What’s the latest?
The New York Times recently reported that over the past two weeks, eight lawsuits have been filed against New York area colleges and universities, including Fordham, Manhattan College, Long Island University and most recently Hofstra University, amongst others. Emanuel Delacruz, who is blind, filed lawsuits stating that the websites were inaccessible as he tried to access tuition costs, school location and academic calendars but was unsuccessful because the websites were not readable by his screen-reading technology, thus violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The recent filings have since doubled those filed against academic institutions and this number will continue to increase as students become more aware of their rights and as establishments continue to ignore web or digital accessibility. Although seen as a gray area, depending on your viewpoint, taking necessary steps to comply with WCAG 2.0 AA standards as set out by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) ensures that your company avoids a lawsuit.
Digital inclusive design needs to be the rule, not the exception
For most institutions, unfortunately, digital accessibility wasn’t front of mind when first building their websites; thus, leaving them open to the possibility of an ADA lawsuit and many of their students without access to important online materials. The risk of litigation wasn’t the only concern many people had when accessibility needed to be addressed.
So often an accessible website is looked at as nothing more than an unappealing, monochromatic, text-only site. This is where we need to re-evaluate our thinking and educate on the misconceptions that have so negatively been attached to digital accessibility. The continued opposition to use an institution’s costs and resources to build one, when their site is established or not, has repeatedly become the norm.
How do universities and colleges address this major flaw?
As of 2016, The University of Iowa was ranked number one in the nation for university web accessibility. Topping over 140 schools, other universities and colleges would do well to take note of the efforts UI has put forth and emulate them. In order to address these barriers, institutions must begin with a culture change. Accessibility aligns well with a culture of inclusiveness, as stated by IT Accessibility Coordinator Todd Weissenberger at UI. Technology has become the most prominent way we access information and to deny a student or faculty member that access highlights an inadvertent discrimination towards those living with a disability. Increasing the focus on campus to a digitally inclusive mindset will help set everyone in the right direction.
As disability rights lawyers and advocates continue to fight for digital inclusivity, it’s time for institutions, of all kinds, to do their part to ensure people of all abilities have the same access to all web content. As the Times reported from Eve Hill, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, said “Imagine if you were that person. Imagine if you were trying to apply to school, and every college you went to check out refused to tell you how.”Regardless of how you go about it, we must continue to address accessibility on-going. Learn more about how to incorporate accessibility into your digital roadmap.