Why is Web Accessibility Important?
Online Students & Disability
Roberts, J., Crittenden, L., and Crittenden, J. (2011). Students with disabilities and online learning: A cross-institutional study of perceived satisfaction with accessibility compliance and service. Internet and Higher Education, 14, 242-250.
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 rulings and memos refer to the WCAG 2.0 standards as the ideal guidelines for higher education institutions to rely upon when discussing web accessibility, and in January 2018, Section 508 will be updated to require that all U.S. Federal information and communication technology must meet the WCAG 2.0 A/AA standards.
These various legal rulings and amendments can best be summarized as a requirement that higher education institutions ensure that disabled students 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, the Department of Education, 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.