Digital Accessibility in Higher Education and the Hard Value Return

Americans with Disabilities Act

Americans with Disabilities Act

Have you ever noticed college leadership rolling eyes when the topic of digital accessibility comes up for discussion? It is not surprising if you’ve seen this more than once.

No one to this date has made a clear-cut argument in favor of value return on accessibility in higher education. Student retention and success come closest to value return on accessibility. The logic here points to the benefits universities will derive from accessible websites and electronic documents by offering modern, technology-intense, multisensory learning experience. This would ultimately turn today’s students into tomorrow’s alumni donors and benefit universities/colleges in myriad ways.

Return on Accessibility

Student retention and success arguments that focus on value return treat students as customers in any market-driven enterprise. The customer satisfaction is the key consideration. The logic might look like this:

  • The higher the student grades, the higher the student retention
  • The higher the student retention, the higher the graduation rate
  • The higher the graduation rate, the higher the likelihood of good paying jobs.

The logic is that the accessibility of digital resources will contribute to strong intellectual development of students and their satisfaction with college experience. This, in turn, will benefit the institution in various ways. A report from the Alumni Factor
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presents this connection in the following manner:

Simply put, for many graduates their college experience is an important part of their identity, and the higher the regard they have for their college, the more likely they are to donate to it.

A positive college experience motivates today’s students and tomorrow’s alumni to make financial contributions to different program initiatives, construction projects, activities, endowments, among other such support.

This further improves institution’s reputation as a provider of quality education and thus attracting high caliber future students.

Where do Accessibility and Students with Disabilities Fit Here?

If we focus only on students with disabilities, return on investing in digital accessibility is a loss making proposition.

The National Center for Education Statistics data
link opens in an external window showed that in 2011-12, the percentage of U.S. college students who reported having a disability was only 11 percent. This is a self-reported or student-driven data, meaning many choose not to disclose disability to their higher education institutions and suffer the negative consequences of inaccessible digital resources.

Proper web layout and structure, alternate text, appropriate color contrast, transcripts, captions, among other accessible features, significantly improve the learning experience for college students with disabilities. Needless to say, this also improves their performance and success.

A recent pilot study of online and distance learning education at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus
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  • Students with disabilities reported having benefited from the captions and interactive transcripts
  • Most of these students were not registered with the office of disability services
  • Interactive transcripts improved student performance more than captions.

A significant result of this research is to demonstrate that many more students with disabilities would benefit from attention to digital accessibility of course content. These students do not report their disabilities to the designated offices of disability services and thus do not use their services>

With only 11 percent reported students with disabilities on university campuses,
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this in no way will drive colleges to invest significant resources in digital accessibility.

But Wait! What if Digital Accessibility Benefits other Students Too?

Growing evidence shows that accessibility features in higher education curriculum offer greater choice of accessing instructional materials to all students and serve as effective learning aids. A nationwide research
link opens in an external windowwith 2,124 participants from various higher education institutions across the United States showed that accessibility features such as captions benefit all students. Benefitting primarily hard-of-hearing students, captions are blocks of text that appear at the bottom of a video that replicate the spoken audio. They also present in a textual form sound-related features of a visual.

Close to 35 percent participants of this survey said that they always or often used closed captions when available. Those for whom English was the second language, 44 percent claimed they benefited from captions. Those enrolled in some form of academic accommodations (athletes or other academically-challenged students), 48 percent said they used captions as learning aids.

Transcript is another accessibility feature that benefits low vision or blind students but also serves for non-disabled students as an effective learning aid. A separate document that can be read or printed that presents the entire spoken audio of a video, transcript was always or often used by 19 percent participants. Students that had trouble maintaining focus, 22 percent used transcripts. Those who benefit from academic accommodations, 27 percent benefited from them. Learners of English as a second language claimed to have used transcripts with little over 22 percent.

Accessibility Now a Valuable Investment?

This broadening of the user-base of accessibility and connecting it with retention and success of the general student population certainly gets buy-in from university/college leadership.

A positive college experience will motivate today’s students and tomorrow’s alumni to make financial contributions. They include contributing to new program initiatives, construction projects, activities, endowments, among other such development support.

And do not forget, “success begets success.” Successful students and alumni shine a positive light on the institution’s achievements. This further improves reputation of the college as an institution of quality education, thus attracting high caliber prospective students.

Putting resources in digital accessibility is to invest in the next frontier of college learning. Multisensory learning is the focus of all higher education technologies, contributing immeasurably toward student retention and success. Investing in digital accessibility today for student success is the hallmark of a forward-looking leadership.

Continue reading “Digital Accessibility in Higher Education and the Hard Value Return”


How to Create Alternate Text for Images

Do you have doubts that your websites or electronic documents are not accessible to users who cannot see or download images?

If this sounds like a situation you face, then you need to use something called “alternate image text.”

does this make you feel weighed down by an ever-growing demand on you to meet one more accessibility requirement and yet another compliance mandate as a front-end developer, web content manager, or e-learning support?

But don’t panic. If you’ve sent tweets to friends, have posted status update pictures on FaceBook with descriptions, or even commented on someone’s uploaded images, you have created some sort of an alternate text.

What is an Alternate Text and Who does it Benefit?

Alt text (alternate text) is a word or phrase that is inserted as an attribute in HTML to tell web or document users the nature or contents of an opens in external window

Adding alternate text for images is the first principle of accessibility, says WebAIM, a leading organization on accessibility. “The web is replete with images that have missing, incorrect, or poor alternate text.”link opens in external window

The main beneficiaries of alt text include users with and without disabilities:

• Blind or low vision users who use screen readers or magnification
• Auditory disabled users who read text transcript of an audio
• Deaf-blind using tactiles
• Users who turn off images to speed download or save bandwidth
• Websites or companies using SEO (search engine optimization) to boost their visibility on internet.

You Said My Social Media Experience will be Handy Here!

If you are confused whether your websites or electronic documents need alt text, refine your handy-dandy social media experience of creating image alt text by asking yourself three simple questions:

• Do I use image as a decoration to create a visual context? If yes, image needs no alternate text
• Do I use image to provide information? If yes, then one needs to describe the image. This not necessarily be what the image shows
• Does the image link? If yes, then one needs to describe the destination of the link in the alt tag.

With these questions in mind and some practice, your experience of writing descriptions of images and events on social media would be really handy in creating alt text.

“Count me in,” But How to Create Alt Text?

If you are the kind of content creator or college instructor who freezes in tracks on hearing something about coding, no worries. I will walk you through steps to create alternate text in electronic documents. But if you like playing with code, you can jump straight to the next heading where I provide a description of the coding process in HTML.

If you are a digital content manager or college instructor who creates documents like PowerPoint slides, follow these steps to create alternate text:

• Position the cursor in the document where you want to place the picture
• Open the insert tab in PPT and click on picture
• Navigate to the directory/folder where you kept the picture on your computer, select the picture and click insert
• Right click anywhere on the image that opens the size dialog box
• Go to the tab “alt text”
• Enter alternate text in the edit box
• Click on close button.


Note: tested with Microsoft PowerPoint 2007.

If you want to create alt text in MSWord or some other similar word processor, the logic remains the same, only specific steps might differ.

“I like playing with the code,” How to Code Alt Text?

One does not need to write code to create alt text, it is however helpful to have some basic information about how to do it.

But for those for whom coding is fun or want to take a quick dip, here is a brief description of how to code alt text:

Start with an image tag, which is part of HTML code. This tag tells internet browsers which image to display. It begins like this: <img

This image tag consists of several parts known as attributes. Inside the image tag is the source attribute that starts with src, followed by an equal sign, and then comes the actual location and file name inside the quotation marks. This source attribute finally looks something like this: src=”http://www.myblog/picture.jpg”.

The other attribute of the image tag is the actual alt text. It starts with alt, which is a shortened version of the alternate text. Alt is followed by an equal sign, which in turn, is followed by quotation marks and then the actual description of the image inside the quotation marks. Once everything is set, then close the image tag with Thus, this alt text attribute looks like this: alt=”description of the image”

Now the entire code looks like this:

<img src="www.myblog/picture.jpg” alt="description”

Now that you know a lot more about alt text than before, how will your company or university will use alt text to improve digital accessibility. Share your ideas in the comment box below.

What is Digital Accessibility and Why We Need It?

Stevie Wonder presenting 2016 Grammy award and reading from a braille card

Have you ever wondered what is common between the popular R&B musician Stevie Wonder and the famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking?

Both use some sort of assistive technology to access computers and to connect with the digital world.

Digital accessibility means that the information technology (IT) products have the flexibility to meet different user needs, preferences, and situations. This certainly affects users with disabilities to use and contribute to websites, mobile or web applications, softwares, and electronic documents. This is why Stevie Wonder and Stephen Hawking can access and contribute to web and electronic documents even when they have different needs and work in different situations.

But persons with disabilities is hardly the only group digital accessibility benefits. Users with slow internet connections, people with temporary disabilities, and elderly are also significant beneficiaries.

Digital accessibility then means that different IT products are designed according to good usability principles so that various user groups can interact effectively with them, not just users with disabilities.

Why Bother about Accessibility?

According to some estimates, one-in-five persons has some sort of disability that negatively affects interaction with computers. Do I need say that these computers today sit in our offices, homes, and even in our pockets that make our tasks at job and home simple? When one counts persons with permanent disabilities, people with temporary disabilities, and elderly in this group, it is quite conceivable that one-fifth of the total global population at any given time would be excluded from the benefits of this day-to-day uses of computers. Isn’t that indeed a large group?

Assistive Technology and better IT Product Design Reduces the Impact of Disability on Digital Accessibility.

Here’s how:

• Users with vision impairments can listen websites and electronic documents
• Users with low vision can enlarge their screen and text
• Users with color blindness can contrast their text and its background
• Users with hearing impairments can read transcripts of audio
• Users with motor disabilities can operate keyboards
• Users with cognitive disabilities can understand and focus better.

Whether these users are customers of business websites, veterans using government services, or students enrolled in courses with digital content, they have real needs that require solutions. They also have real purchasing power that would help your bottom-line. Make your websites and electronic documents accessible.

What is DigitalAccess365 About?

Digital accessibility is my passion and I approach it from both personal and professional perspectives. This blog is dedicated to show-case the importance of inclusive design in technology platforms, softwares, and other IT products for greater digital accessibility.

I am totally blind and have benefited enormously over the two decades from growing trends toward greater digital accessibility. I use assistive technologies of screen readers and other tools to interact with web and non-web documents. This has also empowered me to achieve professional excellence by completing PhD and teaching as a blind professor.

And that’s why I feel blogging about the potential of digital accessibility is very important: to let the world of information technology developers, UX designers, web content creators, policymakers, and even users know that accessibility of IT products and digital content matters.

Then, What is This Blog About?

I will be blogging about different access technologies available to users with varying disabilities and the ways in which they interact with the fast-changing landscape of information technology.

My posts will talk directly about accessibility features of different platforms, such as Mac iOS, Linux, Windows among others, software applications, smart phones with Android and phone operating systems, internet browsers, and other assistive technologies.

The blog will also address the latest changes in accessibility-related policies and technical standards and their effects on accessibility consumers. Consumers are directly affected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and the European accessibility laws and will frequently appear in the posts.

These policies and standards also affect IT producers as systems developers, software and application developers, content managers, among others. They further affect the meaning of what it is to be IT professionals in the fast-changing landscape of technology.

You will also read here about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG2.0) and other technical standards. And not to forget, how to implement those standards with front-end technologies such as HTML and JavaScript.

User experience of persons with disabilities is a critical element of this blog. Voices of accessibility consumers will be loud, and hopefully, clear in my posts.

“When I hit the checkout button on this website to buy laundry soap, the webpage doesn’t move.”

You’re right, because the developer didn’t know or consult anyone about WCAG2.0 SEC 2.1.1 technical guideline and the relevant success criteria that all functionality of the webpage be operable through keyboard interface.

Another: “my online bank account navigations recently went nuts. When I tried paying the credit card balance, it wouldn’t wait until I confirmed the amount. The page changed without my knowledge.”

My developer friends, what happened to SEC 3.3.4 standard that the user control should be implemented in financial and legal context and the associated success criteria?

This is my favorite: the professor tells the students to “go online course website and upload your assignment and read my feedback over there.”

But how would the student with disability know where the upload field is and where to click when the feedback link just doesn’t work with her assistive technology? Aren’t learning management systems in the U.S. supposed to be ADA or Section 508 compliant?

So Then, Who is this Blog for?

This blog is for those concerned with digital accessibility, whether consumers or producers.

Busy IT professionals who want to check out the latest implementation of accessibility standards would be happy that they stopped-by. I hope managers and leadership teams also find this blog equally useful.

Persons with disabilities will also benefit from visiting this blog. Those who love new technologies and their potential to improve their personal or professional lives will be particularly glad to find this resource.

After all, the inclusive design principles and their importance to improve web and software designs to make them accessible to all is one of the main drivers of this blog.

Would You Take Everything I Say at its Face-Value?

Of course not.

If you don’t like what I say, say so.

Use the comment feature of this blog to disagree. Even better, use that feature to agree, I would love it.

And if you want to contribute, I am open to guest posts. Use the contact feature for what it is meant for.

Confused What to Do to Procure Accessible Information Technology? Simple RFP Language

Confused What to Do to Procure Accessible Information Technology?

I’ve heard so many stories of information technology accessibility falling on the shoulders of procurement staff that I wanted to write something about it in a simple, easy-to-use language.

If you are responsible for your university’s procedures for procurement, does it confuse or even terrify that now you have to learn and use the language of accessibility compliance in your institution’s information technology procurement?

The recent spate of accessibility lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
opens in external window against some of the most prominent U.S. universities have produced tremendous anxiety for other such higher education institutions’ technology leadership. The upcoming implementation of the Section 508 Refresh of the Rehabilitation Actopens in external window in January 2018 has only exacerbated that anxiety.

As it turns out, procurement units, in particular, are now faced with rapidly expanding demands on their expertise. Along with business requirements, procurement personnel are required to insert language in their request for proposals (RFPs) and final contract that incorporates information technology products accessibility. This, of course, is beyond traditional role and responsibilities, and in most cases, beyond technical competence of those procurement personnel.

What Accessibility Standards Higher Education Procurement Personnel are expected to Know?

To be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other accessibility standards, higher education procurement units have to know that a person with a disability must be able to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person with a disability. This person must be able to do those things in an equally, and with substantially equivalent ease of use.

These standards are based on the current Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and, along with the ADA, serve as the legal bases for accessibility regulations in the U.S. higher education institutions. These regulations, in turn, reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
opens in external window that are currently in their second iteration 2.0. The WCAG2.0 technical standards use A and AA levels as the success criteria. In fact, the updated U.S. Rehabilitation Act’s Section 508 standards, scheduled to come into force from January 2018, adopt these WCAG2.0 A and AA success criteria by reference.

Too much legal jargon?

You are right about that, but here are some simple questions you can ask to introduce accessibility in your procurement procedures:

  • Do your procurement procedures require vendors to communicate in writing that any technology they provide is accessible?
  • Do your procurement procedures require vendors to provide written documentation of the results of accessibility testing that verify the level of accessibility, as well as make available a designate contact to respond promptly and resolve accessibility complaints about their products?
  • Do your procurement procedures require vendors to provide log-in credentials to permit independent testing of their products, such as learning management systems and instructional support applications?
  • Does your independent testing allow third-party consultants or in-house staff to verify the claims of the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)?opens in external window

RFP Language

Here is some language to include in your request for proposals (RFPs). Ideally, you should do this in collaboration with your institution’s accessibility coordinator. This designate authority can guide you through the development of more institution-specific language to insert in your request for proposals for accessible information technology. The below language is borrowed from Ohio State University’s accessibility guidelines,
opens in external window and California State University
opens in external window and it should serve only as a model:

All content, interfaces, and navigation elements to be used by university faculty, staff, program participants, or other university constituencies must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended. Compliance means that a person with a disability can acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person with a disability, in equally effective and integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.

There are multiple approaches to providing equally effective and substantially equivalent ease of use. A product will be considered to have met this standard based on a review by the university or when the vendor demonstrates the work clearly meets the current applicable portions of the university’s accessibility regulations through documented testing.

The accessibility standards are the implementation guidelines for university’s electronic and information technology web accessibility policy, derived from the concerned state accessibility regulations and/or Federal Section 508 Rehabilitation Act’s section1194.22. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and its provisions in section 1194.22 are legal standards of compliance for U.S. government institutions. The goal of these standards is to ensure websites, web-based applications, electronic documents, and other information technology are functionally accessible to persons with disabilities, as described in Section 508, section 1194.31, functional performance criteria.

The accessibility testing procedure must be described in the proposal along with the completed chart, that may include, but not limited to code reviews by internal or external experts, evaluations with accessibility checking softwares, vendor test bedding with assistive technologies, testing by users with disabilities, or testing by a third party organization.

Is This the Final Solution?

This is only a partial solution, but a great beginning. The final solution, in fact, lies in developing an institution-wide strategy that addresses information technology accessibility issues at all levels.

Accessibility Training: Three Simple Steps to Make Websites Accessible

Today, I wanted to share a training video I produced on the occasion of this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day, May 18, 2017. I highlight three simple but important techniques to make websites accessible.

But what is the target audience of this video?

Front-end developers, web content creators/managers, and aspiring accessibility testers are the main IT producers who will learn from this video.

Who are the accessibility consumers that would benefit the most from the implementation of this training module’s techniques and what are those techniques?

• Organize content logically with short paragraphs and lists under appropriate headings. Users with cognitive and learning disabilities benefit the most from a well-structured and logically organized content.
• Ensure that browser’s text resizing capability can handle text enlargement up to 200 percent without loss of content and functionality. This makes web content accessible to low vision users.
• Test for keyboard navigation in form fields and controls. This benefits blind users the most.

Here is the link to the training module

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This video is 22-minute long.