Access to Technology

Accessible Web and Electronic Media/Documents

There is a clear and unambiguous legal obligation for postsecondary institutions to publish web sites and electronic media/documents that are accessible and usable to people with disabilities using specialized assistive technologies. Strayer University, No. 11-09-2115 (OCR 2011). Unfortunately, current authoring tools used by The University do not automatically ensure an accessible web page or electronic media document and deliberate intervention is necessary to produce accessible versions. The University does not have published policies or guidelines regarding accessible web or electronic media documents. Web and electronic document production are handled by two areas: campus IT and Instructional Design. Faculty may bypass both of these areas and post electronic materials directly for student use. In early information gathering, web accessibility standards were mentioned, but on further review it was found that their application was incomplete and could not reliably produce compliant web sites or electronic documents. The University web developers have an incomplete awareness of accessible web design. The University web site confirms this. Examples of the barriers to access noted during our review include:

  • Some accessibility features are present, but other features are completely absent from the web site. For example, the page did have the required alt attributes for images, but lacked the required labels for form elements. The University web site is not compliant with any of professionally recognized web accessibility standards, i.e. 508 or WCAG 2.0.
  • In response to a questionnaire the use of web-accessibility validators was mentioned, but the web site itself is evidence that if validators are used, they are either being used incorrectly or misinterpreted. There was no evidence that web accessibility validators were used on this site.
  • A heavily used electronic document format utilized is the PDF file type. PDF documents are not inherently accessible and require additional work to become so. There is no workflow for creating accessible PDF files.
  • Videos produced for the campus web are not captioned. It was reported that if a video were scripted, then that script could be furnished to a deaf or HOH student. This is not an acceptable solution. Clearly there is no synchronization between the content of a paper transcript and the soundtrack of a video. It may be used to create captioning, but it cannot be a substitute for it.
  • Remediating accessibility to web pages follows the larger campus-wide policy of making repairs when requested by students with disabilities. Again, this is out of compliance as it puts these students at a disadvantage as compared their peers. Not only are they denied immediate access to essential material; but, they must wait (most probably several days) to use the material. Web pages repaired one issue at a time are never as accessible as pages designed for accessibility from the start.
  • There is no formal training or staff development for web developers on the subject of web accessibility. They are “encouraged” to learn more about it.

Recommendations

  • The University needs to articulate an accessibility policy for its web sites and electronic documents.
  • A professionally recognized standard of web accessibility must be adopted and professional staff should be trained regarding its implementation. Web accessibility standards have sophisticated validation processes that the University must implement to ensure that their web output conforms to the standard.
  • The practice of repairing incidents of web and electronic document inaccessibility on a case-by-case basis needs to be abandoned. A workflow needs to be created that integrates accessibility into web sites and electronic media/documents from the beginning.
  • Web developers need to broaden their definition of web elements. A web-based video is as much an element as an image and it has its own technical criteria for accessible implementation.
  • Institutions increasingly do business with students over the web. Transactional web pages (especially those involving sensitive information) require a high level of accessibility to produce trustworthy transactions for all students. The web development team needs to pay special attention to the accessibility of these types of pages.
  • Qualified web accessibility IT professionals must be either hired or trained.