Five years ago, I was speaking with a technology provider about the accessibility of their service. A lot of their functionality was delivered via a Flash-based interface. Knowing that content in a Flash file could not be read by screenreaders, I inquired about the accessibility of the soon-to-be purchased technology solution. The response was lackluster. Section 508 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were not mentioned. Instead, the vendor's solution was to move the website from a ".edu" web domain to a ".com" in order to "circumvent the rules." While web site accessibility was on my "radar," unfortunately, it was not present in the boardrooms of a lot of technology providers in 2005. Frames, Flash, and images without ALT attributes dominated the web scene. It was not a good time to be a web browsing university student with a visual impairment.
In 2010, the web is getting more accessible all the time. I think in some ways that this has more to do with search engine optimization than concerns for accessibility, but I digress. The ADA reached its 20th anniversary last month. Two days prior to the anniversary, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) - Civil Rights Division released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Accessibility of Web Information and Services Provided by Entities Covered by the ADA.
The DOJ is "considering revising the regulations implementing title II and III of the ADA to establish specific requirements for State and local governments and public accommodations to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities." What does this mean for student affairs practitioners, higher education web administrators and technology providers? Currently, not a lot, but the future could bring a new set of regulations for a much more accessible web. Vendors who provide enterprise level, web-based services to higher education would most-likely fall under the proposed regulations. With web services being delivered via institutional web sites, accessibility would not just be a recommendation, it would be an enforceable regulation.
I see my role as a student affairs techie as being an instigator for positive change. I hope to inform my colleagues about the need for a truly accessible web. We are doing a decent job with our brick and mortar campus spaces. It is now time to make our virtual spaces accessible for all of our students. I am especially encouraged by the commitment to accessibility by some of the biggest technology providers in higher education. I recently tweeted at SunGard Higher Ed and received a fantastic response!
Happy 20th Anniversary ADA!
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