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Back to School: Accessibility Considerations

Aug 17, 2019

It's that time of year and millions of students and their families across the country are getting ready for the new school year to begin. Back-to-school shopping, summer homework, and last-minute preparations can be difficult and stressful enough — and even more so when the websites and tools needed to do these things are not built to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Five accessibility reminders during back-to-school season

1. School materials need to be accessible

It seems obvious that for all students to have an equal opportunity, they all need to be able to access the same materials, regardless of disability or the assistive technology they may use to do their work. Unfortunately, this requirement isn't always met, which is worsened probably by the fact that the technology and best practices to make most things accessible exist and are fairly well-defined.

These are some of the most common accessibility issues in educational materials:

  • Videos don't have captions or transcripts, so not everyone can access the information if they can't see or hear it.
  • PDFs and other digital documents aren't tagged or optimized for accessibility, so not everyone can receive or navigate the information properly.
  • Navigation isn't clear or consistent, and controls don't work with only a keyboard.
  • Color combinations don't have enough contrast to be visible to everyone.
  • Images and charts don't have equivalent text alternatives available.

Read: Web Design and Accessibility: Basics Every New Designer Should Know.

2. School is a family affair

Parents, grandparents, caretakers, and other family members can all be involved in the support and logistics of sending just one child to school. From helping with homework to keeping track of scheduling updates, the reality is that the inaccessibility of school materials has effects beyond the student. And, as schools continue to move to digital options, choosing tablets and laptops over textbooks and pencils, the accessibility of those options needs to keep up or some students and their families will be excluded from some of the supposed progress.

Read: Inaccessible School Materials and Parents with Disabilities: What's the Impact?

3. School shopping needs to be accessible

The back-to-school shopping bonanza is becoming a season unto itself. According to the National Retail Federation, families with students in elementary and high school will average $696.70 on back-to-school spending; families with college students will spend $976.78.

Retailers who don't prioritize accessibility will potentially subject themselves to expensive and lengthy legal battles, while unnecessarily missing out on a portion of their part of the $80.7 billion back-to-school market.

E-commerce websites may have special considerations, like the checkout process, form fields, color schemes, alt text, and mobile shopping.

Read: Why Does Web Accessibility Matter for Retail Businesses?

4. Accessibility needs to be monitored and maintained

Like privacy and security, and pretty much everything else, accessibility is not a one-time-fix. Instead, it requires ongoing monitoring and maintenance. The same is true for the digital tools and resources for schools. It doesn't help the student who needs an inaccessible version of a PDF today to know that older PDFs were accessible. A student's mother can't use yesterday's contact form to get in touch. As updates are made and as technology evolves, accessibility must remain an ongoing consideration.

Some ways to help make sure a website or app stays accessible is to build a level of knowledge and self-sufficiency, keep a relationship with accessibility experts, and get accessibility buy-in from the organization or school district.

Read: We Already Fixed Our Website for Accessibility: Are We Done?

5. Schools can help protect themselves from complaints and lawsuits by partnering with accessibility experts

Schools are finding themselves at the center of a number of complaints and lawsuits due to the inaccessibility of their websites and materials. The best way to defend against these is to actually prioritize and work to achieve digital accessibility for everyone.

Partnering with accessibility experts can help schools comply with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. We can help schools and academic institutions achieve, maintain, and prove digital compliance, and we have a 100% acceptance rate from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) as an approved third-party auditor.

Talk to us to learn about our comprehensive education accessibility audits. Or, you can get started with a free and confidential website accessibility scan and when you're ready to talk about your results, we'll be here.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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