Accessibility in higher education ensures that any student can access digital content and information regardless of ability or disability. Accessible course content plays a huge role in Universal Design, as it removes barriers for every student. Even so, students with disabilities are the primary audience, as inaccessible course content can be a major obstacle in the learning process.
The Media Accessibility Project strives to provide the latest information and guidelines for faculty and staff to stay up to day on accessibility throughout CUNY.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies and programs to implement accessibility standards to websites, digital documents, and audio/video/multimedia content. Section 508 states that “when developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology, each Federal department or agency…. shall ensure, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency, that the electronic and information technology allows, regardless of the type of medium of the technology, individuals with disabilities… to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access of those who are not individuals with disabilities.”
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act affords individuals with disabilities the same rights as groups protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Section 504 states that “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by the reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.“
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits disability discrimination by state funded schools, which includes higher education institutions, and these institutions must provide access to all programs and services offered.
In short, Section 504 declares civil rights for individuals with disabilities, and Section 508 sets requirements for accessible technology. The difference between Section 504 and Title II is that unlike Section 504, which only covers programs receiving Federal financial assistance, Title II extends to State and local governments whether or not they receive Federal funds. Colleges and universities are required to comply with these laws.
Multimedia: Videos, live videos, and audio content must contain a transcript or captioning.
Images: A description of any image that is considered essential content must be accessible to screen reading software (such as JAWS).
Electronic documents: All electronic or digital content (Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, PDF, for example) must be made accessible for screen reading software.
Documents using color in the wrong way will not be communicated to a person who is color blind, and color used to convey important information cannot be discerned by the visually impaired. A document lacking sufficient structure or contrast will be difficult to navigate and read by those with specific learning disabilities such as Dyslexia. Students who are blind or who have extreme low vision may use screen readers to read and navigate a document. Documents need to be structured to help a screen reader and end users understand and navigate content that they may not be able to recognize on their own.
There are a few extra steps to take in order to make a website accessible, however most web designers don’t necessarily have accessibility in mind when creating apps and webpages. Given how vital the Internet has become to daily life, making your website accessible to all users is an increasingly important task to accomplish. Here are a few tips on how to make your website accessible.
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Media Accessibility Project