A 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.