Accessibility: What is it and why you should care

What is Accessibility?

According to the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights:

Accessible” means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. The person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally, and independently as a person without a disability

Accessibility Resources to help get you started.

Simply put, accessibility is ensuring that our digital materials can be accessed and used by all students without having to wait or rely on others to assist them. Our goal is not compliance but true equity, equality and respect for all Chemeketa students.

This message of inclusion is central to the Chemeketa Philosophy!

Some Statistics on Disability and Higher Education

  • 61.4 million Americans have some type of disability –  that is 25.7% of the US population (or 1 in 4) people.
  • 8.5%  have a disability that impacts computer access. This doesn’t include learning or cognitive disabilities, which many estimate to be the largest disability group of all!
  • 19.4% of post-secondary students and 4.6% of education professionals report having a disability.
  • 6.3 million students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course in fall 2016 (a 16.8% increase since 2014), this means that approximately 700,000 students with disabilities are taking online courses – and those numbers are growing!

Learn More: Disabilities and computer use.

Accessibility and the Law

As a federally funded institution, Chemeketa has a legal obligation to ensure that students (and employees) with disabilities can participate in Chemeketa activities (including school and employment) on par with their peers. Some relevant laws include:

The American with Disabilities Act which provides protections for persons with disabilities with the goal of ensuring that they have equal opportunities to participate in programs, services and activities within: employment (Title I), state and local governments – including public institutions of higher education (Title II), and public and commercial facilities (Title III). Because the ADA was created in 1990, long before the internet became an integral part of everyday life, it is not specifically called out in the regulations. However, the Department of Justice has specifically confirmed that the ADA does apply to websites (and other online accommodations)

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which prohibits otherwise qualified persons with disabilities to be “excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The requirement for equal and equitable access was emphasized by a 2010 “Dear Colleague” letter issued jointly from the departments of Justice and Education regarding the use of inaccessible electronic readers.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which directs that all Electronic and Information Technologies, goods and services procured by the federal government must be fully accessible to those with disabilities. It also specifies the standards to which the technology must be accessible. This also includes any grants and contracts with the federal government.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which provides for a “free appropriate public education” for students with disabilities. While the focus of this law is K-12, it still affects higher education with students taking concurrent courses or college preparation courses – which are increasingly online.

Why is Accessibility Important?

  • It allows all students to be equal participants in your course
  • It improves outcomes for all students
  • It enhances faculty and institutional effectiveness
  • It’s the law

Digital information is integral to modern education

Digital information is not limited to online courses. All classes use online materials – even face to face classes have online components – not to mention blended, hybrid and enhanced courses. Blackboard, videos, online articles, and more…

Why not wait until we have a student who needs accessible materials and take care of it then?

Not all students register with Student Accessibility Services – some students don’t want to be perceived as different or feel that there is a stigma attached needing accommodations. Also, not all students’ disabilities have been recognized or diagnosed.

Also – It is easier and more efficient than after-the-fact fixes

It is much easier to include accessibility when creating materials than having to go back and retrofit it in later

Accessible Design Helps Everyone!

Making sure that materials are accessible for all has benefits well beyond students with disabilities. By incorporating accessible design into our work, we create a culture of inclusion that enriches everyone:

Accessibility Helps All Students

  • Students with temporary disabilities
  • Students for whom English is a second language (ESL)
  • Multimodal learners
  • Students using mobile devices
  • First generation and Non-traditional students
  • Students using older equipment, slow modems, or in places where sound is not allowed
  • Students using emerging technologies
  • Students in disruptive environments (kids, roommates, public areas)
  • Students who are stressed, distracted or under pressure
  • … and, it can improve understanding and retention of information for all students

Accessibility Helps Faculty

  • It demonstrates faculty’s leadership and values and a commitment to:
    • Quality student outcomes
    • Diversity and social responsibility
    • Best practices for instruction
  • It enhances faculty productivity by taking advantage of tools built into programs such as Word and Google Docs

Accessibility Helps Chemeketa

  • It reflects Chemeketa’s mission and philosophy
  • It can bolster Accreditation efforts
  • It can help with proposals and grants – funding agencies have begun to require accessible information and communication for grants and contracts
  • It demonstrates Chemeketa’s commitment to diversity and service for all
  • It enhances collaborative possibilities across the country … and abroad
    • Many countries including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and the European Union have regulations requiring digital accessibility for content used within their borders–even if the content is created and housed elsewhere.
  • It is good Public Relations
Accessibility what is it and why you should care