Why is Web Accessibility Important?
Online Students & Disability
However, students with disabilities are also far more likely to encounter difficulties and challenges in online courses. Lack of captions, missing alt-text, using images instead of text, inaccessible readings–these are common issues that students with disabilities encounter in online courses, and they prevent students from fully engaging with the material.
These requirements include:
- Students with disabilities must have “the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services… with substantially equivalent ease of use” as nondisabled students (Case Western University Settlement Agreement, 2009)
- Auxiliary aids and services for students with disabilities, such as captions, alt-text, etc., must be provided in accessible formats, in a way that protects the students’ privacy and independence, and in a timely manner (which, in a digital environment, generally means immediately). (ADA Regulatory Amendments, 2010)
- Communication, such as a transmission of information via the internet, with students with disabilities must be as effective as communications with non-disabled students. (ADA Title II)
- Majority of court rulings refer to the WCAG 2.0 standards as the ideal guidelines for higher education institutions to rely upon when discussing web accessibility.
These various legal rulings and amendments can best be summarized as a requirement that higher education institutions ensure that students with disabilities have functionally the same access as nondisabled students. Failure to adhere to this requirement can leave a university open to future legal action, either from the Department of Justice or a private lawsuit brought by a student or an activist group.
Culture of Diversity
Northwestern University is committed to creating a diverse learning environment for all students. As part of that commitment, we encourage course designers to take an attitude of not simply accommodating students with disabilities, but actively welcoming them. By creating courses that are accessible from the beginning, we demonstrate to these students that they are fully included members of the learning community.
The number of students who report disabilities to AccessibleNU is increasing each year, and while there are obviously no hard numbers on the number of students who do not self-report, it’s safe to assume that their numbers are increasing, too. Even if you do not receive an accommodation request, the odds are good that you have at least one student with a disability in your course. This is why it’s so important to be proactive in making a course site accessible. It will result in a high quality, universally welcoming, and legally compliant course that all students are able to engage in.