Digital accessibility road map for a university campus with the name on a  low stone wall in front of an academic building.

Digital accessibility road map is an essential tool for universities to ensure that their digital platforms are accessible to all students. As the use of technology in education continues to increase, it is essential to ensure that all students can access the same resources and information regardless of their abilities.

The World Health Organization estimates that over one billion people globally have some form of disability, making it necessary for higher education institutions to prioritize digital accessibility.

A digital accessibility road map outlines the steps that universities and colleges can take to ensure that their digital content is accessible to everyone. It involves creating and implementing policies, procedures, and practices that ensure all students have equal access to digital content, regardless of their abilities.

This road map is crucial because it can help institutions identify and address accessibility issues proactively. It can also help institutions comply with legal requirements, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

What is the purpose of a digital accessibility road map?

One important aspect of the digital accessibility road map is the creation of accessible documents, such as PDFs and Word documents. These documents must be designed in a way that is accessible to people with disabilities, including screen readers and other assistive technology. This requires proper use of headings, alt text for images, and other techniques that make the content accessible to everyone.

Another critical aspect of the road map is website accessibility. Universities and colleges must ensure that their websites are accessible to all students, including those with visual impairments and other disabilities. This may involve providing text alternatives for non-text content, including captions and transcripts for videos, and ensuring that website navigation is accessible to people using assistive technology.

The road map should also address the accessibility of online courses and learning management systems (LMS). Online courses should be designed in a way that is accessible to all students, including those with disabilities. This may involve providing alternative formats for content, such as video transcripts or audio descriptions, and ensuring that course materials are available in accessible formats.

Training on digital accessibility road map

It is also essential to provide training for faculty and staff on digital accessibility best practices. This training can include information on creating accessible documents, designing accessible websites, and using assistive technology. By providing training, universities and colleges can ensure that all faculty and staff understand the importance of digital accessibility and have the knowledge to create accessible content.

Monitoring and evaluation

The digital accessibility road map must also include a plan for ongoing monitoring and evaluation. This involves regularly reviewing digital platforms and content to ensure that they remain accessible and addressing any accessibility issues that arise. It is essential to ensure that accessibility is an ongoing priority and that institutions continue to take steps to improve accessibility over time.

Overall, a digital accessibility road map is an essential tool for universities and colleges to ensure that their digital platforms and content are accessible to all students. By creating and implementing policies, procedures, and practices that prioritize accessibility, institutions can ensure that all students have equal access to digital content and resources. This can help to promote inclusivity and diversity and ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed.

Executive summary of a Digital Accessibility Road map

The Digital Accessibility Challenge

  • Continuously pursuing university-wide accessibility compliance is a necessary undertaking for universities. It is also an undertaking that requires tackling issues across websites, web pages, technology, and content.
  • Accessibility initiatives help to avoid costly lawsuits and serve everyone equally.
  • Universities needs a cogent, actionable plan that stands up to even the toughest scrutiny. It will help to position the institution as a digital accessibility leader among their peer institutions.

High-Level Findings for a Digital Accessibility Road map

1. Lawsuits against higher education institutions for accessibility non- compliance is on an upward swing

If universities do not take significant steps to ensure digital accessibility, the question is not ‘if’ the university will be sued, but ‘when’.

2. Universities will not achieve compliance without a clear plan

Current digital processes occur largely by a decentralized content model. The content is generated in unit- and department-driven vacuums. As a result, faculty and staff often create or implement unsanctioned one-off sites and other digital properties that are inaccessible.

3. There is no current role that can handle oversight of all digital accessibility efforts

Rallying an entire university around digital accessibility and overseeing the effort is a huge job. No existing role will have the time or expertise needed to identify accessibility problems, recommend solutions and keep everyone on track for compliance.

4. The vast majority of those creating online content do not understand digital accessibility

Those creating digital experiences have had little or no accessibility training, either in how to make content accessible or why doing so is important. This lack of understanding causes them to see accessibility as a burden rather than as a worthy effort.

It also causes them to make common accessibility mistakes: missing alt text, bad heading hierarchy, inaccessible documents, etc. Without a plan for ongoing education and particularly training, things will continue in this vein.

5. Lack of a public accessibility standard on the university website makes it difficult to know how to comply

There has no single platform to report accessibility-related problems and get clear solutions. No one has a clear idea what accessibility requirements should be for their work because they have not yet existed.

6. The issue extends to all technology used by the university

All digital content and properties: software, third-party offerings, educational materials, social media posts, and public databases, digital signage, etc. must eventually be brought into line with digital accessibility compliance.

Risks & consequences of Ignoring a Digital Accessibility Road map

The Cost of Digital Accessibility Non-Compliance

  • On November 21, 2022, the Justice Department filed a proposed consent decree in federal court. The decree was filed to resolve allegations that much of UC Berkeley’s free online content is inaccessible to individuals with hearing, vision, and manual impairments.
  • A plaintiff, Joseph Ortiz filed a lawsuit against Mercer University, Georgia alleging that the university has failed to design, construct, maintain, and operate their respective websites so that they are fully accessible for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Similar lawsuits have been filed against Lafayette College and Loyola University, Chicago alleging that their websites fail to offer full accessibility to the blind or visually impaired in violation of the ADA. 

What happens if nothing is done?

1. Class action lawsuits

Many higher education institutions have been sued by individual plaintiffs or groups of plaintiffs (usually students). These universities have either agreed to make the same investment in digital accessibility as the one outlined in this Accessibility Road Map or have paid dearly to fight their case in court, most often to a losing verdict.

2. The U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR) initiates action against the University

The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is strict about enforcing digital accessibility in universities. Without a plan in place, accessibility efforts will eventually slow and drag, leaving the university open to OCR’s scrutiny.

3. Pay hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) in legal fees

Even if a case is decided in the university’s favor against a class action plaintiff (unlikely) or against OCR (very, very unlikely), attorney fees for just one suit could equal or exceed the cost of going through this effort. If the case is not decided in the university’s’ favor, you could pay huge sums in settlement, payouts and even damages for every open case. These fees will multiply many times over the initial cost of doing accessibility right in the first place.

4. Potentially lose academic funding

A judgment against the university in a U.S. Office of Civil Rights case can result in loss of federal research, grant and scholarship funding.

5. End up putting this plan into action anyway

Almost every higher education accessibility case ends in not only costly fees and settlements, but in the requirement to make a plan for remediation and better accessibility going forward. In short, after all the headache and expenses, we’ll end up coming back to this plan and implementing it on top of everything else.

6. Fail to live up to our commitment to an inclusive campus for all

Inclusivity is one of the main tenets of every university. We cannot claim to be inclusive, if we have not invested in an accessible, inclusive digital campus.

Goals and Objectives of a Digital Accessibility Road map

Here we define goals, how to achieve them, and how to measure success.

Goal 1: Continuously strive for accessibility compliance

1. Implement and enforce detailed policy and procedures

Evolve policies and procedures over time as digital accessibility needs and issues change.

2. Hire a Director of Digital Accessibility

Responsible for championing accessibility for everything digital and help all units creating digital content and products to stay on track.

3. Perform regular reviews and offer practical guidance

Carry out regular reviews of all digital properties, and implement fixes into every new digital property, whether developed in-house, purchased or implemented for free. Provide detailed guides and step-by-step instructions to those responsible for digital accessibility.

Measure of success

  • Reduced accessibility issues listed in Siteimprove.
  • Fewer complaints made about accessibility issues.
  • The Accessibility Committee members have the ability to focus on long-term goals and new initiatives, not daily triage.

Goal 2: Foster an inclusive culture and understanding of accessibility within the university

1. Make accessibility a priority

Focus on the impact of accessibility on the lives of students to build empathy and understanding among university staff. Communicate also the very real risks of not complying with accessibility guidelines.

2. Educate faculty and staff

Train anyone who touches digital content or properties in how to make their daily work accessible. Provide comprehensive and topical reference materials for those working on their own. Offer presentations and meetings to answer questions and hear out concerns.

3. Incentivize those doing it well

Reward those succeeding at accessibility with tangible incentives and make them part of larger education and improvement initiatives.

Measure of success

  • Fewer issues found in regular and requested accessibility reviews.
  • Increased understanding of the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Greater staff and faculty buy in to accessibility initiatives.

Goal 3: Practice transparency and show goodwill in connecting with the community

1. Give the larger University community an easy way to report an accessibility issue

The university’s accessibility site should feature a prominent mechanism for anyone to report accessibility problems.

2. Set a standard for responding to complaints

Define a standard procedure for responding to complaints that is time-saving and effective.

3. Show the university’s accessibility progress

Be transparent about the university’s accessibility timeline and display the information prominently on the website.

Measure of success

  • Timely complaint resolution and reduced risk of complaint escalation.
  • Few questions regarding how to report an issue or the process for reporting.
  • Increased recognition for the University as a leader for accessible best practices in the community.

Goal 4: Become an example for other universities

1. Create a user-friendly, comprehensive online accessibility section

Be plain-spoken, organize content for regular people, offer practical guidance and address the difficult accessibility challenges.

2. Allow for growth and change over time

Architect a strong, unchanging, underlying section structure that can flexibly handle expansion.

3. Show a clear plan forward with timeline and milestones

Show real progress and the ideal expectations for the future.

4. Record your success

Define metrics and measure progress at regular intervals. Keep a record of pitfalls and progress and expand on successes.

Measure of success

Promoting Inclusivity with Accessible Digital Content

The importance of document accessibility has increased significantly over the last decade. Documents need to be accessible to promote inclusivity and for the content to reach a wider audience. In 2008, individuals and organizations around the world drafted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 to provide a shared standard on making digital content more accessible to people with disabilities.

codemantra offers a Digital accessibility Roadmap

codemantra is an intelligent document processing (IDP) company that helps businesses promote accessibility through digital transformation. One of the company’s primary offerings is accessibilityInsight™, a solution powered by artificial intelligence (AI). accessibilityInsight™ automates digital document processing by identifying and extracting a document’s structure to achieve compliance with accessibility standards.

Watch our video on ‘Accessibility in Education’ from the Accessibility Insight Interview Series. Catch up with Barry Bealer, Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances (Past) in conversation with Mike Caprara (Chief Information Officer at The Viscardi Center) & Ian Smith (Director – Accessibility at codemantra).

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