What everyone should know
University policy requires that websites be accessible to people with disabilities. This section lists the benefits of using accessibility standards and guidelines based on U.S. law (Section 508 Standards) and international guidelines (WCAG and ARIA), as well as the benefits of assistive technologies.
What university policy addresses the accessibility of websites and web-based applications?
The major university policies controlling websites and information technology (IT) include the acceptable use and administration of computer and communication systems, security, privacy, anti-discrimination (or equal opportunity), and the usage of the university name. In addition, university Policy 7215 IT Accessibility, addresses the accessibility of websites and web-based applications. PDF version of VT Access Policy.
This accessibility policy was established to support the Virginia Tech community in promoting equal access opportunity to information technology by the application of accessibility standards, guidelines, training, tools and methods consistent with higher education. For more information on what constitutes equal access and providing reasonable accommodations at Virginia Tech, see university Policy 178 Accommodations for Disabilities.
Below are Sections 2 and 2.1 from the IT Accessibility policy that state what standards and scope should be applied to university websites and web-based applications.
The procurement, development, and/or maintenance of EIT, including electronic content, functional performance, technical requirements for hardware and software, and user support services will be aligned with accessibility standards. EIT will comply specifically with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended (“The Final Rule”) and conformance with “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” (WCAG) 2.0 AA from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Accessibility standards must be designed to evolve and change, as newer technologies are introduced and user needs change. At the same time, the standards will maintain a consistent framework for accessibility training and support services. EIT development, maintenance, training, and support personnel who are responsible for EIT procurement, development, and maintenance will possess professional credentials and/or an appropriate level of technical knowledge and experience related to accessibility standards for persons with disabilities.
This policy is applicable to colleges, departments, auxiliaries, research, and administrative entities with the Division of Information Technology organization supporting the programs or services of the university.
Why accessible websites are needed
Census statistics, as of 2010, estimate that about one in five people in the U.S. has a disability and that this number will increase as the current population ages. For many people with a disability, using the internet and the World Wide Web (web) depends on an accessible web presence and/or support for a wide range of technologies. In addition to desktop or portable computers, technologies may include a touch screen, digitizing tablet, iPod, smartphone, smartwatch, or interactive whiteboard. These technologies may also include adaptive or assistive technologies for people with disabilities.
The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
Virginia Tech standards and guidelines established by university policies reflect the best practices within higher education for achieving access to information technology and the Web by persons with disabilities. In addition, the aim of university policy is to provide this opportunity in a setting that fosters independence and meets the guidelines of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Benefits of an accessible website
- Providing students, employees, and the general public with equal access to programs and services of the university helps protect the rights of all individuals, as well as the disabled. Accessible websites and information technology are strategic in the university’s campaign to advance teaching and learning, expand research and outreach, and improve administrative systems at Virginia Tech.
- Accessible web design and content will generate goodwill for Virginia Tech and reduce complaints by individuals about the usability and accessibility of websites. Additionally, Virginia Tech will avoid the adverse publicity and legal costs incurred by universities that do not provide accessible web design or equivalent access for the disabled.
- Accessibly designed content will attract more of the targeted audience through better comprehension, ease of use, and navigation. Web accessibility does not mean that a website must be boring or void of rich media content; instead, accessible websites should give users more choices for using their abilities and sensory modes.
- Website development and maintenance costs should decrease over time due to standardizing websites. Additionally, implementing accessibility standards will better prepare websites for future technologies.
To summarize, the positive impact of accessible websites will advance the university’s goals for learning, teaching, research, and outreach, as well as enhance Virginia Tech’s standing as a world-class university.
What are Assistive Technologies? How are they used on the web?
- For years, people with disabilities have used assistive technologies to maintain, enable, or increase their opportunities for learning, teaching, working, and recreation. This experience holds true when accessing the web. For people without disabilities, assistive technologies make things easier. For individuals with disabilities, using assistive technologies make things possible!
- University access policies, which are aligned with Section 508 standards and WCAG guidelines, recognize the benefits of assistive technologies on the web. Accessible web design will ensure that a website is usable by people with disabilities when they are using assistive technologies.
- Examples of assistive technologies being used on the web include: screen magnification, contrast and color filtering software for people with low-vision; screen readers, and refreshable Braille displays for people who are blind; speech recognition and control for people with physical or learning disabilities who find it difficult to use a keyboard for input; and other devices that assist people such as literacy tools with assistive reading or adaptive keyboards and mice.