White Paper: Roadmap to Web Accessibility in Higher Education
Updated: November 3, 2021
We understand that developing accessibility policies at institutions of higher learning can be a difficult process. This is why we made it our mission to create the definitive guide to establishing an accessible infrastructure at your college or university, the Roadmap to Web Accessibility in Higher Education.
Although educational institutions differ in many ways, they face many of the same accessibility questions:
- How can our college make accessibility a priority?
- What laws does my university need to comply with?
- Which course content should be made accessible?
- Where should the budget come from?
- Who is responsible at our institution and how will we allocate resources to accessibility?
In an effort to answer these questions and more, we conducted in-depth research as well as interviews with university administrators, accessibility coordinators, faculty, and disabled students. The outcome: a comprehensive 22-page white paper that includes case studies, flexible strategies, implementation designs, applicable laws, and numerous resources.
The goal of this white paper is to present best practices that motivate and guide all educational institutions. This blog post introduces some of the topics covered.
Web accessibility is one of the most critical issues facing higher education. New web technologies have been a boon for distance and online education, yet 11% of undergraduates have a disability that impairs access to websites and online content. When creating an accessible infrastructure, universities must set priorities, know which laws apply to them, and find and create an appropriate budget to align with their priorities.
Who is this White Paper for?
Administrators, technologists, web developers, faculty, course designers, disability services professionals, accessibility coordinators—anyone who wants to be an agent of change for higher education accessibility on the web. Whatever your role, this white paper provides actionable advice to help you overcome barriers and expand accessibility awareness across campus.
Web Accessibility in Higher Education– A Growing Concern
Web accessibility is the practice of creating websites that are usable by people of all abilities or disabilities. According to Media Access, 71% of people with disabilities leave a website immediately if it’s not accessible.
The disabled population is expected to surge over the next 50 years, due in part to our aging societies, ongoing military operations, and incredible medical advancements. Deafness or hearing disability, blindness or impaired vision, color blindness, physical impairment, and temporary disability (such as a broken arm) are all physical or sensory difficulties that can interfere with consumption of online information. This white paper explains different kinds of disabilities as well as “hidden disabilities” and the protections each individual has under the law.
Accessibility Laws Impacting Educational Institutions
This white paper advises on accessibility laws and anticipates that these laws will expand and become more strongly enforced in the future.
Section 508 mandates that federal agencies make electronic information accessible to members of the public with disabilities, as well as employees with disabilities. It also requires compliance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
Section 508 applies to many public colleges and universities that receive federal funding, such as Pell Grants or funds through the Assistive Technology Act.
Section 504 is an anti-discrimination measure comparable to The Americans with Disabilities Act that addresses an individual’s needs. This means an individual with a disability must have equal access to all programs, services, and activities receiving federal subsidy. Web-based communications for public educational institutions are covered by this, as well.
Title II prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities at the local and state level. Agencies such as schools, courts, police departments, and any government entity must comply with Title II regulations as outlined by the U.S. Department of Justice, regardless of whether they receive federal funds. Both Section 504 and Title II are enforced by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
Title III applies to commercial entities and “public accommodations,” which include most places of lodging, recreation, transportation, education, and medical care, among other things. Under Title III, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation, including in the online space.
Institutional Accessibility: A Shared Responsibility
Adding accessible measures to current course development can be difficult. After all, change is hard. There are a number of parties that must work together to make accessibility successful, and the actions you take can differ depending on your role.
Instructional technologists and designers must be proactive and incorporate accessibility into all stages, of course, content development, as well as the selection of university hardware and software systems. Professors should make reasonable efforts to create accessible content and work with students to pilot new accessible e-learning practices. Administrators should review university buying practices, push for funding, and seek state and federal grant opportunities. Disability coordinators should align efforts by creating committees to collaborate with peer institutions and disseminate information across all levels of the university system.
The Roadmap to Web Accessibility in Higher Education provides advice on gaining momentum on critical accessibility issues through educators, committees, and partnerships.
How to Be Digitally Accessible in Online Learning
Accessible online learning is a challenge because ideas and concepts must pass through hardware, software and content programs to be consumed by the disabled student via assistive technology. If any part of this chain is broken, a student will not be able to fully utilize the burgeoning possibilities in the online learning space.
This white paper teaches how to assess hardware and software accessibility features as well as how to create accessible text documents, websites, and multimedia. Multiple disability scenarios, teaching models, and student personas are taken into account.
Accessibility Infrastructure Planning
In our paper, Roadmap to Web Accessibility in Higher Education, we provide the following steps for building an accessible infrastructure at your institution of higher learning. Each step is outlined and guidance is given by some of our experts.
- Research Legislation and Compliance
- Perform an Accessibility Audit
- Collaborate with Peer Institutions
- Set Benchmarks and Reward Success
Coordinating accessibility initiatives across a university can be time consuming, laborious, and sometimes overwhelming. The costs are substantial and it’s not always clear how to prioritize. Furthermore, the spectrum of disabilities makes it difficult to create educational content that is universally accessible. However, proper accessibility accommodations are what make the difference between a disabled student’s success and failure. It is our hope this white paper can act as your guide to improving web accessibility and disseminating awareness at your institution.
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This blog post was originally published by Shannon Murphy and has since been updated.
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