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Landmark Lawsuits: Rulings for Web Accessibility in Higher Education

Jul 25, 2017

Today's technology-centered landscape requires us all to be connected online, and that connectivity mandates equal access to these virtual platforms for people of every ability. Although all online outlets should allow for universal web accessibility, it is particularly important for academic institutions to comply. Many colleges and universities, however, maintain websites that don't adequately accommodate those with disabilities. Fortunately, recent litigation has brought greater attention to these sites' non-compliance with web accessibility guidelines, and these landmark cases have had quite an impact on web accessibility overall.

A Case for Alternative Text

One of the biggest challenges shared by higher education institutions is the overall accessibility to their main websites. Colleges and universities are increasingly using their online platform as a hub of essential information for their prospective and current students, from accessing academic records to conveying updates on university news and events. If these important sites do not make proper accessibility adjustments, they leave individuals with impairments at a substantial disadvantage.

Ohio State University was in the spotlight for such challenges. In a formal complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Education, the university was chastised for a number of the school's virtual locations being inaccessible to those with vision difficulties by not providing alternate text options. By not giving visually impaired students full access to the content on their website, Ohio University was discriminating against this sector of the student population. Following the complaint, Ohio University quickly took steps to comply by establishing a resolution to improve the visitor experience for the visually impaired.


E-Learning Accommodations

In addition to website concerns, additional issues of accessibility have arisen alongside the rise of technology use in the post-secondary classroom. Online coursework and other web-based learning is an increasingly substantial component of modern education, making accessibility especially crucial in this environment. Indeed, several complaints and lawsuits have been filed against higher education institutions for accessibility issues relating to their e-learning experiences.

A landmark suit against Arizona State University argued that the use of Kindle DX, a e-reading device distributed in a pilot course program, was virtually useless for blind students as it did not offer an alternate text nor an audio format. The result of that case was the resolution that all future course-integrated technologies would allow for more adaptive and accessible uses. A similar outcome was reached in a case involving Florida State University. A blind student filed a complaint against the university's EGrade online course platform, which significantly disadvantaged visually impaired students. Without being able to complete their online math coursework, these students were forced to fall behind in their coursework and lacked the necessary accommodations to progress. Again, after this issue was raised, the university took prompt steps toward remedying the problem and testing new solutions.

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