SEBRING — Early this year, Highlands County government had to remove video recordings of meetings from its website until those videos were ADA-compliant.
According to county officials, the county is still struggling to make all materials — documents mostly — formatted in ways that make them easily accessible under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act [of 1990].
Gloria Rybinski, public information officer for the Board of County Commission and its departments, said Friday that some documents and presentations linked to the County Commission’s May 7 agenda were unavailable from the county’s website for that reason.
There did not appear to be a problem with videos of meetings, however. Videos of meetings dating back to Feb. 19 have working closed captions for those who need them.
Prior to that date, however, videos of meetings were not closed captioned in real time when broadcast and don’t have the captions embedded in the code.
People who want copies of those videos can get them directly from county offices at 600 S. Commerce Ave. or by making a public records request to 863-402-6500.
The real problem right now, Rybinski said, is documents. County employees just finished a training on how they will need to produce documents with new templates that makes those records easy to read for software designed to help those with disabilities.
It’s a momumental task, Rybinski said: “It’s not going to be done next week.”
For an example of the scope of work, she explained that Highlands County has 377 employees, each working full-time, or approximately 20 days out of each month.
If each person generated five pages of documents per day, that’s 459,940 pages, or almost half a million pages per year.
That doesn’t even count the 769-page annual budget or the 88-page fee schedule, Rybinski said.
In addition, county staff will have to go into archives and convert documents to the new formats.
The issue began in early February, after County Administrator Randy Vosburg received form letter complaints over a lack of closed captions or descriptive audio in county documents and audio/video recordings.
He said complaints were sent to Highlands County and other local governments throughout Florida and the nation.
The issue came to the attention of the Highlands News-Sun when staff writers attempted to access meeting videos and meeting documents and found their links missing from the county website.
Rybinski said then that some municipalities and counties with tight or limited budgets, unable to accommodate requests, removed incompatible content or shut down their sites altogether.
Highlands County did just that: Removed content until it could be made compatible.
Fortunately, by mid-March, the county was able to hire a service to closed caption meeting videos at a fraction of the cost of captioning software, and meeting videos now have captions.
Not all documents and presentations, however, are compatible with read-aloud software people may have on their personal internet devices, Rybinski said, and that’s what the county has tried to correct.
Sebring City Administrator Scott Noethlich reported Friday that his staff has also had trouble keeping documents and videos ADA-compliant.
“We’ve had a problem with that,” Noethlich said. “It’s not easy to overcome.”