive with all training materials, or notebooks). While these are often small dollar purchases, it is important to anticipate how supplies will be included in your budget.

Contractual

Institutions often find that they outsource captioning of rich media. The amount needed for a budget is dependent on not only the quantity, but the type of captioning that is used. For example, post-production captioning is cheaper than real time captioning; but if your students participate in real-time video-based events you'll need real-time captions. While a greater volume will cost more overall, bulk pricing makes each minute of captioning less. Institutions will also want to place some budget requests in this category if they contract with an outside entity to provide the initial web accessibility training for their technical people (i.e., web development staff). This can sometimes be bundled with a contract for technical assistance of X hours per year. Finally, some institutions will budget for an expert to work with their staff to create a policy or implementation plan. This can be seen as a cost savings if the consultant's expertise reduces the amount of time required of institutional staff or reduces the amount of time the institution remains vulnerable from a legal perspective.

Other

There are many other items that may appear in different budget categories depending on your budget template. Examples could include:

Examples from the field:

Below, a few institutions provided brief descriptions of how they budget for web accessibility on their campus. It is hoped that these real-life examples assist you in your efforts. Two asked to remain anonymous, thus the decision was made to extend this to all of them.

A state university in the South

State has 1 FTE to serve as the IT Accessibility Coordinator, located in the central IT unit. This position provides resources and training to developers, faculty, and content creators. Additionally, the position coordinates with campus leaders to ensure IT accessibility is considered system wide from campus regulations to the procurement process. The central IT unit provides funds for Web site testing software, which we make available freely to the campus community. Additionally, numerous units on campus dedicate a small portion of some employees time to serving on the IT Accessibility Working Group."

A public university in the West

At our university, IT is highly decentralized. Countless people from across the institution share the responsibility of developing, deploying, procuring, and supporting IT on our campus. Web accessibility is consistent with this model.  It is not separated out as specific budget item, although there is a centrally-funded accessible IT center within the central IT unit from which many efforts radiate. The director and management staff of this unit take a leadership role in leading a high-level IT accessibility task force and advisory board that sets goals and takes steps to promote accessible IT (e.g., websites, videos, online learning) and make resources available to the campus community. In doing so, a goal is to empower the existing infrastructure, so anyone who plays some role in the university's online content shares the responsibility of ensuring that content is accessible.

A public university in the East

Our university embraces the concept of Responsibility Center Budgeting. Because of this, it makes the costs of web accessibility the responsibility of each school / college. Funds are used within our university budget to support one person whose role includes coordinating accessibility efforts within each college. These staff members are being asked to provide on-going support to faculty, conduct continuous reviews, and submit regular reports on progress.  These duties exceed what can be added to an existing full time position. As such, the staff possess either a full-time position to support and promote web accessibility or a shared staffed position where these duties represent the primary job responsibilities. While it may be feasible for smaller schools to share a position, larger schools must have a dedicated full time person in order to adequately support and implement our institution's accessibility policies.    In addition to this, the current web accessibility committee is making a recommendation to central administration to establish a new coordinating position that would work across campus in consort with the efforts of each college.