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Digital Accessibility is Essential in Education

As a CIO I was contacted by law firms and government agencies to address concerns from end users of institutional web sites, web portals, applications and classroom technology. These are valid requests that must be resolved. As much as education tries to be inclusive and supportive historically little work was invested in ensuring technology was designed for users with disabilities in mind. There have been attempts and making websites accessible such as The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In 1998 Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was added to require federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible.

For federal agencies there is an accessibility standard and requirement. For all other private company, educational and organizational website the implementation and application of accessibility is not as clear leaving a wide range of technology in varied states of preparedness to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Aside from compliance it is important for educational institutions to ensure technology is accessible because it not only provides right of access to people with disabilities, but it improves the user experience for all users. By designing systems intelligently, logically and ensuring all controls are intuitive and accessible technology empowers end users and promotes content, business process and communication.

Many institutions are hesitant to make these modifications due to significant expense and lack of expertise but there are easy first steps to identifying simple changes that decrease the severity of an inaccessible website and improve everyone’s user experience. There are many free online resources and some Tech companies who specialize in accessibility will offer a free or low-cost initial evaluation. Once a report is produced an institution can start by addressing first priority issues. Doing this will show a good faith effort, that your institutions has taken steps to address accessibility and is concerned about diversity and inclusion. This month’s EdTalk includes two accessibility practitioners and experts who will share experiences and tips on how to start your path to digital accessibility.