In recent years there have been several notable legal actions concerning IT accessibility within higher education. When I say “legal action,” that can range from an action from the Office of Civil Rights or the Department of Justice, or it can be from an actual lawsuit.
I went back through the findings and/or settlements from several of the major cases to see what patterns are present to see how that might be helpful for pushing the accessibility conversation forward in higher education.
What this is not
This is not a blueprint for how to make your campus accessible. Simply addressing the issues raised here will only solve some of your problems. What I hope is that this can be a starting point for campuses who want to begin the conversation about creating an accessible IT environment. By starting to talk about these particular issues it can lead a campus to finding and implementing solutions that will deal with IT accessibility holistically.
In addition to helping campuses new to IT accessibility, I hope it can help inform and guide campuses who have been working on accessibility for some time. It’s always good to reexamine where you are and where you are going.
How this is organized
The way these points are organized do not necessarily reflect how any one settlement or finding is organized. Rather, it is organized into functional blocks that I feel make it easier to understand the larger picture being painted.
It also needs to be noted that the following issues do not necessarily reflect all of the issues raised in the settlements or findings. They simply reflect the patterns I found. Most complaints start as problems about very specific technologies in specific circumstances. The final settlement or findings often reflect larger accessibility problems that were uncovered during the investigation.
The Accommodation Process
- Ensure that students receiving alternate formats for documents are receiving them in a timely manner and that they are accurate.
- Ensure that the Disability Services office is part of the accommodation process when discussing what will meet the needs of the student in a particular class.
Course Content and Course Interactions
- Ensure that the Learning Management Systems are accessible. This includes enterprise LMSes used by the whole campus but also systems, often from publishers, that might be used as a supplement to a textbook or a set of online tools. Often times these publisher-based LMSes are used by specific classes rather than the campus as a whole.
- Do not require the use of a technology that is inaccessible when another more accessible technology or method may have been sufficient. Sometimes this comes down to how a particular technology is used in a particular setting. This problem seems to be cited most from software which facilitates collaboration or from classroom response systems (e.g. clickers).
- Ensure that electronic documents (e.g. PDFs, PowerPoints) are accessible.
- Ensure that videos have captions and that the captions are accurate.
The University’s Approach to Accessibility
- Provide information to people about accessibility services for your campus and how to get help or request services. This includes providing this information to users through Web sites and print communications.
- Ensure your campus’ grievance process is published and followed.
- Have a person and/or governing body in charge of coordinating accessibility efforts.
- Establish processes to ensure all electronic and information technology which is procured is accessible.
- Provide sufficient training to faculty and producers of Web content on accessibility practices.
- Regularly audit Web sites for accessibility.
- Define the standard by which Web accessibility will be measured. (Usually WCAG 2.0 Level AA is referenced in the findings and settlements.)
Non-Course Related Accessibility
- Ensure accessibility of student information systems and all of the ways students may interact with them. (e.g. course registration system, scholarship information, paying a bill)
- Ensure public videos are captioned and that the captions are accurate.
- Ensure information conveyed through digital signage is available to all users in accessible formats.
Again, this list is not exhaustive of all of the issues raised in recent legal actions and it does not cover all aspects of accessibility on your campus, but hopefully it can be a conversation starter for your campus as you either begin implementing an accessibility plan or you are trying to make improvements to your existing plan.