Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Seeking Predictors of Web Accessibility in U.S. Higher Education Institutions

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Seeking Predictors of Web Accessibility in U.S. Higher Education Institutions

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Internet plays an integral role in the delivery of postsecondary academic content as well as student and administrative services. However, many websites are not designed in such a way to be accessible to some individuals who have disabilities, including those who are blind and using assistive technologies such as screen readers or Braille displays. For many years federal legislation (e.g., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and 2008 Amendments) has mandated that an institution's programs and services be accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities. However, many institutions have not addressed web accessibility as aggressively as they have addressed the physical accessibility of their campuses.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that most information technology (IT) that federal agencies procure, develop, maintain, and use be accessible to people with disabilities, both employees and members of the public. In response to this law, the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) developed accessibility standards (Office of the Federal Register, 2000) to which federal agencies must comply. The web standards are based in part on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In 2008 the W3C updated its standards to WCAG 2.0, and in 2011 the Access Board issued a second draft of updated accessibility standards for Section 508 (Access Board, 2011).

Some states have also passed laws or implemented policies that require accessibility of technology developed, procured, or used by state-funded colleges and universities. For example, California State University (CSU) has a system-wide policy, articulated in Executive Order 926 (2004) and implemented by the Accessible Technology Initiative (ATI) outlined in the 2007 Coded Memo AA-2007-04 and revised in Coded Memo AA-2010-13 (CSU, 2010). In CSU's shared governance approach, the Chancellor's Office provides leadership regarding IT accessibility, but responsibilities for implementation are widely distributed. The policy defines implementation roles for an ATI Leadership Council, campus executive sponsors and administrators (e.g., presidents, provosts, CIO's, vice presidents), academic and faculty senates, centers for faculty development, and disability support services (Hanley, Mitrano, Thompson, Goldstein, Martin, & Krishnaswamy (2011)). Similarly, the State of Texas requires that all state websites, including those sponsored by state-funded postsecondary institutions, comply with Texas Administrative Code 206.70 (effective September 1, 2006), which adopts in part the Section 508 standards for web accessibility, and further requires each institution to establish its own IT accessibility policy. Also, The Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act, passed in 2007, requires Illinois agencies and universities to ensure that their websites, information systems, and information technologies are accessible to people with disabilities. The law is accompanied by standards, implementation guidelines for web-based information and applications, and procurement recommendations (Illinois Department of Human Resources, n.d.).

For more than a dozen years, published studies have reported the accessibility of select web pages at institutions of higher education. They include Rowland & Smith (1999); Flowers, Bray, & Algozzine (1999); Jackson (1999); Rowan, Gregor, Sloan, & Booth (2000); Walden, Rowland, & Bohman (2000); Schmetzke (2001, 2002a, 2002b, 2002c, 2003, 2007); Axtell & Dixon (2002); Byerley & Chambers (2002); Erickson (2002); Johns (2002); Opitz, Savenye, & Rowland (2003); Kelly (2002); McCord, Frederiksen, & Campbell (2002); McMullin (2002); Riley (2002); Horwath (2002); Thompson, Burgstahler, & Comden (2003); Thompson, Burgstahler, & Moore (2007); Thompson, Burgstahler, Moore, Gunderson, & Hoyt (2007); Comeaux, D. …

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