Accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 or US Section 508 Standards, can be used to set institutional benchmarks and provide guidance in developing or procuring electronic and information technology (IT) supporting access for individuals with disabilities.
Yet, while achieving, or surpassing, these accessibility standards is a step in the right direction, this does not equate to an accessible electronic and IT environment at an institution.
Standards alone do not ensure that students will find California Community Colleges (CCC) websites, web-based applications, and IT resources to be accessible. Colleges must look beyond accessibility standards alone in supporting the varied needs of the campus community as it pertains to electronic and IT products and systems.
One strategy is to adopt policies and administrative procedures that specify access to electronic and information technology. Policies focus on the intentions of an organization and provide guidance for decision making by representatives of the college.
Virtually all institutions have policy language prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities and affirming an institutional commitment to inclusion and diversity. Administrative procedures may specify technical criteria and definitions as to what is meant by the term “accessible”. This can be accomplished by including technology accessibility standards, such as WCAG 2.0, AA, for websites and web-based resources, within administrative procedures alongside other website and IT requirements. Whether through policy or administrative procedures, referencing that electronic and IT resources are part of these non-discrimination principles highlights the expectation that access is an institutional-wide responsibility.
Designate Accessibility Liaisons
Another strategy institutions can adopt is to focus on people and personnel who can assist in addressing accessibility issues campus-wide. Such individuals can take a leadership role in promoting technology access as well as answering questions pertaining to accessibility and technology.
Temple University’s model designates specific people to be Accessibility Liaisons and act as local resources for their department, college or school on questions or issues related to IT accessibility. Accessibility Liaisons receive support and guidance from Temple’s Accessible Technology Compliance Committee as part of the institution’s efforts to support technology access across the university. Leadership from the executive level reinforces the culture of accessibility and individuals embedded within departments can support ongoing education and training to local faculty and staff in support of institutional accessibility goals.
Update Internal Practices
Separate from personnel, reviewing and revising internal operational practices can support an institutional commitment to electronic and IT accessibility. Colleges should have a process by which individuals can report the presence of access barriers whether it be on the college website, within an online class, or when attempting to download and read electronic documents. Most critical, however, is not just the opportunity to report an access barrier, but that a defined process exists by which a college representative takes the appropriate steps when receiving such feedback and responds in a timely manner to the complaint.
Review Procurement Process
Another internal process to review is how the college purchases electronic and IT resources, and the extent to which accessibility is evaluated. Web-based applications purchased by the institution may undergo review regarding data security and confidentiality and these web resources should also be assessed for their level of accessibility.
Accessibility standards can provide an initial threshold against which technology products or services are measured. However, what is necessary is that a process exists such that when web and IT products are being considered for purchase, the accessibility of that product is assessed. This may involve obtaining third-party documentation regarding the accessibility of the product as well as spot-checking product functionality with assistive technologies.
The CSU Accessible Technology Initiative has done significant work in defining an accessible procurement process that consists of four major steps: gathering product information; reviewing accessibility documentation; reviewing the product or service; and, lastly, placing the order. While there are sub-steps in the CSU’s process that may not be applicable directly to community colleges, having a procurement process that includes accessibility is a necessity and is another indicator as to how colleges demonstrate a commitment to ensuring an institutional environment that supports access for the students, faculty, staff and members of the greater campus community with disabilities.
An institution that supports accessibility as part of its culture, including access for websites, web-based applications, electronic documents and related technologies, may do so in a variety of ways. Education and outreach as well as the opportunity to share best practices and ask questions supports colleges in building an accessible web and IT environment at both the local level and statewide.
On January 9 and 10, 2017, the CCC Information Security Center and CCC Accessibility Center will be hosting the IT Security and Accessibility Workshops at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. The workshop events are in-person and will focus on the top issues facing the CCC in the areas of web and IT security and accessibility. Both workshops are free, but registration is required.
Sean Keegan is Director of the California Community Colleges Accessibility Center