Web accessibility for persons with disabilities is a major
issue for colleges and universities. There have been lawsuits where materials
were not accessible to – for instance – visually-impaired students using audio readers.
Many small colleges or university departments do not have a department or staff
dedicated to working with students with disabilities and thus did not have an
understanding of the problems faced or even the technologies used. They bring
in web development staff, part of the marketing department, and the word that
always comes up is “COMPLIANCE.”
But compliance is
fraught with legal issues. Going to your marketing team to figure out ADA and
Section 508 compliance is like hiring lawyers for your next banner or
brochure. A better approach for your
marketing team is one of usability. That
is, accessibility, across the board for
One example alt text, used to tag images, which audio readers
read back to the visually impaired. In an attempt to comply with ADA or Section 508 regulations, a higher up at the
college buys some software, scans the site, and finds to his or her horror that
nearly every image is flagged as “non-compliant.” Your web person then spends
the next 3 days writing alt text for every photo.
No harm done, right? Good deed done, compliant, and it may
even help SEO!
But this is what
your next visually-impaired student prospect hears from his or her audio
“We take a holistic approach to
learning offering many degrees and certificates in education. Here is a picture
of a professor in a red jacket assisting a student in glasses. Among our degree
programs, we offer….”
Amusing, but also potentially baffling to the person you thought
you just went out of your way to help. From a marketing perspective, you just
announced that you care more about complying
with regulations than actually understanding and assisting your students with
If there is one takeaway for everyone on your marketing team
– web development, writing, and graphic design – I hope it is this: everything in a website that you find
somewhat confusing, cluttered, distracting, unclear, or annoying goes tenfold
for someone with a disability to the point where he or she shuts down and
So what do you watch for to make your media more accessible?
links – jarring to most users, it can feel like being thrown into strange,
dark room for someone lacking sight
and confusing graphics or text – does it take you more than one glance to
understand the material? For someone with a cognitive disability, it’s a
scramble of words, letters, and colors, so keep it clear, concise, and simple
spinning, moving – how are carousels still a thing? If you find them
slightly distracting, or that half of them rotate too slow and the others too
fast – imagine someone easily distracted or who is simply a slow reader
of dropdowns– unless you have the hand of an eye surgeon, you have probably
become frustrated many times trying to navigate dropdown menus with a mouse at
your desktop or stylus on your mobile device. Imagine someone with Parkinson’s,
cerebral palsy, ADD/ADHD, or simply in a hurry!
image file? Really?! – What if I told you after all this discussion, the
vast majority of “web issues” related to lawsuits take place on White Board,
Black Board, library resources, etc.? Every student has had a professor scan
required reading material to an image file and post it. While annoying to most
of us, you just supplied a blank document to the visually impaired, and that
end of term paper depends on it.
By addressing these and similar issues first, you’ve not
only become accessible for the few, you’ve become more accessible for everyone!
Disability is not a binary. It’s a spectrum. For every blind person, there is
an army of visually impaired; for every person with Down’s, there is a room
full of persons with reading disabilities. Don’t think of it as compliance:
think of reaching the most people in the simplest and effective means possible.
Think of it as good marketing.
Originally published at LinkedIn where I am seeking fulfilling opportunities.
in digital content development, including over eight years in higher education