March 18 2020

Website ADA Conformance 101: Higher Education Websites

higher education websites ada conformanceThe focus on website ADA compliance has never been more prominent than in recent years. Lawsuits against major corporations such as Dominos and Netflix have become commonplace, and consumers are rightly pushing for accessibility on all websites. As a result, companies, institutions and organizations are increasingly focused on current website compliance (WCAG) guidelines. Increasingly, higher education institution websites are the subject of lawsuits. With a range of visitor types, higher education lawsuits must strive to make a fair experience for all visitors, no matter their disability. So where does a college or university begin?

ADA challenges of higher education websites

There are several key factors to consider when designing and developing an ADA compliant website for a higher education institution.

  1. A higher education website has multiple authors and changes executed by different contributors daily.
  2. ​Many schools have multiple websites, often cobbled into one main site. For example, your school of business may have built their site in 2007, your law school landing page was created in 2014 and your main site was overhauled in 2018.
  3. Higher education institutions tend to have fairly high turnover in website management staff and content managers, typically due to the fact that employees can be undergrad or graduate students, interns and content managers.
  4. College and university websites have many documents that are critically vital or time sensitive, from enrolling into new courses, online testing or homework forums, to schoolwide announcements and alerts.

When handled separately, these factors can be a small road bump in turning a site into an accessible one. However, when all four of these are combined they can be somewhat challenging when striving to adhere to guidelines.

Blueprint for higher education website conformance

Higher ed websites, more than any other industry, must combine website remediation with training, staffing and coordination in order to meet ADA compliance for students, faculty and beyond. For some institutions, a website redesign against the latest ADA guidelines is the most logical step, while for others, doing an audit of issues and fixing them is more appropriate.

  1. Start by performing a sitewide audit of existing pages. Redesigning your organization’s website to merge pages or subsections is the first step in ensuring your site adheres to guidelines. By eliminating redundant, out-of-date and confusing pages, your organization can focus on a clearer, more concise website.

  2. If you are redesigning, your new website design must incorporate proactive design elements to limit human made errors that will likely occur in the CMS. For example, the design might consider incorporating an overlay on images or a box with background color to ensure that headline text over images is readable. This is a programmatic fix that allows the text and font color are legible (considering contrast ratio guidelines), no matter what banner image is uploaded.

  3. Content managers, authors and contributors to your university’s CMS should be trained on the basics of accessible code. This doesn’t mean that these users have to learn JavaScript or CSS, but it is highly beneficial for them to understand important guidelines such as when and when not to add an ALT-text to an image, when to make sure text replicates what an image may display, and how to add closed captioning and transcripts to videos.

  4. Special consideration must be given to table-based data. This means that tables that show school holidays, office hours or key dates during the semester must have proper HTML to ensure they make sense to the visually impaired.

  5. Determine what should be pages versus PDF files. Phone numbers, maps, directions and the link shouldn’t only be accessible as PDFs. Instead, they should also exist on accessible web pages.

  6. Error reporting. If an error occurs, accessibility issues should have a means to be easily reported to the appropriate person on campus that can resolve them. If a student cannot log into their account due to an inaccessible login, they should have a way to contact someone that can remedy their situation that day. Then the issue should be reported to the team that can fix the accessibility blockage in the code. This may require new staff, or at the very least, training for existing staff.

While higher education websites present a lot of unique challenges, these are also not insurmountable. With the right plan, and the right ADA compliance partner, all university websites can be made ADA conformant and accessible to all audiences, no matter their disability. Contact ZAG to discuss your institution's website ADA conformance needs.

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posted by
Will Creedle
Will Creedle
Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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