An estimated 11 percent of undergraduate students on campuses today have a disability which keeps them from viewing or interacting with certain web content. Ensuring that these students have equal access to technology is a complex challenge.
It's one requiring a coordinated effort across campus departments. Universities must maintain compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA, considered the standard for measuring digital accessibility.
Higher Ed Addresses Digital Accessibility Challenges
Recently, University Business and Onix conducted a webinar regarding higher education web accessibility challenges and how university peers — Michigan State University (MSU) and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) are overcoming them to comply with WCAG 2.0 AA. Watch the webinar now to discover how MSU and NOVA are:
- Keeping up with changing American Disability Association (ADA) legislation
- Developing proactive strategies to comply with the Section 508 refresh — WCAG 2.0
- Discovering new tools that enhance accessibility plans and improve workflow for disability services, instructional designers and web content editors
The guest speakers were:
- Todd Ring, Information Technologist at Michigan State University
- Estela Landeros, Director of Disability Support Services at Northern Virginia Community College
- Tim Ferebee, Web Accessibility Coordinator at Northern Virginia Community College
- Patrick McGovern, Equidox Specialist at Onix
Keeping Up With Changing ADA Legislation
Both MSU and NOVA have been actively keeping up with higher education web accessibility guidelines and ADA legislation. As the laws regarding what is permissible and what is not continue to change and grow, many universities are left scrambling for a way to bring themselves up to speed. MSU and NOVA are looking first at what guidelines they need to follow in order to be WCAG 2.0 AA compliant.
Developing Proactive Strategies
MSU has developed a program on campus involving appointing accessibility liaisons for each department — along with an accessibility working group. The liaisons are trained to spot problems and correct them while the working group solves accessibility issues. If any person in a department has an issue or question regarding university web accessibility, he or she can go to this liaison or group member for help.
MSU has also hired an entire accessibility team whose sole focus is to make sure that every document and page at MSU is WCAG 2.0 AA compliant. They have also developed a webpage at webaccess.msu.edu that serves as the hub for all questions people might have about the way they have gone about creating accessibility. It also includes a contact list for the working group and liaisons.
NOVA has created a plan to become completely accessible within five years on all six campuses. Similar to MSU, the college created a steering committee with faculty from every department to navigate their direction in higher education web accessibility. They requested an external evaluation because they realized there was a problem with accessibility but weren’t sure how to solve it — or where to start.
After the evaluation, NOVA began a complete reconstruction of their website, on which they were still working at the time of the webinar. They ran into a problem too big to solve manually when they reviewed the vast amount of existing instructional material, all of which was non-compliant with WCAG 2.0 AA.
Tools That Enhance Accessibility Plans and Improve Workflow
MSU and NOVA both value WCAG 2.0 AA compliance, and understand that the best way to reach their goals efficiently is to find tools that enhance accessibility plans and improve workflow of disability services, instructional designers and web content editors. One tool they both have benefited from is Equidox™ from Onix.
Higher education web accessibility compliance is possible and made simple with the tool's automatic PDF to HTML conversion feature. Previously, PDF to HTML conversions have been performed manually, resulting in a number of human errors. Now, with automatic tools PDF conversions can happen in minutes — without consuming an IT worker’s time. “It’s been saving not only time, but human resources efforts,” explained Estela Landeros. As of the date of the webinar, the Disability Service Department had completed more than 60 documents in a two and a half month period, a task which would have taken from six months to a year to complete manually.
Equidox also has the ability to convert tables and graphs correctly so screen readers can make the content audible to the blind, and allows you to upload your converted document directly to your LMS (Learning Management System) or CMS (Content Management System).
Both MSU and NOVA share a goal to prioritize higher education web accessibility because they want to provide a fair learning opportunity to every student, no matter what type of disability he or she may have.