Reaching Accessibility Goals for Higher Education

Accessible Information TechnologyA new article in Inside Higher Ed magazine Helping Institutions Reach Accessibility Goals details the fact that many institutions of higher education fail to have “coherent policies around accessibility. ” And, they note that there has been “…a recent uptick in high-profile lawsuits alleging failure to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act…”

While the reasons for this situation are many, the article suggests “time constraints” make be a factor. Quoting Cynthia Curry from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (NC-AEM)“Part of the problem is that people don’t have the time to do something systemic around accessibility within their institutions…” Curry said. “Most institutions, of course, aren’t looking proactively at accessibility. They’re looking at it more as a retrofit, or they’re being reactive if something litigious comes up.”

Maine CITE’s own resident digital accessibility resource person is John Brandt. Brandt’s own 25-year experience in web development and accessibility suggest that the perceived high cost to make web content accessible is probably the largest single factor in the equation. “Most organizations look at accessibility as expensive because they are approaching it from a mitigation perspective. They often fail to look at the costs associated with NOT having accessible content – lost student admissions, lack of student retention, etc.”

While most web accessibility experts will talk about the importance of “adding accessibility in at the beginning” of a web design process, colleges and universities are often not able to do this since they were among the first organizations to have websites in the 1990s – they have accumulated lots of content.

But even if an institution is committed to improving accessibility, they often don’t know where to start. To that end, the Inside Higher Education article promotes a new set of quality indicators for accessible educational materials developed by NC-AEM designed to “help institutions ensure, at scale, that all students have the same learning opportunities in face-to-face classrooms and digital learning environments.” The article focuses on the NC-AEM’s recently published  “Higher Education Critical Components of the Quality Indicators for the Provision of Accessible Educational Materials & Accessible Technologies” which promote seven quality indicators (QI), each containing specific criteria needed to achieve each QI.

For colleges and universities just starting out with the process, these quality indicators can provide a blueprint and structure of the thinking process that need to be considered. Tom Tobin, one of the people interviewed in the article, encourages “institutions (to) focus accessibility efforts on the potential impact on student access and learning outcomes, rather than merely on ‘legal-compliance arguments.’”

“While the description of the quality indicators alludes to the broad access benefits for all learners when accessible materials, tools and interface are adopted, the actual indicators and critical components are focused squarely on meeting the needs of learners with disabilities — only a part of the access conversation,” Tobin states in the article.

Read “Helping Institutions Reach Accessibility Goals”

Read/view the NC-AEM – “Higher Education Critical Components of the Quality Indicators for the Provision of Accessible Educational Materials & Accessible Technologies”

New and Updated AEM resources from NC-AEM

National Center on Accessible Educational Materials logoThe following new and revised publications are now available on-line from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials:

Procuring Accessible Digital Materials

Accessibility of digital materials and technologies for all learners, including students with disabilities, has captured the attention of stakeholders on both sides of the education marketplace – from consumers to developers. To help all stakeholders take advantage of this moment, a new AEM Center publication on the procurement of accessible digital materials explains what accessibility means, why it’s important, who requires it, and how educational agencies can meet their responsibilities.

Use this link to view/download, “Procuring Accessible Digital Materials and Technologies for Teaching and Learning: The What, Why, Who, and How”

Accessible Educational Materials and Technologies in the IEP

Originally published in 2015, this 2018 update of Accessible Educational Materials and Technologies in the IEP discusses a number of locations in the IEP where it might be appropriate to refer to a student’s use of AEM. Did you know there’s no specific requirement in IDEA regarding where to include AEM in developing the IEP? This article provides guidance for states, districts, and IEP teams. Two of the authors presented a webinar on AEM in the IEP in early May.

Use this link to view/download, “Accessible Educational Materials and Technologies in the IEP”