Web Accessibility in Higher Education: A Roadmap to the Future


Web Accessibility in Higher Education: A Roadmap to the Future
Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy

12/13/2018

Web accessibility for disabled individuals is a major issue for higher education, as online schools have become increasingly popular. With a corresponding growing disabled population in America, it's essential to plan ahead and establish a road to the future; especially when you consider how accessibility laws impact college campuses. Furthermore, academic transcription will play a crucial role in helping people with physical or mental limitations whether they are students, staff or faculty members.

Definition of Web Accessibility

Online university content needs to be easily accessed by any disabled person who needs it, which is what web accessibility means. In the 2000 U.S. Census, 20% of Americans had some form of impairment such as blindness that made it difficult to access digital information. This figure included people with temporary disabilities, such as broken bones. Deafness is also a factor that limits a user's interaction with multimedia. This problem is apparent when you consider that only a third of disabled students earn a bachelor's degree versus nearly half for students without disabilities.

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Accessibility Laws

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) expects the disabled population to grow rapidly over the next five decades, more accessibility laws are bound to address this problem. An aging population will be a factor, as many people start to lose vision and hearing as they approach retirement age, but may still have an interest in higher education.

Current legislation includes the Rehabilitation Act, in which Section 508 calls for federal agencies to ensure that online information is available to individuals with disabilities at universities. The Assistive Technology Act drives funding for this solution while the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) sets standards and guidelines. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits state and local public entities from discriminating against disabled people.

The WCAG standards call for text alternatives such as large print, braille and text transcripts for audio content, which is where transcription services come into play. Video alternatives include closed captions and audio descriptions. Other provisions involve adaptability, ease for users to hear and see content, keyboard accessibility, compatibility, and input assistance—among other requirements.

Disability Types

  • Cognitive or learning disabilities such as Dyslexia
  • Hearing loss
  • Blindness or vision problems
  • Motor disabilities that limit mobility
  • Invisible disabilities that limit performance such as anxiety

Universal Design

Products that are easy to use for a broad range of people with physical or mental limitations fall under the umbrella of "universal design." Higher education needs to adopt this emerging model, which can be partly achieved through academic transcription services. Educational institutions must understand that accessibility principles benefit everyone involved, from educators to students and academic transcription services. Here are the seven principles of universal design:

  • Equitable Use - everyone has access to the same resources
  • Flexibility in Use - allows for a full range of user abilities
  • Simple and Intuitive Use - design can be understood by anyone
  • Perceptible information - can be used by anyone regardless of sensory abilities
  • Tolerance for Error - reduces hazards and accidents
  • Low Physical Effort - designed for efficiency and comfort
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use - suitable for anyone regardless of size, posture or mobility

Institutional Accessibility

Committees and partners of learning institutions have a shared responsibility to improve the lives of disabled teachers and students. The answer can be found through technology for implementing the accessibility of online learning. This includes hardware, software, audio/video content, and web design. Text documents are also crucial as well. Academic transcription helps enhance multimedia usage, along with closed captions for video, which makes it easier to understand audio content.

Two keys to developing this solution include synchronous and asynchronous education. While synchronous learning occurs in real time through experiences such as web conferences, asynchronous learning is an on-demand choice through media such as email or web applications.

Quality Control Goals for Web Accessibility

An innovative approach to web accessibility is designing coursework for student personas similar to what is used in marketing, as data is applied to imaginary characters that represent groups. Establishing work areas for faculty and staff also enhances the learning process.

Guarding against and improving policy vulnerabilities is part of the equation of adopting web accessibility and academic transcription. One of the main barriers is the cost of investing in technology such as captioning. PDFs should be formatted in a way that makes them easily accessible for anyone.

Web pages should be designed from standard templates and fonts should be easy to read on any monitor. A key to making information easy to read is to use dark text on a light background. To accommodate blind people, an audio track should be produced to describe visuals.

Planning for accessibility infrastructure involves performing an accessibility audit. Other goals should be collaborating with peer institutions and setting benchmarks for success and rewarding those who show progress.

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Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy is the Director of Operations for GMR Transcription Services, Inc an Orange County, California based company that has been providing accurate and affordable transcription services since 2004. She has enjoyed success at GMR for almost ten years now and has helped the company grow. Within two years of Beth managing GMR Transcription, it had doubled in sales and was named one of the OC Business Journal’s fastest-growing private companies. Outside of work, she likes spending time with her husband and two kids.