2001 Conference Proceedings

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KEEPING WEB ACCESSIBILITY IN MIND:
PROJECT WebAIM HELPS POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION

Cyndi Rowland, Ph.D.
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University
Logan, Utah 84322
E-mail: cyndi@cpd2.usu.edu

The problem for consumers with disabilities

Full access to the Internet for individuals with disabilities is a current national disgrace. In samples of postsecondary education web sites, fewer than 1 in 4 are fully accessible (Rowland 2000, Rowland & Smith, 1999). Even with appropriate hardware and software many students with disabilities must rely on accommodations by web site developers to access information on the Internet. If the site they wish to access is not designed with their needs in mind, the information becomes inaccessible. For example, a student who is blind may enter a class site and hear her text-to-speech reader indicate "[image], [image] serve/info.html, ctlg.html, . . . reg.php . . . online/crs.html." It is unlikely that she would be able to participate in or benefit from such an experience. On the other hand, after simple accommodations are made, this same student would hear, "Welcome to the online course offerings of Utah State University. Please select from the following menu items, general information, course catalog, registration, courses . . .". The simple attention to non-text elements of a web site would enable a user with a disability to participate. However, current and future online learning experiences are much more than an electronic version of text. Courses on the cutting edge now use elements such as (a) synchronous chats, (b) threaded discussions, (c) video streaming, (d) search engines, and (e) 3-D imaging. Each of these features requires attention to the needs of consumers with disabilities.

Why does this problem exist?

The problem of access to online education becomes perplexing when one considers the wealth of available information on accessibility (WAI, 1999; CAST, 1998; NCDRR, 1998; Trace, 1998; Waters, 1997), as well as the federal prohibitions against discrimination based on disability status (American's with Disabilities Act of 1990; Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Workforce Investment Act of 1998). The problem of accessibility is complex and many components work together to create the national state of affairs, including (1) awareness by web developers of the need for accessibility; (2) training, or technical assistance for web developers; (3) web-authoring tools that further inaccessibility; and (4) a lack of host coordination within organizations (e.g. many organizations have several client servers, each with several web developers that require accessibility skills).

How will WebAIM help provide a solution?

In recognition of the problem, the Learning Anytime, Anywhere Program from the U.S. Department of Education funded a national effort to mitigate problems of accessibility in postsecondary education. This 4-year initiative, "Keeping Web Accessibility In Mind" (WebAIM) includes the work of 4 prominent partners and consumer groups. They are (1) the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University, (2) the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Affiliate of the American Association for Higher Education, (3) Western Governor's University, and (4) Black board Inc. (creator of one of the most widely used course development tools in the nation). The goal of the project is a significant improvement in accessibility to postsecondary online education for consumers with disabilities. To do this, partners will work together on each of the problems noted above. Each partner is strongly committed to the goals of this important project. The CSUN presentation will showcase the efforts and results of the WebAIM partnership.

References

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (1999) BOBBY Web accessibility validator, version 3.1.1 [Online] Available: http://www.cast.org/bobby/

National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR). (1998) Electronic accessibility. The Research Exchange, 3(3), 1-2.

Rowland, C. (2000). Accessibility of the Internet in Postsecondary Education: Meeting the Challenge. International Symposium on Accessibility. [Online]. Available: http://www.webaim.org/articles/whitepaper

Rowland, C., & Smith, T. (1999). University Affiliated Programs face Web Site Accessibility Issues. CPD News, 22(3), 5-7.

Trace Center (1998). Designing more useable websites. [Online]. Available: http://www.trace.wisc.edu/world/web/

Waters, C. (1997). Universal Web Design. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders.

Web Accessibility Initiative (1999). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [Online]. Available: http://www.w3.org/WAI/


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