Page 14 - Campus Technology, October/November 2020
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COVID-19 Intensifies Need to Tackle Digital Accessibility
More learning content than ever before has migrated online, bringing accessibility concerns to the forefront. Here’s how higher ed institutions are making progress toward equitable access.
THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF THE DEAF (NAD) won a landmark settlement with Harvard University (MA) last November, requiring the institution to make its website and online resources accessible for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, through quality captioning. This news is symptomatic of a larger trend we’re seeing across industries: a 181 percent increase in digital accessibility lawsuits, a clear sign that persons with disabilities are no longer willing to tolerate being unable to access websites, mobile sites and apps.
Accessibility lawsuits in education are not new. However, with colleges and universities undertaking their own digital transformations (moving more content and services online), law- suits targeted at equitable access to physical facilities (like bathrooms) have logically expand- ed to digital offerings for students relying on assistive technologies to access them. The cur- rent COVID-19 crisis is likely to exacerbate this, as more learning content than ever before has migrated online in these unprecedented times. Persons with disabilities will demand nothing less than completely equitable access, particu- larly when it comes to their safety. While many higher ed institutions still have much to do for their accessibility initiatives, there have been many promising developments:
Higher ed institutions (public and private) are adopting a more commercial, business- like approach. Colleges and universities are
establishing an accessibility baseline for their digital properties by making adjustments (such as captioning for the deaf and descrip- tive alt text to accompany images for the blind) and measuring progress based on met- rics. Smart monitoring for accessibility includes measuring compliance with the internationally accepted accessibility guide- lines (WCAG), accessibility issue ticket resolu- tion rates, and metrics for customer support relating to accessibility. In some instances, institutions are working with digital accessi- bility experts; however, new developments such as guided tools (like axe Pro) and open source rules libraries (like axe-core) are empowering non-experts to make accessibil- ity improvements on their own.
Universities are more proactively carving out budgetary resources for digital accessibility. With digital lawsuits capturing headlines — organizations ranging from Beyoncé to Domi- no’s Pizza to Harvard being recently in the spotlight — there’s a growing awareness of the substantial risks involved in inaccessibility and how it is much more cost-effective to address accessibility early and often in the software lifecycle, rather than in post-production. According to an IBM study, the cost of fixing a defect in production can be as much as 30 times more than addressing it in the design or development phase — and that doesn’t even include the potential legal costs.
Photo: LightField Studios/Shutterstock

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