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Why Accessibility?

Accessibility is extremely important on many levels, for many people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018) reports that about 1 in 4 adults in the United States have some kind of disability. It is important to know that many disabilities are not visible, and students are not required to disclose that information. In fact, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, only about 37%, or one-third, of students with a disability disclosed that fact when they got to college. Reasons include fear of discrimination, low self-esteem, and lack of self-advocacy skills. Likewise, faculty or staff members may also have an invisible disability. It is entirely possible, in fact highly likely, that there are people on campus who face barriers that others are unaware of (e.g. Fibromyalgia, ADHD, color blindness).

Disabilities can be permanent (such as being blind, having only one arm, or living with ADHD), temporary (having a broken arm or cataracts), or situational (driving a car, holding a baby, or sharing the internet with multiple family members). Many of us will experience some kind of barrier or disability at some point in our lives.

Remote coursework presents many factors that affect the way faculty teach and students learn. These include:

  • Not having high-speed internet
  • Sharing internet access
  • Working long hours or multiple jobs
  • Managing mental health stresses
  • Studying with a baby or young child around
  • Lacking a quiet learning environment

Accessibility helps those with disabilities. It also helps everyone who is experiencing less than optimal work or learning conditions. Accessible teaching practices are a proactive way to help improve the learning experience for all students, regardless of their situation. When you design materials with accessibility in mind, they work better for everyone—which means that people will feel included, because they are.

Guidelines and Laws

We often don’t know the audiences of our content intimately, which means that there is a good chance that we may not be aware that an audience member is experiencing a disability, either permanent, temporary, or situational. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, accessibility is a human right. When information and communication technologies are inaccessible, people with disabilities are denied equitable access to education, employment, and involvement in society. 

In 2012, the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 were established as the international standard by the International Organization for Standardization. In 2018, the United States adopted this as our national standard. Federal law in the United States covers accessibility in sections 504 (public sector) and 508 (government and higher education) of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (public and private sector).

Making your content accessible respects people with disabilities and their civil rights, expands your audience, and helps everyone take advantage of features and formats that meet their individual needs. Put very simply, it’s just the right thing to do.

How is accessibility related to accommodation?

Accessibility and accommodation are complementary strategies. Accessibility involves taking proactive steps to create content that is flexible enough to be used by a wide range of people from the outset. Accessible content is aware of different audience needs and different use cases. Not only can accessible content reduce barriers to communication and learning for people with permanent, temporary, or situational disabilities, but it can also help to preserve a person’s right not to share that they have a disability. 

Accommodations address barriers in existing content that create challenges for specific individuals. Accommodations are retroactive, in the sense that they adjust content or conditions that have already been created. Many individual situations and some categories of disability are not addressed by existing accessibility standards, and accommodations are vital for filling in those gaps. 

It may be helpful to think of accommodations as focused on specific, individual needs and accessibility practices as focused on the nature of documents, learning materials, and workplaces. Both accommodation and accessibility practices are necessary for inclusive learning and working environments. For more information about accommodations for students, staff, faculty, and visitors, see our campus’s Accommodation Policies

Next Steps

Now that you know some of the background as to why we follow accessibility best practices, it's time to learn how to put them into action! Start with these five Basic Accessibility Principles