Accessibil-IT: Creating An Accessibility Plan

California Community Colleges Accessibility CenterMost colleges are aware of their non-discrimination obligations for students with disabilities, and can point to policies and administrative procedures outlining the institution’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive campus. Policies and administrative procedures are important, but those alone do not promote a culture of access necessary for student success.

Creating an accessible web and information technology (IT) environment that supports current and prospective students with disabilities as well as members of the campus community requires attention to actionable steps contributing to a change in institutional culture.

A college’s accessibility plan should focus on the specific steps a college can take in meeting its aspirational goals and upholding the values of the institution. Whether this is emphasizing the role of accessibility through institutional representation or refining grievance or procurement processes, an accessibility plan creates a framework for changing the culture of the college as it pertains to web and IT accessibility issues. And while differences will exist between college accessibility plans, there are broad themes that may be applied in developing a college-wide approach to web and IT accessibility.

Institutional Representation

One major aspect of any plan is that of institutional representation and who represents web and IT accessibility issues for the institution. This may be an individual, such as a senior staff member or college vice president, or may be a group of individuals, such as an IT accessibility committee. Some colleges have adopted a blended approach by creating a defined Accessibility Coordinator role, who then reports to an accessibility committee consisting of deans and other senior college leaders.

Regardless of the specific model adopted, having representation within the college to be responsible for web and IT accessibility issues promotes oversight and can improve decision-making for college-wide technology solutions.

Grievance Process

While sometimes called a grievance process, this can also be thought of as a complaint resolution process for addressing situations when a web or IT accessibility barrier is reported by a student, staff or member of the public. While student academic issues may be directed to Disability Services, it is important that the college defines a process that outlines:

  • How to submit a complaint
  • Timeline by which a college representative will investigate and respond to the complaint
  • Steps to be taken if an accessibility barrier is identified
  • Timeline for the remediation efforts
  • Communication back to the individual and alternate access strategies, as appropriate

A simple solution is to create a web page that offers the contact information for reporting web and IT accessibility barriers and make this web page available in the footer template of the college’s public-facing website. It is not necessary to detail the exact process on this web page, but this grievance process should be documented and kept current. The CCC Accessibility Center has several examples of a web page that provides information about the accessibility of the website and how to report an access barrier.

Procurement

Including accessibility as part of the procurement process can help the college select web or IT solutions that meet accessibility requirements. Including accessibility standards as part of contract language or specifying accessibility documentation as part of any deliverables outlined in a Statement of Work can help with vendor accountability. Additionally, asking questions about the accessibility of a web or IT product as part of a Request for Proposal process can support the acquisition of web and IT products that meet accessibility expectations.

Beyond just language, developing a review process that checks for accessibility as part of any college procurement offers greater opportunity in identifying web and IT purchases that may pose accessibility barriers. A starting point may be to begin a conversation with college procurement staff to determine the most appropriate workflow for ensuring a check as to whether or not purchases include the appropriate accessibility documentation. If questions arise, then having institutional representation involved in the form of a person or committee can help review purchase requests where the level of accessibility of a product is uncertain.

Campus Technology Reviews

There is often significant focus on whether or not a purchase meets accessibility requirements, but such attention does not always extend to web and IT products already in use by the institution. When creating an accessibility plan, it is important to evaluate the current web and IT environment at the college and determine potential accessibility risks. Such review processes could include:

  • Conducting automated accessibility scans of public-facing websites
  • Establishing manual testing procedures for website templates
  • Reviewing internal websites and web applications
  • Performing scans of library and other student-facing web assets

The intent of a campus technology review should be to identify where there may be potential accessibility barriers and to track progress in resolving such issues. Such campus reviews can also assist in determining what other resources may be necessary to resolve accessibility issues and improve access for students, staff and members of the public.

Education & Training

Changing the culture of an institution does not happen overnight and offering training to faculty and staff is one strategy for improving access for students with disabilities to institutional and instructional materials. In addition to face-to-face sessions, online opportunities exist for faculty and staff that may be useful. The Professional Learning Network’s Creating Accessible Materials site highlights free Lynda.com videos demonstrating accessibility solutions. @ONE offers a facilitated course on Creating Accessible Course Content. Whether the focus is on how to use the college’s learning management system, creating accessible MS Word and PDF documents, or how to caption video materials, training faculty and staff on accessibility best practices helps promote an inclusive academic environment.

A college web and IT accessibility plan that provides a framework for introducing new processes can help guide a college toward realizing an accessible campus community. Working to create policies and administrative procedures is necessary, but the policy review process and timelines associated with such activities can be lengthy. Focusing on actionable solutions, such as identifying a campus leader, defining a process for grievances or procurement, or highlighting accessibility training opportunities for faculty and staff can help promote the ideals of diversity and inclusion at the institution.

Have Questions?

Have an accessibility question? Need a quick accessibility review? The CCC Accessibility Center Help Desk is now available for all CCC staff to ask questions and find answers regarding web and IT accessibility topics. We welcome your feedback on this new resource and encourage you to submit questions today!

For more accessibility information visit the CCC Accessibility Center at CCCAccessibility.org, and follow us on Twitter at @cccaccess.


Sean Keegan is Director of the California Community Colleges Accessibility Center


 

 

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