A new article in Inside Higher Ed magazine Helping Institutions Reach Accessibility Goals details the importance of institutions of higher education having “coherent policies around accessibility” and cites “…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 notes that time constraints make be a factor. Quoting our colleague 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, which is exactly what the quality indicators are designed for,” 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 staff person is John Brandt who serves training and operations coordinator. Brandt’s own 25-year experience in web development and accessibility suggest that the perceived economic factor is probably the largest factor in equation. “Most organizations look at accessibility as a ‘high-cost’ item because they are approaching from a mitigation perspective as opposed to looking forward and seeking continuous improvement. They think, ‘we’ve got 5,000 PDFs that are not accessible, it is going to cost us lots of money to fix all of them,'” Brandt explains. “I often suggest that they take a good long look at those 5,000 PDF and do some ‘spring cleaning.’ This often results in a recognition that much of what they are keeping can be easily tossed.”
While most web accessibility experts will talk about “adding accessibility in at the beginning” of a web design process, but colleges and universities are often not able to do this since they are among the first organizations that had websites in the 1990s.
The Inside Higher Education article promotes a new set of quality indicators for accessible educational materials developed by NC-AEM and 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 “Higher Education Critical Components of the Quality Indicators for the Provision of Accessible Educational Materials & Accessible Technologies” 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 notes that “institutions 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.