With the impact of COVID, virtual learning has become a core part of students’ lives, and it’s not a temporary trend. Unfortunately, in a scramble to get courses online, accessibility in education can easily be overlooked. And overlooking accessibility guidelines creates barriers for students with disabilities who rely on assistive technology (E.G., screen readers and keyboard navigation).

So, schools must do more to support students with disabilities and avoid discrimination cases many have faced across the U.S. But, when does accessibility in education matter? Who’s responsible, and what can schools do to ensure compliance and provide an inclusive learning environment? This article breaks down some of the essential roles schools play in their accessibility journey and how an AI-powered widget may be the solution.

Accessibility in Schools

Schools are on a mission to educate future generations in a way where everyone can thrive. Yet, even though teaching students with disabilities is a high priority, it poses significant technical challenges in the online environment. But educators aren’t webmasters, so it’s no surprise that people expect higher standards from physical learning environments than many school websites. And those who work hard to set a standard might struggle to keep up with changing technologies or WCAG modifications.

The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) works to ensure all schools are discrimination-free, and a quarter of every case it investigates concerns web accessibility. Nonetheless, we can assume most school administrators aren’t intentionally discriminating against students. Instead, most of these cases stem from negligence or unknowingly breaking the rigorous standard set by the World Wide Web Consortium. And with so many other pressures already placed on school administrators, web accessibility standards often aren’t top of mind.

So what’s the best way to avoid making OCR’s list of pending cases? First, familiarize yourself with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and make the necessary changes before the investigation begins.

ADA Requirements for Schools

America requires schools to be ADA-compliant, which meets an overwhelming need. The National Center for Education Statistics has found 19% of undergraduate students disclosed some form of disability. An inaccessible website may alienate nearly two out of ten undergrads, but where does one begin righting this wrong?

Schools must abide by a high standard when creating any digital source of information. Specifically, they must commit to upholding their legal obligations to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) web accessibility directives. Simply put, the requirement to provide equal opportunity for people with disabilities will always apply to your school’s website and digital course material.

Knowing where to invest your time and resources is essential. New websites require a development team experienced in WCAG, and old sites need updating to meet WCAG 2.0 A, AA, and AAA requirements. To start, you must satisfy your students’ needs and avoid any legal attention. Understanding what an accessible school website looks like is an excellent place to begin your journey to compliance.

More About AI-Powered Widgets

Schools can significantly benefit from the latest AI-powered technology for accessibility and compliance. These tools can interpret images to create captions, add accessible labels to forms fields and decipher links, headings, and site structure to simplify navigation. In addition, such widgets may include overlays that provide text and contrast adjustments, screen readers, and more. 

Compliance is an ongoing, time-consuming process. Training staff and understanding the why’s of web accessibility is an essential first step to ensuring a high standard that doesn’t drop over time. Once there is a clear commitment to making your school or academic institution accessible, an AI-powered widget can undoubtedly help.

10 Web Accessibility Tips for Learners With Disabilities

Providing an inclusive education for students with disabilities is an increasingly essential service. Use the tips below to put your best foot forward:

1. Provide concise, predictable design, navigation, and content free of flashing elements. In addition, paragraphs should have a five-sentence maximum.

2. Explicitly describe hyperlink text sitewide. 

3. Use word processing apps like Microsoft Word and Google Docs to format headings, lists, and tables, and use built-in page layouts when possible. 

4. Remediate all website PDFs so they are accessible to people with all disabilities. 

5. Include succinct text descriptions of all content contained in imagery. 

6. Use fonts customized for people with vision-related conditions. 

7. Provide a stark color contrast between graphic elements and all backgrounds to simplify UX for people with eye-related disabilities.

8. Caption all videos and transcribe all audio content.

9. Provide keyboard navigation for users with disabilities that prevent them from using a  mouse.

10. You don’t want to overburden students with disabilities. That said, limit the number of tools they need to learn and only use ones that don’t interfere with each other.

How UserWay Helps Schools Become Accessible

UserWay strives to create a more equitable digital world for everyone, and improving accessibility in education is a critical part of that commitment. With UserWay’s AI solution in place, schools can do what they do best: focus on educating students of all abilities and backgrounds.

Contact a UserWay representative and start your accessibility journey today. 

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Common FAQs

Why is Virtual Accessibility Increasingly Essential? 

Over 60% of high school attendees utilize online tools daily, and over 50% of college attendees attend a minimum of one virtual class. In short, digital education is the new norm, and it’s here to stay. So naturally, this presents specific challenges for students with disabilities and increases the need for virtual accessibility.

What Disabilities Should an Accessible School Website Serve?

Satisfying vision and sound-related requirements alone won’t make your site accessible. Some students, for instance, have disabilities that prevent them from using a mouse. Others with learning disabilities require simplified content elements. Therefore, it’s crucial to think ahead and eliminate obstacles by considering all disabilities. If your site isn’t as accessible as possible, it may not be compliant.

How Do I Know if My School’s Site is Compliant?

Understanding where your site is non-compliant can be easier when you know all the rules and regulations. If you identify a couple of issues just by clicking around your website or performing a scan, there’s likely more you haven’t found. Requesting a web accessibility report is the best way to ensure compliance. Fixing these issues in-house is time-consuming and expensive, and that’s where a third-party provider can help.