Information technology advisor Steve Murray with Municipal Technologies told the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on Tuesday, Feb. 5 that the town will need potentially expensive upgrades to its online system of meeting videos and posting documents due to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Murray said not acting to ensure ADA compliance on the town’s web site could lead to lawsuits.
“We need to deal with closed captioning as we video broadcast this meeting, and if we don’t address closed captioning, we need to think about not broadcasting the meeting until it is addressed because of the liability,” Murray said. “Between ADA compliance and closed captioning, a lot of cities are getting hit from a legal standpoint.”
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said the issue is broader than closed captioning.
“It’s also documents that we post on the web that need to be readable,” Cirullo said. “For the hard of hearing, there are special programs, and there are claims being made throughout the state about web site access issues, so I would encourage the town to move on that as soon as it can.”
Murray added that the old Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District web site needs to get shut down since it is now merged with the town.
Councilwoman Anita Kane asked what exactly is required for the town to come into compliance.
“Is there a dollar amount or a time amount?” Kane asked. “I understood, and I guess erroneously, that you were moving forward with that.”
Murray said he is putting together the costs of the upgrades.
“We are talking with different providers, but there is a significant dollar amount associated with closed captioning,” Murray said. “Closed captioning involves having an encoder that sends the signal to a company, to then have a person listening to the meeting and then actively typing in what is being said. You can use a computer system to do it, but the computer systems are only 80 or 90 percent accurate, and the ADA community [doesn’t] see that as a legitimate solution.”
Kane asked Murray when he will have a plan proposal to become ADA compliant.
“The numbers are north of $10,000 to $15,000 annually,” Murray said. “It’s significant to have somebody doing it, and the billing is associated with how many meetings you have. It’s also associated with whether or not you want all of your subcommittees to be covered and broadcast. Right now, you’re broadcasting everything. It is something that you as a council need to decide what you want to broadcast and what you don’t want to broadcast. If you want to broadcast video and audio, or just audio.”
Murray explained that ADA requirements are different if only audio is broadcast. He hopes to have quotes from vendors next month. “Until I know exactly what you want, it’s a moving target,” he said.
Cirullo suggested putting an item on the next agenda for council discussion and direction on ADA compliance.
“A presentation can be made at that time with recommendations and possibly some cost estimates, and you can give direction at that time on how to proceed,” Cirullo said. “It is complex, and it can involve significant dollars to bring it up to standards.”
Mayor Dave Browning asked if he understood that a broadcast must be ADA compliant, but there is no requirement that it be broadcast.
Murray said there is no requirement that meetings be broadcast, but there are other ADA issues with the web site.
“I’ve been speaking with the deputy clerk,” Murray said. “There are some old agenda items and stuff like that that were scanned instead of converted from text. They are not OCR [optical character recognized], and the screen readers can’t read them. I think we need to have a policy that actually says what you want to have on your web site and how long it needs to exist there. If you want everything, there’s a significant amount of conversion that has to happen, or if you decide that from this date forward, you will want everything converted a certain way, and everything prior to that date you just remove from the web site.”
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia asked Murray how long he has known about the need for ADA compliance, and Murray said that he has been advising the need at every update he has given the council, which has been several months, and the town must be able to show that it has been making progress if it receives a legal challenge.
Cirullo said there are steps the council can take to show it is trying to be ADA compliant.
“There is language we can put on the web site about ADA compliance and who to contact and how to [report] if you have issues with the web site, and that can be done in short order,” Cirullo said. “Direction for [Murray] from you, which you have given this evening, that it’s a consensus item that needs to be addressed as soon as the next meeting with a plan of action, but you’re not in a position tonight to authorize the conversion of 11 years of documents at a cost of $75,000 or whatever that might be, plus to do all the closed captioning of your videos. I don’t know if you are prepared tonight to make a policy decision to shut down the web site until you get everything fixed.”
Cirullo added that if the town gets a complaint, it can say it is making an effort to become ADA compliant.
“It is happening throughout the state,” Cirullo said. “Different local governments are getting these notices, so we need to have a plan of action.”
Murray asked for direction initially to get a quote on closed caption only for the council meetings, and for a time period that the council wants items to appear on the web site.
“I want to know how many hours a month we’re dealing with,” Murray said. “If it’s just council meetings, realistically we’re dealing with eight to 10 hours a month.”
Murray added that meetings that only broadcast audio are already ADA compliant.
“If you add video, you have to have closed captioned,” Murray said. “It’s a very difficult decision, but I think what I would like is to get quotes on the council meetings, and then that way we can move forward with that aspect of it. Then if you want to do the other meetings later, we can get quotes for the other meetings. If you want to broadcast audio, I will need to bring forth a quote for services for audio. It’s about $5,000 for the first year and about $2,500 for every following year for audio only.”
Kane made a motion to get a quote to video broadcast just the council meetings and audio of the other meetings, seconded by Maniglia, but Vice Mayor Todd McLendon said he felt they were making a haphazard decision. The motion carried 4-1 with McLendon opposed.