These FAQs are in regards to the Information and Communication Technology Accessibility Regulation. Questions about these FAQs should be sent to the University IT Accessibility Coordinator.
1. Why do we have to follow these Web accessibility regulations when there is no mention in the ADA of the term “Web accessibility”?
The implementing regulations for Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) require public universities to ensure that communications with persons with disabilities are as effective as communications with others, unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the program or is an undue burden. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) considers the term “communication” to include the transfer of information over the Internet and other electronic means.
2. The law states that I do not have to make something accessible if it is an “undue hardship”. What is an undue hardship and who determines if a particular alteration or accommodation is an undue hardship?
The term “undue hardship” means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense, when considered in light of several factors outlined in the ADA, such as the nature and cost of the accommodation needed and some financial considerations. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(10). An “undue hardship” is determined within the context of the entire university budget. OCR has stated that if you could have purchased software, for instance, that was accessible and chose not to, then the “undue hardship” defense does not apply. The Provost or designee determines if a particular action constitutes an “undue hardship.”
3. The law states that I do not have to make something accessible if it “fundamentally alters the program or service”. How is it determined if a change or accommodation fundamentally alters the program or service I am offering?
OCR requires that decisions regarding essential requirements for a course be made by a group of people who are trained, knowledgeable and experienced in the area after a careful, thoughtful and rational review of the academic program and its requirements. Although a professor may be an integral part of the interactive educational process, he or she is not qualified to solely determine whether the requested accommodation constitutes a “fundamental alteration” of the course. Inquiries regarding this issue should be directed to the Disability Resource Office (“DRO”).
4. If I’m in a visual field like Design or Art, why should I make accommodations for blind students? They can’t really pursue my subject. (This can be said for different disabilities and different fields.)
Each department and professional school should develop technical standards if there are qualifications unique to a particular field. The university can develop a disability-neutral description of the skills, or technical standards, needed to complete the program, and then ask all applicants to certify that they meet those standards, with or without reasonable accommodations. The permissible goal consistent with Section 504 and the ADA is to identify persons who can complete the program, not to identify persons with disabilities who may be unable to complete the program. Contact the NC State Office of General Counsel for advice on developing technical standards.
5. What is considered the scope of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for the purpose of this regulation?
ICT includes any information technology, equipment, or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment for which the principal function is the creation, conversion, duplication, automatic acquisition, storage, analysis, evaluation, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data or information. Examples of ICT are, but are not limited to, electronic content, telecommunications products, computers and ancillary equipment, software, information kiosks and transaction machines, videos, IT services, and multifunction office machines which copy, scan, and fax documents.
6. How are we expected to accomplish all of this when some of it is so expensive, like captioning, and we have limited money in our budget?
Creating accessible content varies in difficulty depending on what is being created. Some aspects involve minor changes to current work flows while some require using different software or different techniques. Some aspects, like captioning, do cost a significant amount of time and/or money.
For aspects that are simpler to enact, such as creating accessible documents and Web pages, the training resources from OIT and DELTA should be utilized. For more complex systems where there are no easy or apparent solutions, contact email@example.com for consultation services.
For captioning, if the video is going to be widely distributed, meaning that you do not know the functional limitations of all the potential viewers of the video, then captioning costs need to be factored into the production costs of the video. NC State offers services (Multimedia Accessibility and Captioning Grant) to reduce the cost of captioning videos, but there will still be a significant cost to the video creator.
For videos which are distributed to an access list controlled group, meaning you control who has access to the video and you also know the pertinent functional limitations of all of the people in the group, then captioning only needs to be provided if someone in the group needs it.
7. If no one in my class needs an accessible version of my online content, do I have to go through the trouble of providing things like captions for videos and alternative text for images?
The ICT Regulation allows you to use inaccessible electronic resources in your class if:
- you control who has access to the resource,
- you know the functional limitations of everyone who has access to the resource, and
- no one needs an accessible version of the resource.
However, in designing your class, making something accessible often only involves a small amount of additional work. Additionally, because accessible design is a subset of universal design, designing accessible content often yields other benefits for all users. If you choose to wait to make a course accessible only when it is requested in order to meet the needs of a student with a disability, it usually takes a significant investment of time and energy to retrofit a course. Putting in 10% more effort in the design phase yields numerous hours of saved time down the road.
There are some aspects of courses that are quite costly to make accessible, like providing captions for videos. In these cases, if you control who has access to the content and you know their functional limitations, it is acceptable to not caption the videos at the design phase and to provide the captions on as needed basis as part of an accommodation as long as the captions can be provided in a timely manner when requested.
8. What if I have an inaccessible resource and I want to restrict it to an access list controlled group due to accessibility requirements, but I cannot easily set permission controls on the resource? Do I have to protect the actual resource with a password or can I make the resource sufficiently difficult to find (e.g. security through obscurity) that people would not be able to find it through casual searching or browsing?
Some resources by their nature are difficult to limit access to. For instance, sharing a Google Document with a class, where the class roll might be large and frequently changing, can be difficult because there is no automated way to share a document with an updated list from Registration and Records indicating who is in a class. Sharing a Google Document with others might require publishing the Document to a public URL.
If it is feasible to secure the resource through a password, that should always be the course of action taken to protect the resource. If the nature of the resource does not feasibly allow a password to be set on it, and the contents of the resource do not raise any FERPA concerns if it is made public, it is allowable to protect the resource by making it sufficiently difficult for the public to discover. In this case, the resource should not be discoverable or linked to from another public resource, like a link from a public Web page or a search engine. In disseminating information on how to access the resource to the access-list controlled group, care must be taken that the information is only received by that group. Acceptable methods of sharing the information on how to access the content in question include, but are not limited to, posting the information to a password protected Web site where it is known who can access the information or emailing the information to specified users.
9. If I have an inaccessible ICT resource and I receive an accommodation letter from DRO, how long do I have to make the resource accessible?
ICT resources must be available to all students so that they receive equal access to the educational opportunities and benefits afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of such technology. In general, this means all students must be able to participate in all activities at the same time as everyone else.
10. Wouldn’t it be much cheaper to “retrofit” pages when a student having a particular disability registers for a particular class?
No. Retrofitting web pages in order to make them accessible requires a significant more amount of time than planning for accessibility from the beginning. Putting in 10% more effort in the design phase yields numerous hours of saved time down the road. When accessibility is not planned for from the beginning, design decisions are often made that make the possibility of making an electronic resource accessible extremely difficult or impossible.
OCR considers “effectiveness” of communication under Title II of the ADA to include timeliness of delivery, accuracy of translation, and provision in appropriate manner and medium. NC State has a continuing obligation to comply with the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), meaning that implementation of technology should include planning for accessibility. Given the time that may be required to “retrofit” pages, and the fact that students may register for the class up through the first few weeks of the semester, not planning for accessibility may cause the course materials to not be accessible in a timely manner.
11. If I want to use a third-party web site, does it have to be accessible?
Third-party web sites and resources that are considered essential to performing the desired tasks are required to be accessible. Third-party web sites that are supplemental to performing the desired task are not required to be accessible, but every effort should be made to find accessible resources or work with the third-party to make their resources more accessible.
Two examples of an essential resource are requiring users to go to an external web site to take an online quiz as part of their grade or to read an electronic resource for class. An example of a supplemental resource is a collection of “for further reading” resources where the list or the resources reside on third-party sites. Care should be taken in determining what is an essential resource versus a supplemental resource, and not rushing too quickly to declare something is supplemental simply for expediency or ease of implementation.
Because of the use of emerging technologies on campus and also the difficulty in making some electronic resources fully accessible, there are officially sponsored systems which reside on third-party servers, that can still be used in inaccessible ways. You should consult NC State’s IT Accessibility Quick Guides to learn best practices in using the various systems on campus and/or confer with DRO to discuss reasonable accommodations.
12. What does “providing an equivalent experience mean”? Does this mean I don’t have to make particular technologies accessible but can provide an alternative instead?
In some cases, yes. Title II of the ADA requires public universities to ensure that communications with persons with disabilities are as effective as communications with others, unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the program or is an undue burden. If the same learning objective or functional task can be accomplished in an alternative method, while still ensuring all users can engage in the activity in an equitable manner, then alternative methods of interaction are allowable.
13. There is already technology available to people with disabilities for access to electronic media, such as text reading software, braille terminals, etc. Isn’t this issue handled best by the end user?
There are a number of assistive technologies that allow people with certain disabilities to interact with resources that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. However, for these resources to work with the assistive technologies the resource often has to be transformed into another format appropriate for the assistive technology. This is where designing accessible resources is critical. A resource that is designed accessibly can easily be transformed into alternate formats through automated processes, often by the assistive technology itself. If the resource is not designed accessibly it is a manual and often labor-intensive process in order to make it work with assistive technologies.
14. Given that a picture is worth a thousand words, wouldn’t this be very time consuming and discourage faculty from adding graphics to enrich online materials?
Making images accessible simply requires that you convey the meaning of the image somewhere else in the document. Sometimes that is done as alternative text, but sometimes if an image is described thoroughly enough in the context it is found in, like in the text of a web page, no additional description is necessary, other than the necessary short alternative description e.g. an alt attribute. The fundamental question to ask is “What message is this image conveying?” If that message is conveyed in the context where the image is, then lengthy alternative text is not needed. If the function of the image needs additional explanation, it can be stored as alternative text with the image as an alt attribute. For examples, read these tutorials on alternative text.
15. What is considered equitable for time on task for completing a given activity using technology for people with disabilities vs. people without disabilities? For example, if it takes non-disabled students an average of 60 minutes to complete a task using a given technology, is it required of the technology that a person using a screen reader also be able to complete the task in 60 minutes? Is 90 or 120 minutes considered equitable?
In general, all tasks should be designed to be as equitable as possible in terms of time on task, regardless of a person’s disability. However, sometimes the nature of a person’s disability makes this very difficult if not impossible to accomplish. Please consult with the DRO to determine what an appropriate amount of time would be. Each student’s needs vary according to course requirements, testing formats, and environment.
As a guiding principle, all unnecessary hurdles to using a technology should be eliminated. Sometimes there are particular tasks and particular technical implementations that require, for example, a screen reader user to take longer to accomplish a task than it does a non-screen reader user. However, these hurdles can often be minimized or eliminated altogether if proper coding standards are used. A lack of desire to change something on the content creator’s part is not a justification for having a particular task take longer to complete for a certain subset of users.
16. Why should I make my materials accessible when I’m just going to change them next semester?
Making course materials accessible does require additional work, and it’s a fair question to ask if no one in the current course needs the content to be accessible. The current ICT Accessibility Regulation does allow you to keep course materials inaccessible if you control who has access to the materials and no one who has access to the materials needs them to be accessible. However, if a student enters your course at any time during the semester, you are required to make those materials accessible in a timely manner. When designing online content these general guidelines should be followed.
- Use authoring tools that allow for accessible content to be created easily. This can greatly facilitate the process of having to go back in later to add accessibility information when the need arises.
- Even if no one currently needs the content to be accessible, learn the work habits of making the content accessible. Many accessibility needs require very little extra work and many “accessibility” features of content also benefit other users.
17. If I used a piece of inaccessible technology in a previous semester and I want to use it again in a future semester, does it have to be made accessible?
Any technology used in current courses must be accessible as per the Procedures section in the ICT Accessibility Regulation.
18. If I have two pieces of technology available to me to basically accomplish the same task, but only one of them is accessible, do I have to choose the one that is accessible, even if there are some features about the other technology that I like more?
The first question to ask in assessing the suitability of multiple competing products is what educational or business needs are you trying to meet. In other words, what problem are you trying to solve. This will help you determine the requirements you have of a particular technology. After you have determined the requirements, they should be prioritized on a scale, such as “Essential, High, Medium, and Low”. Accessibility should be included as one of the essential requirements along with other certain core functions necessary to the need the electronic resource is meeting. Only products that meet the accessibility requirements should be considered. In the final analysis, if none of the products meet the essential accessibility requirements but do meet your other essential requirements, it may be permissible to use the inaccessible technology. In this case you should contact firstname.lastname@example.org for consultation services. Please be aware that if you decide to purchase a technology that is not accessible over one that is, the OCR takes the position that we will not be able to use the defense of “undue hardship” (see Question 2 above).
19. What are emerging technologies?
The term emerging technology is difficult to define, but generally, emerging technologies are innovative technologies which are disruptive to the current technological landscape and have not been in the marketplace for a sufficient amount of time for competitors or an established industry around which to form.
20. Can I use emerging technologies in my course?
Yes, but under certain conditions. Emerging technologies in many circumstances and situations enable persons with disabilities to access information more readily. On the other hand, with some emerging technologies, persons with certain disabilities are unable to access the information. In 2010, six universities were the subject of complaints filed by the National Federal of the Blind alleging that use of the Kindle for classroom assignments was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The U.S. Department of Justice settled the cases with the universities.
If the technology is inaccessible to qualified students with disabilities, three factors must be considered prior to using emerging technologies in your course.
1. Does the particular learning objective trying to be achieved require using the inaccessible technology and are there no other options for achieving that objective using more accessible means?
If the learning objective can only be achieved through using the inaccessible technology, then it is permissible to use the technology in your course, even if a student is not fully able to participate in the activity. In this case a reasonable accommodation is made to allow the student an alternative method of achieving the learning objective. The DRO must be contacted to assist in the accommodation process.
2. If there are two technologies available to meet a particular learning objective, one inaccessible and one accessible, can I give students the option of which they want to use and use the accessible technology as a fallback option?
Yes, as long as the accessible technology provides the student with a disability an equally effective and integrated experience to those who use the inaccessible technology. If the accessible technology cannot provide such an experience, and the inaccessible technology is being used solely as a convenience for either the students or the faculty, then the more accessible technology must be used by the entire class.
For more information regarding the university’s obligations and faculty responsibilities relating to emerging technologies and federal disability discrimination law, read this information from the OCR: Frequently Asked Questions About the June 29, 2010, Dear Colleague Letter (PDF)
3. Can I use the inaccessible emerging technology in my course simply for convenience if no one in my current course is adversely affected by using the inaccessible technology?
In this case you can use any technology you want, pursuant to other University policies, regulations, and rules, but you need to have a plan in place to provide accessible course content if a student with a disability does enroll in your course. Planning includes identifying, prior to the course beginning, a means to provide immediate delivery of accessible course content.
21. Are we required to provide accommodations, such as live captioning, for public meetings and presentations? Does it make a difference if it is a face-to-face meeting or an online meeting?
Requests for reasonable accommodations from meeting participants, regardless of where or how the meeting is held, will be honored to the extent possible. All campus groups (academic departments, business units, student groups, etc.) are strongly encouraged to include the following accommodation statement on all printed and electronic announcements about upcoming events.
“In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, NC State will honor requests for reasonable accommodations made by individuals with disabilities. Requests can be served more effectively if notice is provided at least 10 days before the event. Direct accommodation requests to _________________.”
If a participant contacts you with a request for a reasonable accommodation, the university’s expectation is that the request will be fulfilled by the unit. If, due to exceptional circumstances, a unit experiences difficulty honoring a request made 10 days or more in advance of the event, the unit is strongly encouraged to consult with the ADA Coordinator about potential consequences for failure to accommodate (contact: Sheri Schwab, 919-515-4559 or email@example.com).
Information on creating accessible events can be found at
- Removing Barriers: Planning Meetings That Are Accessible To All Participants from the NC Office of Disability and Health
- Planning an Accessible Conference from the Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing
- Providing Captions for Live Online Events
22. What if a participant contacts me requesting an accommodation within 10 days of the event?
If the participant contacts you with a reasonable accommodation request after the 10 day threshold has passed, an effort to fulfill the request still must made when
- it is logistically possible to fulfill the request on shortened notice, and
- it does not prohibit the completion of other essential and time-sensitive job duties.
Responding to a request for a reasonable accommodation is considered an essential job function, regardless of the time frame in which the request is made. One’s obligation to attempt to honor a request for a reasonable accommodation should be considered when prioritizing job duties. If fulfilling the reasonable accommodation request would adversely affect other essential and time-sensitive job duties to a degree that they cannot be performed, the director of the unit must make a determination as to whether it is possible for the unit to provide the accommodation. Prior to determining that it is not possible to provide the reasonable accommodation, it is strongly recommended that a representative from the unit consult with the ADA Coordinator (contact: Sheri Schwab, 919-515-4559 or firstname.lastname@example.org).