Academic journal article Journal of Strategic E-Commerce

.Edu Dilema: The Web Accessibility Challenge Facing Public and Private Universities

Academic journal article Journal of Strategic E-Commerce

.Edu Dilema: The Web Accessibility Challenge Facing Public and Private Universities

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In the early days of the World Wide Web a popular metaphor used to capture the essence of the web was the frontier days of the American "Wild, Wild West." It was a wide-open, self-policing, unregulated frontier and newcomers had best beware! As the Web has become an increasingly accepted part of our world, the frontier metaphor use has noticeably declined. But the de-centralized technology architecture, which was behind this metaphor, is still as true today as it was in the early days of the web. And perhaps nowhere has that decentralized model been as enthusiastically embraced as in the university setting.

From the small team of professional developers working in the admissions office to create online applications, to the part-time student workers creating departmental web pages, to the full-time and adjunct faculty putting an increasing amount of course related material and content up on the web, widely disparate groups and individuals have created a phenomenal number of web pages, often without any awareness of other groups on campus, minimal to no oversight by university technology administration or legal counsel, and frequently with little or no awareness of legal/ethical concerns such as the need to make their web pages available to people with disabilities.

This paper will propose that, although the web has become a fundamental, vital tool for universities, some of the fundamental aspects of the web--combined with the history of how the web has been adopted on campuses--results in a particularly daunting barrier to verifying and guaranteeing that all web pages used at the university are in compliance with the law and accessible to populations with disabilities.

INTRODUCTION

The Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") of 1990 was Congress' effort to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The intent of the legislation was to insure that people with disabilities could be active and productive members of society, undeterred by artificial barriers. At the time the ADA was enacted, the World Wide Web was in its infancy and no one--including its creators--could have foreseen how in a short fifteen years the web would move from being a tool for physicists to shared research results, to being an important part of our society. In the early days of the World Wide Web a popular metaphor used to capture its essence was the frontier days of the American "Wild, Wild West." It was a wide-open, self-policing, unregulated frontier and newcomer's best beware! As the Web has grown, the frontier metaphor use has noticeably declined. Instead, the Web has become an accepted, important part of our day-to-day routine and increasingly provides the information and services that we need in our normal lives. A recent report on web usage suggests that the web has become "the 'new normal' in the American way of life; those who don't go online constitute an ever-shrinking minority" (Rainie & Horrigan, 2005). As this change occurs, as more and more information is available on the Web, it becomes increasingly important to insure that all potential users can access this information.

This seems a particularly crucial issue for universities where--not surprisingly--the web has been enormously successful. The de-centralized technology architecture, which was behind the "Wild, Wild West" metaphor, is still as true today as it was in the early days of the web. And perhaps nowhere has that decentralized model been as enthusiastically embraced as in the university setting. From the small team of professional developers working in the admissions office to create online applications, to the part-time student workers creating departmental web pages, to the full-time and adjunct faculty putting an increasing amount of course related material and content up on the web, widely disparate groups and individuals have created a phenomenal number of web pages--often without any awareness of other groups on campus, minimal to no oversight by university technology administration or legal counsel, and frequently with little or no awareness of legal/ethical concerns such as the need to make their web pages available to people with disabilities. …

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