Web Content Accessibility Should be a Critical Component of Your Institution’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy.

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Many educational institutions have been served with lawsuits alleging their web content is not accessible to the visually impaired. According to a recent Inside Higher Ed article, the lawsuits from Jason Camacho, a blind individual from New York allege that many higher education institution websites are violating the ADA by not having a website that is accessible via a screen reader.

The article cites over 50 colleges and universities that have been served with ADA-related lawsuit. These institutions, including Northeastern University, Drexel University, Oberlin College, Loyola University New Orleans and more, are located across the nation but actively recruit students from New York— allowing the lawsuits to be filed in the New York’s Southern District. These cases are indicative of a larger problem in the higher education space. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) received nearly 250 complaints about the inaccessibility of post-secondary institution websites in 2017 alone.

Website content accessibility has been covered by the ADA since 1999. In 2008, the regulation was updated to ensure that all website content was accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities. The disabilities covered include blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities and photosensitivity.

Some examples of features of a college website that may act as a barrier to access by persons with disabilities include:

  • Lack of proper captioning of videos and images, including online courses.
  • Important text that is embedded in an image and not picked up by a screen reader.
  • Flashing or rotating elements that cannot be turned off, slowed or paused.
  • A downloadable documents/form that cannot be filled out with a hands-free, assisted computer device.

The University of Florida is a particular example of how an educational institution can recommit itself to being inclusive. In particular, the institution has focused its efforts on ensuring all web content, including its website, online courses, documents and applications are available to all.

Anne Allen, head Education Information Technology Officer at UF is focused on leveraging third-party technology partnerships to accomplish this goal. This includes a nearly $75,000/yr contract with SiteImprove, which detects and helps fix non-ADA compliant websites as well as a partnership with Blackboard Alley, which helps ensure all digital courses are accessible. Another vendor, eQAfy which focuses on quality assurance for higher education websites offers 6 Accessibility Fixes for University and College Websites through its online blog.

Making steps to improve your institution's web accessibility is not only about reducing the potential for litigation, but with 19 percent of people in the U.S. identifying themselves as disabled, it should also be a moral obligation. Website content accessibility should be a primary focus of your institution’s diversity and inclusion policy.

RCM&D is here to help educational institutions understand and comply with the ADA regulations around website accessibility. Contact a trusted advisor to learn more about how you can mitigate risk exposures and ensure adequate liability coverage in the event of an ADA-related allegation.

Website accessibility and the ADA was ranked as one of the top risks for education institutions in the RCM&D report 2019 Outlook: Top Risks for Education Institutions. To receive a copy of the full report, please complete the form to the right.

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