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California Community Colleges Accessibility CenterA notable outcome from the recent court cases, legal settlements and consent decrees involving IT accessibility is the expectation that institutions conduct regular accessibility reviews. Such examinations are not intended to be punitive but rather to highlight the websites and campus technologies that may be inaccessible to students, faculty, staff or members of the public.

While the scope of a website and IT accessibility review can seem overwhelming, particularly for institutions that are unfamiliar with such evaluations, there are several steps that can simplify the process.

Choose A Standard

Identifying the appropriate technology standard is a necessity, not only to select an appropriate benchmark for web and IT products but to maintain relevance with current accessibility expectations. For higher education institutions in the United States, the two accessibility standards to consider include the US Section 508 Standards and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, 2.0 Level AA (WCAG 2.0, AA).

For IT hardware and software products, the US Section 508 Standards establish requirements as well as functional performance criteria by which these products may be evaluated for accessibility. For websites and web-based applications, the recommendation is to use the WCAG 2.0, AA standard as the 508 Standards for web content are considered outdated.

Identify Websites & Applications

A question often asked is, “Do I have to review every single page on my website?” While there may be a number of pages that will require an accessibility review, it may not be necessary to perform a full evaluation on every single web page. Most college websites are designed using templates, and a full evaluation of the site template can identify the issues existing on all subsequent pages. Such full evaluations should involve a combination of automated and manual accessibility checks in accordance with the specified accessibility standard. If the site template can pass an accessibility review, then further evaluations may be streamlined using automated evaluation tools.

In addition to verifying site templates, website analysis tools, such as Google Analytics, can provide details as to a website’s key entry points and the parts of a website receiving significant page views. The data gained from website analytics can highlight the pages in which a full accessibility evaluation may be warranted in addition to any website templates.

Be cautious, though, as there may be websites and web-based applications not present in a site analysis report but are essential to a student’s on-campus experience. Student-focused pages that should also be tested for accessibility include counseling, financial aid, health services and disability services, to name a few.

Although many of the resources available to students, faculty, staff and the general public have transitioned to web-based services, it is necessary to assess the accessibility of other IT products in use at the campus. For example, the accessibility of digital signs and displays should be reviewed, as should scanning, printing and copier systems available throughout the campus. Computer labs, particularly those that involve thin-client systems, should also be reviewed to verify that accessibility features are not disrupted or disabled.

Accessibility reviews tend to emphasize web-based services, but attention to other IT products and applications is crucial to creating an accessible environment for the entire campus community.

Track Progress

Performing accessibility evaluations can identify the pages of a website or the IT products in use that do not meet accessibility standards and provide guidance to the institution as to where to focus remediation efforts. However, such evaluations should not be singular and performed solely as an exercise. Developing a method to record and measure accessibility changes is of value in tracking institutional progress and whether campus education and outreach efforts are having an impact. Even using basic spreadsheets to identify specific websites and IT applications along with the past and current status of those resources can be a starting point for tracking accessibility progress.

Institutional accessibility testing should not be a complicated process and does require the attention of key personnel to perform the necessary evaluations and monitor campus progress. Although such accessibility reviews can take time to perform, they should be part of an overall plan to support IT access at the campus and integrated into campus-wide efforts.

Automated evaluation tools can assist in this review process, provided that attention is also given to the full testing of relevant site templates and other essential web content. The immediate outcome of a web/IT accessibility evaluation program is to identify where an institution is successful and where it may need to improve, but the long-term success is defined by greater inclusion and participation of the entire campus community.

Sean Keegan is Director of the California Community Colleges Accessibility Center

CCC TechEDge News and CCC Technology for Student Success News ceased publication in 2018.

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