Learn which common accessibility failures put institutions of higher education at risk for litigation.
The EDUCAUSE IT Accessibility Constituent Group has published the document IT Accessibility Risk Statements and Evidence as part of a series on IT risks. Many people from the group contributed. Greg Kraus of North Carolina State University and Laura Carlson of UMD's Department of ITSS were the main editor and researcher respectively.
Failures That Put an Institution at Risk
The document enumerates 19 risk statements. The failures encompass the following areas:
- Failure to allocate sufficient resources and authority to coordinate and implement the Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) Accessibility Policy.
- Failure to assign a person or entity to coordinate institution-wide accessibility.
- Failure to provide accessible websites.
- Failure to provide accessible instructional materials and library resources.
- Failure to provide native EIT accessibility (e.g., relying on second-class EIT alternatives for people with disabilities).
- Failure to provide accurate video captioning.
- Failure to provide audio descriptions.
- Failure to provide captioning of announcements and commentary made over public address systems during athletic and other public events.
- Failure to implement accessibility solutions for EIT other than web-based, online, or software-based technologies, such as classroom controls, copiers, ATMs, and digital signage.
- Failure to implement a procedure to ensure information obtained, provided, or developed by third parties is accessible.
- Failure to implement a procedure that ensures procured EIT is accessible, such as including accessibility requirements in RFPs and contractual language.
Awareness and Training
- Failure to create a culture where accessibility is considered a proactive need, but rather is considered a reactive accommodation need.
- Failure to provide regular, ongoing training, instruction, and support at all levels (e.g., administrators, faculty, IT staff, support staff, student employees) appropriate to a person's roles and responsibilities, regarding the institution's EIT Accessibility Policy and procedures, tools, resources, and techniques to ensure the policy and procedures are effectively and consistently implemented.
- Failure to provide a top-level website dedicated to accessibility that serves as a central repository and includes, but is not limited to, accessibility information, news, tools, and best practices.
- Failure to make faculty, staff, and students aware of institutional resources for accommodation and accessibility.
Monitoring and Testing
- Failure to systematically and effectively monitor EIT content and services to ensure accessibility.
- Failure to thoroughly test EIT for accessibility beyond automated testing or VPAT statements.
Standards and Policy
- Failure to define a technical standard for implementing EIT accessibility (such as WCAG 2 or Section 508).
- Failure to provide an accessibility policy that demonstrates the campus's commitment to EIT accessibility.
Abundant Evidence Exists
Litigation, and threatened litigation, surrounding the issue is on the rise, exposing institutions to a potential claim that they are failing to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have shown by actions that institutions with accessibility barriers run afoul of the law.
The EDUCAUSE document provides an array of proof in the form of lawsuits, settlement agreements, and consent decrees primarily gathered from the UMD's Accessible Technology Team's document, Higher Ed Accessibility Lawsuits, Complaints, and Settlements.
You can download IT Accessibility Risk Statements and Evidence from the EDUCAUSE website.
- Higher Ed Accessibility Lawsuits, Complaints, and Settlements
- Legal Settlement Agreements That Reference WCAG 2.0
"Accessible" means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. The person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally and independently as a person without a disability. Although this might not result in identical ease of use compared to that of persons without disabilities, it still must ensure equal opportunity to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of such technology. - Department of Justice and The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights: South Carolina Technical College System Resolution Agreement (PDF), University of Cincinnati Resolution Agreement (PDF), Youngstown State University Resolution Agreement (PDF)
- Audio Description
- An Audio Description (AD) is narration, spoken out loud. It describes key visual elements that make visual media accessible. AD is used when visual content provides information not available through the audio alone. The descriptions include actions, gestures, scene change or any other important visual information that someone who cannot see the screen might ordinarily miss. An audio description can take a video and talk you through it. The narrator tells you what is happening on the screen that you cannot figure out just from the soundtrack alone. A good way to test is to listen to the audio without the video and check to see if the same information is being provided. If it is not, audio descriptions need to be provided. People with visual disabilities benefit most from audio description. People with cognitive disabilities can also find this information helps them to process visual content more easily. For more information, consult WCAG Success Criterion 1.2.3.
- Captions are synchronized visual and/or text alternative for both speech and non-speech audio information needed to understand the media content. They are synchronized with audio or video. Captions include dialogue and, unlike subtitles, also identify who is speaking. They convey information about spoken words and non-spoken sounds, such as music or sound effects. Captions benefit people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing, and anyone who cannot hear the audio (e.g., someone in a noisy environment). Captions are generally rendered graphically above, below, or superimposed over video. Captions can be closed or open. Closed captions are encoded or invisible and must be decoded or made visible. Open captions can't be turned off.
- Section 508
- Section 508 is an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The U.S. law applies to all websites operated by government agencies. It requires that web pages comply with accessibility standards. Under this law, websites are required to structure their design, content, and underlying technologies to be accessible to people with disabilities. The Section 508 refresh incorporates the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 by reference.
- Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)
- A VPAT is a tool to document a product's conformance with the accessibility standards under U.S. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. It can assist buyers in making preliminary accessibility assessments.
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- WCAG (pronounced "wuh-KAG") is a technical standard that serves a number of purposes, primarily functioning as the definitive technical reference gathering together information on web accessibility. These are basically the rules to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Additionally, WCAG 2.0 is the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission's (ISO/IEC) Standard 40500:2012. It serves as the web accessibility Standard for the University of Minnesota.