The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 provides the same civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities as other federal laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, and religion (Button & Wobschall, 1994). Title III of the ADA directs that public facilities make reasonable modifications to control discrimination and support accessibility in policies, practices, and procedures (Council for Exceptional Children, 1994). As a result of this landmark legislation, accessibility alterations like providing ramps to elevated areas and providing accessible signage through height adjustments and raised lettering have become commonplace across the country.
Historically, schools have focused their attentions on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which was originally called Public Law 94-142. This legislation, enacted in 1975, also provided federal funding for schools to help meet the needs of students with disabilities (Smith, 2001). In addition to requirements which require that a work place provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities, ADA Title II also includes requirements that schools be accessible to students with disabilities. As more parents become aware of this legislation those elementary schools who have not historically provided reasonable accessibility for students with disabilities will come under increasing pressure to make all aspects of their programs, facilities, and services available to students with disabilities (Joffee, 1994). In addition to parental pressure national organizations such as the National Education Association have also published position papers which support the provision of a fully accessible school environment for students with disabilities (NEA, 2002). The requirement that elementary schools provided accessible environments not only has legal and professional ramifications but financial as well. Section 504 of the ADA also specifies that organizations which receive federal funding may lose that funding if they do not comply with the provisions of the ADA (Smith, 2001).
The World Wide Web (WWW) is an important information resource for Elementary Schools. Accessibility across platforms and geographic distance makes the WWW an ideal universal medium for disseminating information to parents and students. Wang (1997) discussed use of the Internet for increased self-advocacy by individuals with physical impairments and disabilities. Approximately 8% of all WWW users have a disability (Capozzi, 1998). While technical developments have enhanced and provided new exciting opportunities for the WWW, they have, at the same time, complicated and limited the accessibility of the content and resources for individuals with disabilities.
Physical barriers are obvious accessibility concerns confronting students with disabilities. Web site developers need to be aware that on-line barriers can create significant accessibility problems for some users. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all organizations make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that all organizations receiving U.S. Federal funds must comply with standards that make electronic equipment and Web sites usable by people with vision impairments, hearing impairments, and other disabilities. It is important that Elementary School Web site developers use and follow standards that allow accessibility to all WWW users.
A variety of disabilities can reduce accessibility to the WWW. Visual, hearing, movement, cognitive, speech, and other impairments can limit availability of information. Assisted technologies or accessibility aids such as Braille output systems, modification of keyboards, screen enlargement utilities, voice output utilities, and other technologies allow students with disabilities to access information on the WWW. However, because of the complexity of many Internet resources, some information cannot be accessed with these aids. Developers of accessibility aids continue to identify and develop features that can overcome some of these barriers, but there are many things that Web site developers can do, with very little effort, that would make their pages more accessible.
The Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison produced the Unified Web Site Accessibility Guidelines (1999). These guidelines were transferred to the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Using the Unified Web Site Accessibility Guidelines, the W3C produced HTML Author Guidelines--version 1.0 (1999). According to the guidelines, measures for improving accessibility falls into the following categories: (a) structure--HTML documents should focus on the use markup to convey meaning; (b) navigation--authors should support keyboard-only navigation and methods to facilitate orientation; and (c) alternative content--authors should always …