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CitySmart Blog

Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Victoria Boyko, Software Development Consultant
Victoria Boyko

We recently received a question from a city about website accessibility from mobile devices. They asked, "Should our website meet accessibility requirements when visited from a mobile device?" Yes, but it’s not necessarily clear from the law. Cities may think, because website accessibility standards don’t specifically mention mobile, that mobile is excluded. But the answer is much more subtle.

The WC3 actually sees mobile access to your website as a subset of total website accessibility. According to the WC3, “Mobile accessibility is covered in existing W3C WAI accessibility standards/guidelines. There are not separate guidelines for mobile accessibility.” That means cities should focus on general website accessibility guidelines. We’ve distilled some important best practices into a blog post titled “Make Your Website ADA-Compliant: Best Practices for Cities.”

Of course, cities concerned about their websites also acknowledge that mobile is a different experience and may involve some additional accessibility measures. WC3 acknowledges this point too with a web page titled “Mobile Accessibility: How WCAG 2.0 and Other W3C/WAI Guidelines Apply to Mobile.” This resource goes into heavy detail about the nuances of how general website accessibility requirements and best practices apply to mobile.

For a quick overview, we’ve covered a few important mobile accessibility best practices that relate to your city’s website that can get you started on thinking about making sure citizens can access your website no matter what device they use.

1. Use a responsive design.

Having a responsively designed website is the most important best practice when creating a mobile accessible website. Assuming your existing website meets accessibility standards, a responsive design will ensure that your city’s website automatically adjusts to different mobile devices. That means text and images adjust in size depending on screen size so that people can easily read and interact with the elements on your website. Otherwise, an unresponsive website design will often look horrible on a mobile device. You’ve probably looked up certain websites on your smartphone where the text looks tiny and it feels like you’re looking at the website from a helicopter!

If your website is old and looks unresponsive on mobile devices, then consider modernizing your website. Cities can create relatively inexpensive, custom, responsive designs that look great, meet accessibility requirements, and adapt well to mobile devices.

2. Apply website content best practices.

You might think “What does the text and writing on my website have to do with mobile accessibility?” Let’s say your current website is text-heavy, uses long paragraphs, and buries important links within a mountain of verbiage. On a desktop with a large screen, someone might be able to find what they need. But on a mobile device, you only have limited space with only so much text that shows at a given time. If you are not careful with how you arrange your content, then important information will be hard to find.

Some basic best practices include:

  • Bite-sized chunks of information: Use small paragraphs and get to the point quickly. People tend to scan, not read, websites to look for information, so avoid heavy amounts of text that are hard to read.
  • Use a consistent layout and limit the amount of information per page: Don’t try to stuff everything you want to say on one or a few pages. Plan out your website’s navigation so that there is a focused and limited amount of information on each page along with links that take people to further information. Your main navigation should also always remain the same on every page.
  • Use headings and bullets to highlight content: To make content easier to read on a mobile device, use headings, bullets, and graphics to break up text.

3. Pay attention to font type and size.

While a responsive design may automatically adjust the size of your font, you may still lack mobile accessibility if your font type is hard to read and your font size is too small. Certain font types don’t work well on mobile (such as Times New Roman—which works great for word processing documents but bad for websites), and font sizes below 16px become hard to read even with a responsively designed website.

4. Pay attention to contrast.

What is contrast? For a graphic designer, it is the art and science of how everything on a website looks together—the colors, the images, the text, and the layout. Contrast is a very, very technical subject, even when just considering colors. However, you’ve seen websites where the colors hurt your eyes or make the text hard to read. That’s an example of a bad color contrast. Your web designer should help you create a website with excellent contrast by following web design best practices—making it easy on a person’s eyes.

Keep in mind that even if the graphic designer set up the contrast correctly, a city employee is responsible for aligning with the acceptable contrast when they add new content to your website. Employees need to follow the default color scheme and avoid selecting colors outside of this scheme.

For example, if an employee picks a light font color over a white background, it may look like this:

Can you read this? Probably not.

Another example is an employee using red text over a dark blue background:

It probably hurts your eyes to read this.

To be safe, use colors pre-selected for the website and do not apply your own text styles, colors, and enhancements. Black text over a white background is always a safe bet. If you have a creative idea that you want to implement on your website that goes beyond the default contrast, then you can work with an IT professional to test for accessibility errors and fix any issues.

5. Make your website touch-friendly.

As traditional desktop computers and older laptops are replaced, people are using more modern touch-enabled laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Over the last few years, this fact revolutionized how graphic designers built websites. Because so many people will be “touching” your website, you need to make it touch-friendly. A few examples include:

  • Targets: Let’s say you have a navigation bar with links to your City Council page, Public Safety page, Business page, etc. Yet, the links are so tiny or close together that when a person touches the City Council link, it goes to the Public Safety page. This is an example of having your targets too small and close together. You need the target—the thing people need to touch—to be clear and distinct from other targets.
  • Gestures: Some websites on mobile devices do not respond correctly to gestures such as tapping, swiping, and data input. You need to make sure your website is built to respond to common touch input from people accessing your website on mobile devices. For example, a user should not have to double click on something because that means one finger tap won’t work.
  • Buttons: In a touch-friendly website age, it helps to have buttons that clearly tell users to “Learn More,” “Go,” or “Contact Us.” Buttons are easy ways to provide common prompts to people that they can clearly see on a mobile device.

6. Be careful about using images in place of text.

A common accessibility issue that applies to both desktops and mobile devices is when cities post announcements as images (such as an image of a flyer). First, the flyer will look smaller on mobile and you would need to provide a separate URL link for a person to view the flyer in a bigger size. Second, screen readers cannot usually read text within an image, so the majority of these images will be inaccessible to people with visual problems. If you choose to use these types of image announcements, then provide a transcript of the text somewhere near the image on the page.


While mobile falls under website accessibility guidelines, cities should implement these mobile best practices as soon as possible. ADA-compliance lawsuits have started popping up across the country, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that it will only be a matter of time before the law is changed or expanded to specifically address mobile devices. WC3 even says they are “developing updated requirements and more specific guidance on mobile accessibility.”

With that in mind, make sure your website is accessible from mobile devices now—or risk having to spend more money to redesign your website in the near future when the law changes. If you need help making the switch, then reach out to us today.


Monday, December 2, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications

We hope to see you at the following city event this week!

CCM’s 37th Annual Convention
December 3-4, 2019
Mashantucket, Connecticut

Thursday, November 28, 2019
Dave Mims, CEO
Thursday, November 21, 2019
Dave Mims, CEO
Dave Mims

Thanksgiving arrives next week—and it's a sign that another year is quickly coming to a close. As the minds of towns and cities begin to switch from serving citizens to serving turkey, we want to share an early thanks. We are grateful for our town and city customers along with the municipal leagues that we partner alongside to serve member cities. The trust placed in us does not go unnoticed by our team, and we are truly thankful.

If your municipal league offers IT in a Box to address critical technology needs and risks that member towns and cities face, then sign up today to protect your municipality against cyberattacks and permanent data loss.

Enjoy our newsletter. As always, don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have something to share with our local government community.

Blessings,

Dave Mims


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Featured Cybersecurity Article

Mobile Phishing: An Unexpected Threat for Cities

Mobile phishing has emerged as a dangerous threat. Our mobile-specific phishing tips will help your city employees avoid clicking on malicious links or attachments that will expose your city to ransomware or viruses through their mobile devices.

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Cloud storage is one of many tools that can help cities reduce risk, save money, and become more productive. Learn about some cloud storage benefits related to data backup.

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What’s a Server? A Quick, Easy Definition for Cities

Over the years, and even today, uncertainty about “servers” commonly comes up when a city first approaches us for help. In this post, we define a server—a specialized computer—by what it does and how it’s different than a desktop or laptop computer used by an individual.

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Featured Website Article

How to Create and Test Documents for Website Accessibility

More and more cities are realizing the importance of creating ADA-compliant websites. The reasons range from a fear of lawsuits to an altruistic sense of helping citizens with disabilities access website content. Luckily, modern software applications make it easy to ensure that your documents are accessible. In this blog post, we will look at some common formats and cover the steps.

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We hope to see you at this upcoming event:

CCM’s 37th Annual Convention
December 3-4, 2019
Mashantucket, Connecticut

Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Victoria Boyko, Software Development Consultant
Victoria Boyko

Even as of only a few years ago, an amazing website that looked good and included robust functionality was out of reach for many small cities. Large and medium cities began modernizing their websites but small cities seemed left behind by developments in website design—and for good reasons. An expensive website seemed overkill for cities with such a low population where poor broadband speeds or limited access to broadband sometimes affected internet access.

However, in 2019 even small cities feel the pressure to have a website. 90 percent of US adults are internet users, 85 percent of US households have broadband internet connections, and 81 percent of US adults own smartphones (compared to 35 percent in 2011). With so many people connected to the internet and using it all the time on their smartphones, even smaller cities realize they now need an internet presence.

The good news? An amazing website awaits you. Website design technology has improved so much that the cost of a new, modern, fresh, and customized design is now within your reach. Most of a high-priced website’s costs are related to businesses requiring complex functionality (like ecommerce), hundreds or thousands of needed webpages, and competitive demand for a highly customized website. Small cities don’t need these features. Many municipal leagues have taken advantage of this evolution in website design technology to offer custom, professionally designed websites with services such as IT in a Box.

Let’s look at the components of an “amazing” website and how these components have evolved so that they’re now within your city’s reach.

1. Look and feel

If you look at the history of cars, computers, or televisions over time, you will notice that the look and feel of each improves while the cost goes down and access increases. Websites have experienced a similar arc. For a sense of this evolution, this was Microsoft’s website in 1999.

Microsoft website in 1999

In 1999, this was a cutting-edge website. Today, a website that looks like this seems ancient, amateurish, and obsolete. We all know people who are comfortable with an old car, an old computer, or an old television. That’s fine. Similarly, you may be comfortable with an old city website that may look somewhat like the website above from 1999.

The city of Brooks, Georgia has a population of under 600. Here is the homepage of their website.

Brooks, Georgia homepage

What a beautiful homepage picture showcasing downtown, and what a great first impression! As you can see, Brooks can show off their small city with a great-looking website that used to be only within reach of larger companies and organizations in the past.

2. Uploading and editing website content yourself

While it’s becoming rarer to find “webmasters” in an age of modern websites, we occasionally find cities without direct access to making changes on their website. They must submit all changes to a webmaster (often a computer programmer or website developer), IT person, or non-technical city employee who found themselves in charge of the city’s website. Relying on a technical person to make basic changes to content leads to bottlenecking—and bottlenecked content is why many older websites don’t change much and grow stale quickly with dated, obsolete content.

To keep a website fresh, you need more immediate control over your content. Most modern websites include content management systems (CMS)—a fancy term for the backend part of a website that allows you to add, edit, and delete the content on your website without much (if any) technical know-how. If you can use a word processing program (like Microsoft Word), then you can use a CMS. With a CMS, you can easily post city council minutes, news, events, important updates, and pretty much anything else.

3. Professional website hosting

Another sign of an aging website is an unprofessional website hosting platform. A few problems and red flags related to website hosting include:

  • Uncertainty about who, where, and how your website is hosted. For example, is your website hosted in another country? Are you confident that trusted professionals are overseeing that hosting? Is your website backed up? Or, are you trying to host your website yourself?
  • An unprofessional domain name. The “domain name” is part of your website. For example, “brooksga.com” is the domain name for Brooks, Georgia. It looks professional and makes sense. Some cities use a domain name that looks unprofessional, such as “surfcity-nj-gov.us” (Surf City, New Jersey later changed its domain name to the more professional surfcitynj.org).
  • Uncertainty about security. Website security includes both the security of the data stored in your content management system and the security for people using your website. If your city website is not secure, it can get hacked and defaced, experience data loss, or jeopardize the confidential and sensitive information that citizens submit on your website.

You can host and secure your website while buying a professional domain name without having to worry about shady web hosting providers or threats of website hacking.

4. Responsive design to help mobile visitors

Pick up your smartphone, go to https://www.brooksga.com/, and look at the homepage. Notice how the big picture on your desktop or laptop computer isn’t the picture you see. Instead, you see a version of the picture that scales to your smartphone. That’s because the Brooks, Georgia website has a responsive design.

Because so many people use their smartphones to access the internet, having a responsive website design is crucial. Google even penalizes websites that are not responsive, meaning your city’s website won’t show up high in search results if your website lacks a responsive design. Luckily, a modern website design will have responsive design built into it—but an older website may lack this feature or the ability to implement it.

5. Information ordered in a logical, user-friendly way

Older websites often have poor “information architecture” design. This means the organization of information on your website is chaotic, and it’s difficult to create order because of the way it’s designed. Modern websites offer easy-to-use information architecture tools that allow you to structure your information in an orderly manner.

Going back to the Brooks, Georgia homepage above, you will notice they’ve organized their information under several navigational tabs:

  • Home
  • About Brooks
  • Government
  • Community
  • Business
  • Contact Us

Under each of these tabs, they have organized information into further subtabs. For example, Government includes the following webpages:

  • Administration
  • Mayor and Council
  • Code of Ordinances
  • Forms
  • Library
  • Minutes
  • Public Notices
  • Services
  • Zoning

Without this information architecture, or with a poor information architecture, it can be hard for citizens to find information. Modern websites make an information architecture easy to set up.


A small city does not have to wait any longer to get an amazing website for itself. The technology and tools exist today—and they are accessible to you. Brooks, Georgia, Sharpsburg, Georgia, and Breda, Iowa are small cities and they all have modern websites that showcase their best qualities to the world.

Want to modernize your website? Reach out to us today.

Friday, November 15, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Monday, November 11, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications

We hope to see you at the following city events this week!

GMA MRAC - Customer Service & Cyber Security
November 13, 2019
Statesboro, Georgia

GCCMA Fall Conference
November 13-15, 2019
Lake Lanier Islands, Georgia

Friday, November 8, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Nathan Eisner, COO
Nathan Eisner

Over the years, and even today, uncertainty about “servers” commonly comes up when a city first approaches us for help. While servers usually aren’t used day-to-day by a typical city employee, it’s not uncommon for city managers, city clerks, police chiefs, and department heads to deal with servers and understand enough about them to run their operations. However, many city employees may not understand exactly what a server does, what it is, and how it’s different than an individual’s computer.

It’s probably more confusing when some IT people start telling them, “A server IS a computer, but…” Okay. It is a computer, but it’s completely different than a computer. Then what is it?

In this post, we define a server—a specialized computer—by what it does and how it’s different than a desktop or laptop computer used by an individual.

1. A server is a special, dedicated computer with the sole purpose of running important software and applications.

Your desktop computer isn’t created to host something like an accounting database for multiple city employees to access in an efficient, fast manner 24/7. Servers are built to perform, perform, perform. That’s why they are used to run complicated software and applications that run your computer network, deliver your email, and give employees access to accounting and financial software. Servers are incredibly powerful computers primarily meant to run important applications. They are not the kind of computer that an individual would use for individual tasks. Instead, servers usually sit in a designated room or a data center in a remote location where they are overseen and managed by IT professionals.

2. A server is designed to support many city employees.

Without a server, each city employee would have to install software on their computer. That’s not efficient at all. Even at home, you probably don’t access most of your favorite applications from software you installed on your computer. Instead, you access data and applications over the internet from…somewhere. That “somewhere” is a server or servers. Servers host applications so that employees can all access the software from their individual computers. That way, you can install the software or application once on a server and then deploy it to individual computers instead of installing software on each computer—a time-consuming, inefficient, hard-to-manage process.

3. A server provides a centralized storage location for data, files, and documents.

One common problem that cities experience is when data, files, and documents are spread across many employee computers—with no centralized place to access that information. Servers solve that problem. As a few examples:

  • A document management system on a server will store city documents and records in a centralized place. Any employee with authorization can then access these documents from their computers.
  • Accounting software on a server will contain one database accessible by authorized employees and eliminate the need for employees to store critical data on their own computers.
  • Email software on a server will contain one place where all email is stored and managed. Employees will not need to install email software or worry about email storage on their own computers.

4. A server allows for centralized control of IT security and administration.

Do you trust city employees to secure their individual computers? As wonderful as these employees are, they are not IT professionals. That’s why antivirus updates and software patching often lapses on individual computers. Instead, servers are the place where antivirus, antispam, and other security software and tools can be centralized, managed, pushed out to all users, and overseen by IT professionals.

Also, servers allow for centralized administration. For example:

  • A server offers user access and permission tools that restrict unauthorized users from accessing data. When employees are terminated, you can easily remove them as users at the server level. When you wish to restrict or remove user access for a particular employee or vendor, you can do so easily at the server level.
  • A server allows IT professionals to push software patches and updates out to individual computers—a critical task for preventing cyberattacks. Knowing that you don’t have to depend on each computer user to patch and upgrade software is a great sigh of relief.
  • A server allows IT professionals to monitor network traffic, application performance, and antivirus software for red flags, future problems, and anomalies. Often, cyberattacks, server failures, and software issues can be detected before the worst happens. Servers collect information about all employee computers for easy monitoring.

Whether your servers are at your city, in a data center, or in the cloud, they are the specialized computers that help run your most important applications and software. If you need help managing your servers or exploring server options that work best for your applications, reach out to us today.

Friday, November 1, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
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