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Information Systems Department

Information Management Division - Web Standards

Best Practices

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As a convenience, this website converts English to another language using GoogleTM Translate which provides an automated translation of the content. The tool is not perfect and the context of the text may not be taken into account during translation. As a result, the translation may lose some of its intended meaning. Some items on the site including images containing text, videos with captioning, PDF documents, or maps may not be translated, and some features on the site may not work in the translated versions.

County of Sonoma cannot guarantee the accuracy of the converted text. Where there is any question, the English version is always the authoritative version of this website.

Universal Design and Accessibility

Accessible web content refers to Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 compliant content that supports assistive technology without the need for additional accommodation for any individual visitor.

Universal Design refers to web content that is usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. It includes Accessibility but affects all website visitors and is much broader than simply complying with Section 508 and WCAG 2.0.

A website built with Universal Design in mind is one that provides a quality and usable experience for visitors:

  • On whatever device they are using (smart phones, desktops, tablets and notepads)
  • Using the software of their choice (browser, screen reader or magnifier, closed captioning, etc.)
  • Using any assistive device of their choice (eyeglasses, speakers, hearing aids, special mouse or keyboard switches, etc.)
  • At the time of day of their choice
  • In the language of their choice
  • That allows them to navigate, scan, read, interact, and make decisions at the speed of their choice

The Advantages of Web Pages

Properly designed web pages (HTML) are generally accessible without excessive remediation. Even in web pages, images still require alternate text and slide shows or carousels require controls to slow or pause the presentation but these tools are useful for all visitors and in some cases improve search engine rankings. 

  1. Web content can be easily searched by standard website search functionality
  2. Web pages do not require any special software to be installed to view the content
  3. Web content does not require a file to be downloaded, therefore our visitors will not unnecessarily use their data plan just to find the phone number on page 7
  4. Web pages render faster since only one page of content is needed at any one time while the entire PDF must download before the visitor can access the content, regardless of how much they intend to read
  5. GoogleTM Translate will automatically translate web content (on those sites where GoogleTM Translate has been implemented)
  6. Modifying web content is a simple task but modified PDFs require the remediation process to be repeated in its entirety
  7. Web content has context, left menu, contact information and related or supporting content is easily available
  8. Web pages can be formatted for desktops, smart phones and tablets to improve the user experience on the chosen device.
  9. Well designed web pages, by definition, provides structured content which assists in both accessibility and search engine indexing processes. 

Usability Concerns

Website visitors are busy. They have questions and are looking for answers. Some visitors are prone to use navigation and links to find the answers, others are more likely to search.

They all tend to scan web pages, not read them, at least until they have found the content they’ve been looking for.

PDFs often do not have links to the primary website for related content and, in fact, often do not contain links within the text at all. And if the PDF links out to a website or another document, the visitor is asked if they want to execute the link and whether this is their preference for all links. Answering this question incorrectly can further isolate the content and negatively impact the user experience.

Some PDFs are large enough to warrant their own Table of Contents which, in effect, results a mini-website. Only this type of "navigation" is often not clickable and this version needs structure applied, remediation and potentially translation.

Due to the inherent remediation effort, updating PDF content to keep it current and relevant is often avoided, impacting the quality of the content which negatively impacts the user experience further.

Bilingual Content

If PDF content is desired in both English and Spanish, the content must be translated and both versions of the PDF need to be re-mediated for accessibility. If the PDF content is later modified, the translation and remediation will need to be repeated for both versions.

GoogleTM Translate only translates web content, it does not translate PDFs or images with embedded text.

Content without Context

PDF content is independently discover-able by the search engines. The PDF often does not include references to a website for context or related content.

This can be particularly problematic for historical content where multiple PDFs describe a subject over time. Since there is no navigation, no reference to a collection of related versions, the content of a single PDF can be misinterpreted as if it depicts a current or unchanging situation.

From a search engine ranking perspective, we have lost the opportunity to bring visitors to our website where they might learn of additional services and opportunities.