Accessibility of the Internet in Postsecondary Education: Meeting the Challenge
Note: This paper was presented at the Universal Web Accessibility Symposium 2000, Oct 31, 2000, WebNet World Conference on The WWW and Internet, San Antonio Texas, by Cyndi Rowland, Ph.D.
This paper was supported by the U.S. Department of Education (grant number P339A990640,) Learning Anytime Anywhere Program managed through the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. No official endorsement is implied.
The winds of change have blown over postsecondary education. As Internet technologies transform our educational experiences, so these technologies create a wide chasm. There is a very real divide between students who do and do not have access to the Internet in education today. As our nation grapples with issues of physical access to hardware, software, the web, and a National Information Infrastructure, decision-makers must be mindful of those with different issues of access. These individuals are those with disabilities and their issues of access are related to the environment of the Internet today.
This White Paper on accessibility in postsecondary education was prepared at the request of Dr. Deanie French, Chair of the Universal Accessibility Symposium 2000 (Note 1) ; the first of its kind. Dr. French asked for an overview of Web accessibility in postsecondary education for students with disabilities. This request is quite a challenge. There are many angles a writer could take to cover this broad topic. I am honored to be given the task and hope this paper will provoke creative thinking and action in postsecondary education. As the Director of Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM) (Note 2) I have had opportunities to spend time with students with disabilities, web designers, and administrators. Each has unique experiences and perspectives of the problem of inaccessibility as well as potential solutions to these problems.
In this White Paper I will provide a brief description of the need for the web in the education of ALL students and will describe what is happening as postsecondary entities participate in our society's online explosion. Through multiple data sources, I try to capture a national snapshot of postsecondary accessibility today for students with disabilities. Finally, I offer a model to explain the enormous challenges faced in education and potential directions that could help mitigate this endemic problem.
Students Need the Web
Think if you will of hiring someone for a job you wish filled in your organization. You have 2 candidates with equal educational backgrounds and skills. One of these candidates, a blind woman, won't always be able to secure information you need or transactions you require over the Web because her screen reader may not detect all web site elements. The other can. Now, whom will you hire? Consider if you will the opportunities we now have to participate in voting for local and national leaders, file our taxes, and give congressional "e-testimony" over the web. How well will citizens with disabilities be able to participate in these endeavors? Even if we can surmount the "access" challenges faced by the "Digital Divide" (Note 3) (i.e., do people have access to the hardware, software, and lines needed to connect to the web), we must look at the very separate issue of disability access. This issue cuts to the core of how sites are designed and delivered, as well as how students with disabilities "learn" to use web-based information.
The paragraph above may sound like a better beginning for a paper on the "Web and Employment" or the "Web and Civil Participation". However let us remember that, among other things, the intent of postsecondary education is to help prepare an educated citizenry to become participatory, productive members of our country's workforce and society. The government acknowledges that an educated citizenry is in the best interests of the Country. This is why laws are in place to insure all citizens have fair and reasonable access to education and training opportunities. For some students with disabilities, postsecondary web sites restrict their ability to participate in these opportunities because they are not fully accessible. How can we say our postsecondary educational system prepares educated citizens without including the power of the Internet in their lives?
We've all heard how "virtual" curb cuts along the information superhighway will equalize web-travel for those with disabilities and others who require universal access. It is ironic that the Internet has the power to provide greater independence and participation for individuals with disabilities and yet it has failed to do so. In higher education, the virtual curb cuts take on monumental importance. The web is a fundamental tool in postsecondary education. Students who cannot access the web are limited in their ability to gather basic course information, conduct research, participate in assignments, and participate in the social community of others.
When sites are not accessible we harm students with disabilities in at least 2 ways. First, they may not have an educational experience that is equivalent to their nondisabled peers. Second, they loose out on opportunities to learn how to efficiently gather web-based information. It becomes a tail-chasing phenomenon where lack of access reduces skill acumen and fledgling skills further reduce access. In our grandmother's words; "practice makes perfect". Students without opportunities to practice cannot be as prepared to meet their future, one that will include the Internet. The potential failure of postsecondary education would be that systems are not created or sustained to help students with disabilities participate in the Web-based society that is growing with each day.
As a society, we participate in the transformation of every aspect of our lives because of the opportunities the web provides (Note 4). Let's face it, the web is a powerful tool. Yet this transformative social process will be incomplete if we fail to include productive members of our society who would benefit from access to education. An education that includes the very tool that is transforming today's world. This is why ALL students need the web.
Students in Cyberspace
Although the problem of access is not limited to just those with disabilities, issues of access hit the disability community the hardest. For example, able-bodied students who do not have access to a computer for Internet-based work can go to a computer lab or find a single computer at a community library or the home of a friend. However, even with proper hardware and software, a student with a disability may not be able to access the content of a web site because of the site's design (Note 5) .
To gain an understanding of the problems faced by these students we must understand their experiences. Of course students with disabilities face differing experiences when they reach inaccessible sites. These differences are largely defined by each students' disabilities as well as the adaptations that each must use to browse the web. For example, a student who is blind could encounter this type of message read to him by his screen reader coming into a class site, "[image], [image]. . . /syl/info/info.html, . . /wkgps /ctlg.html, . ./asmt/asmt.html, . . online/crs.html. It is doubtful that this student could participate in or benefit from such an experience. If the web developer for the class made simple accommodations to the site, the student could hear what other see, "Welcome to English Composition II. Please select from the following menu items: Syllabus, workgroups, assessment, online submissions". In another example, a deaf student might encounter the use of audio files, web casts, or multimedia components (with audio) as part of her course web site. Unless these files have been captioned or a transcript exists on the site she could not benefit from the content, experience, or intended activity. Clearly, if these items were captioned she could "listen" to (i.e., read) the course element like the rest of her classmates. For other students who have impairments in motor skills or cognition, sites may not be designed with their needs in mind either. Poorly designed sites may require inordinate amounts of persistence and physical effort to navigate, as can be the case with students who use single switch access to browse the Internet.
The point here is that a student's experience using the web will differ greatly from another student, depending on their disability. Solutions for disability access must look at the experiences of ALL students. It would be folly for a designer to create an accessible site only for those who are blind; as can be the case when parallel "text-only" sites are generated and maintained. Bohman (Note 6) used the experiences of many consumers to frame his suggestions to web developers. Failure to think about the differences across students will result in inadequate support to the widest range of students. The final result would be those who cannot use the Internet in their educational experiences, avoid the use of the web altogether, or require substantial help to glean any benefit from it.
It's hard to really know the numbers of students who are affected by inaccessible sites in postsecondary education. First, it is hard to know the numbers of students with disabilities in these settings period. Since postsecondary education is defined as education that occurs after high school graduation, the definition is broad and would encompass colleges and universities, technical training, corporate training, professional development, and community lifelong learning. Although it is reported that there are 54 million Americans with disabilities, this estimate would include those who have not yet graduated from high school. Kaye (Note 7) reported data on Internet use for those over the age of 15. This age range would be closer to that involved in postsecondary education. He indicated that there are nearly 21 million Americans over the age of 15 with disabilities that prevent them from employment. However, for the purposes of his report, Kaye used a restrictive definition of disability; since many consumers who have disabilities are employed, we would expect the numbers to be much greater. There are also specific reports of students with disabilities in higher education. For example, recent reports indicate rates of 9% for freshman entering higher education (Note 8) . The National Center for Education Statistics reported that during the 96-98 academic years, 428,000 students with disabilities were enrolled at 2- and 4-year institutions (Note 9) . However, these sources represent another underestimate of the population of students with disabilities in postsecondary education since they only include one aspect of postsecondary education, namely colleges and universities. Thus, it may not be possible to identify an accurate number of students with disabilities involved in postsecondary education efforts across the country.
To add to the problem of understanding the numbers, not all individuals with disabilities experience problems on the Internet. Clearly then, it is almost impossible to determine how many students are unable to gain complete access to the web. Waddell indicated this when she used the analogy of trying to understand the need for physical access just prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act; "It is like trying to count the number of wheelchairs on busses before mandates for physical accessibility" (Note 10) . Kaye did report, however, that Internet use among nondisabled persons with college degrees was more than double the use of those who have work disabilities and college degrees (63.9 percent versus 30.2 percent in their sample). One thing is sure. Millions of individuals are affected, and without efforts now to aid accessibility, millions more will be systematically barred from opportunities in education, commerce, entertainment, and the ability to freely associate with others.
A Brief History of Web Accessibility for Individuals with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education
Full accessibility to the Internet for persons with disabilities has been a systemic problem since the inception of the web. On April 7, 1997 the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international body that oversees the protocols and operations of the Internet, announced the creation of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Endorsed by all members of the W3C and the White House, the role of the WAI is to promote web functionality for people with disabilities. One of their first responsibilities was to establish accessibility guidelines for use by web developers. These guidelines were formally introduced to the public in draft form on September 18, 1998. The WAI worked extensively with stakeholders in revising the accessibility guidelines over time. Many draft versions of these guidelines were posted on the WAI web site. On May 12, 1999 the WAI, acting as a federal advisory committee, presented final recommendations for accessible web design (Note 11) . To date, accessibility guidelines have also been posted for (1) user agents(Note 12) (e.g., browsers like Netscape and assistive technology agents such as JAWS) and (2) authoring tools (Note 13) (e.g., Dreamweaver, Front Page).
There was no question in the disability field that equal access to the Internet would be guaranteed under Federal law. For example, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states, "no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance . . ." Note 14) . The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 echoes the prohibition of state and local governments from discriminating or denying opportunities based on disability status (Note 15) . Responses and cases coming from the Department of Education and Office for Civil Rights uphold the obligation of institutions to create information in accessible formats, including information on the Internet (Note 16) . However, there were no clear mandates from the Federal government for the use of accessible design, until just recently.
The U.S. Access Board declared its intent to issue standards for accessible information-technology under the Reauthorized Rehabilitation Act of 1998, which was signed into law by President Clinton in August of 1997. These amendments strengthened Section 508 (Note 17) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Although August 7th 2000 was the date for mandated compliance, President Clinton signed an extension postponing the deadline for compliance from August 7, 2000 until six months after the Access Board publishes the final standards under Section 508. This additional time will allow the Access Board to complete its period of public review, comment, and will allow them to publish the final regulations. The Access Board is now finalizing the requirements and have given notice that they will mandate compliance within the coming year. The Access Board will likely publish the accessibility regulations during the late fall of 2000. Thus, spring of 2001 is the most realistic timeframe within which postsecondary entities must be inline with this aspect of federal law. Once compliance is mandatory, consumers with disabilities can make formal complaints. This is typically the first step on the road to litigation. Moreover when the law is in effect, all programs receiving federal financial assistance will be required to have accessible Web sites or risk their funding (Note 18).
How Postsecondary Education is Caught in the Web
How is postsecondary education caught in, and contributing to, the problem of inaccessible sites? There are many elements. First is the fact that postsecondary entities, like the rest of our society, use the Internet more and more for the things that they do. The rapid rise in the use of the Internet as well as the functions of pages within sites grow each day. Today if you were to go to almost any institutional site, you would find that students could at least do the following:
- get information about required courses,
- register for courses,
- look up transcripts,
- order books,
- pay for educational expenses with a credit card,
- take online courses,
- gain access to web-enhanced courses,
- complete web-based assignments,
- meet others in virtual student lounges,
- conduct research from library holdings or the Internet,
- take tests online (e.g., MAT), and
- get information from web-based kiosks about social and community events and issues.
Each day, students can find new ways to interact with their education provider as new functions are added to sites. It is clear that the web is seen as a central element in postsecondary education. So much so that many institutions are dedicating enormous resources to keep up with the advantages that technology holds for students. For example, some campuses now place high-speed connections (e.g., T1 lines) in dormitory rooms and other campus living areas. Terminals with Internet access can also be found in other areas of campus. This access is viewed as desirable, if not necessary, for students to succeed in their educational endeavors and participate in the digital community that has emerged.
Another way that postsecondary education is "caught in the web" is related to the rapid rise in Internet use. The Internet is such a powerful resource, institutions or departments that do not capitalize on its use are seen as provincial; sometimes they are even seen as an embarrassment to the institution. Few have been given resources that allow their development to keep pace with their desire for development. Moreover, they cater to a student populous that is used to information and services available to them on the Internet.
Thus, situations can arise where anyone with web development skills or the desire to learn the skills are given responsibilities to create and post web content. Some of these individuals may be professional web developers, such as in-house web design staff or outside design contractors. Some of these individuals may be faculty or other support staff that wish to explore web design and, in return, provide a "free" service to their workgroup or department; it is usually added to their role statement. Some may be students hired for a single term or for one year. Other individuals may be nephews and neighbors, friends and children. Anyone with skills to write in a markup language (e.g., HTML, or hypertext markup language, the language of the Internet), or understand authoring tools, or course development tools can be given the task to design and develop elements of a postsecondary education web site.
In these scenarios, few campuses actually know all of the individuals that develop and place web content onto the institutional server system. Moreover, the pool of web designers is not stable over time. There are many changes in personnel. If the institution cannot identify all of these individuals it is unlikely that they can provide the necessary direction, support, training, and monitoring for accessibility. In a disconnected climate such as this, coordination efforts necessary for accessible design can be stymied. Many postsecondary entities are working on policies and procedures to regulate institutional sites, including accessibility (Note 19) . Unfortunately, well articulated policies are few in number.
A Snapshot of Access
It is helpful to understand the degree of the problem in postsecondary education. Researchers in the past 2 years have begun to collect data on accessibility of websites. These preliminary data sources may serve as a current snapshot of postsecondary education and a baseline for efforts of the future.
In each of the 6 studies summarized below, the authors used the BOBBY software (Note 20) to evaluate elements of the web site. BOBBY is designed to measure the objective elements of accessibility as defined by the Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines Note 21) . BOBBY rates a page as "approved" or "not approved" based on accessibility and browser compatibility. Since BOBBY can only evaluate objective elements within a site, evaluations using BOBBY typically represent a conservative estimate of full accessibility.
1. Rowland and Smith (Note 22) reported BOBBY data (version 3.0) gathered on a random sample of 400 prominent colleges, universities, and online learning institutions from all 50 states and the District of Columbia between December 15, 1998 and January 8, 1999. Results indicated that fewer than 1 in 4 postsecondary institutions (n = 90; 22%) had front pages (i.e., the institutional home page) that would receive BOBBY approval. In going one level beyond the front page, for the institutions that had accessible front-pages, only 3% (n=10) received BOBBY approval. Less than 1% of sites that were accessible one level beyond the front page were accessible at all links two levels from the front page.
2. Rowland (Note 23) also reported the results of 47 University Affiliated Program (UAP) web sites. The UAP network is funded by the Administration on Developmental Disabilities and is considered to be a preeminent group in the disability community. The UAP mission is in service, research, technical assistance, training, and dissemination to the disability community through their affiliation with host universities. This study tested the hypothesis that the UAP network would fair better in accessibility since their constituent group is comprised mainly of individuals with disabilities. The results of the BOBBY evaluation indicated that less than half (i.e., 45 %) of UAP's in the sample had front pages that would receive BOBBY approval (n = 21). Links that stemmed from front pages were much less accessible. Of the 21 UAPs that were accessible at the front page, only 4 percent had links off the front page that were also accessible. Although this result is consistent with the notion that disability organizations fair better than the rest of postsecondary education, the sample is small and the result is preliminary.
3. Staff from the National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (Note 24) evaluated the websites from 213 programs that received funding from the agency. In most cases, these were also postsecondary entities. The BOBBBY software (version 3.0) was used to look at the front pages of each program. Results indicated that 43 percent of its grantees (n = 92) had home pages that would receive BOBBY approval. This finding is quite similar to the UAP data reported above and supports the notion that those who serve the disability community fair only slightly better than the rest of postsecondary education. Moreover, it highlights the appalling state of affairs when consumers with disabilities can reach less than half of the web sites at disability-focused entities in postsecondary education.
4. Flowers, Bray, & Algozzine (Note 25) used BOBBY version 3.0 to evaluate departmental web sites from 89 departments of Special Education. They reported that only 27% (n=24), or just over 1 in 4, would receive BOBBY approval at the "front door" of the department. Although one might hypothesize that departments of special education would have had BOBBY approval ratings similar to those found within NCDDR grantees and UAP's, this finding is remarkably similar to that of the larger sample of postsecondary education above conducted by Rowland and Smith. It should be noted, however, that the sample size is small.
5. Walden , Rowland, & Bohman (Note 26) used BOBBY version 3.1.1 during November of 1999 to look at accessibility in postsecondary education one year from the Rowland and Smith study. The sample included randomly selected institutions from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They looked at home pages for institutions, or the "entry" point for distance education students (e.g., main pages for Online Learning, Distance Education, Home Study, Extension, Continuing Education). Results from their sample of 518 institutions indicated remarkable constancy one year after the Rowland and Smith report. Only 24% (n=124) of the main pages for these sites were approved by BOBBY. Moreover there were no differences between approval rates for main institutional pages (i.e., home page) and distance learning entry points (e.g., "online education" home page).
6. Schmetzke (Note 27) reported greater variability in his study of 24 campuses within the University of Wisconsin System. He used BOBBY 3.1.1 to evaluate (1) general campus pages, (2) library pages, and (3) departments of Library and Information Science. In his analysis he found that just over half (i.e., 59%) of library pages and half (50%) of general campus pages would receive BOBBY approval. However, he also reported large standard deviations in his data (32 & 33 respectively). Schmetzke also reported that pages in departments of Library and Information Science had similar BOBBY approval as other investigations of access in postsecondary education. In this sample about one in four pages (23%) would receive BOBBY approval (SD = 30, range = 0%-100%).
In summary, general postsecondary investigations indicated that BOBBY would approve about one in four web pages. To the extent that BOBBY is a good predictor of access, these findings are horrendous. Students accessing the pages in these samples would fair better if they wanted to go to a page from a postsecondary entity that had a disability focus. Although they would not fair any better if they went to the main page in a department of special education.
It is important to note that students using the web for educational purposes do not go to a "page" on a site. Typically, they navigate through a site to get to where they want to go. Remembering that a site is a collection of many pages, the probability of finding a site that is fully accessible is almost nil. An appropriate analogy would be doors in buildings. Imagine that you need to meet with someone whose office resides in a very large building. In this building, offices are nested within departments, departments are nested within units, and units are nested within sections. What would happen if you went to this building to find that 3 of every 4 doors were locked? It is unlikely that you would be able to get to your destination.
Given these data, it is important to remember the limitations inherent in BOBBY. As indicated above, BOBBY approval rates typically represent a very conservative estimate of accessibility. However, BOBBY findings can represent both research error types. For example, if BOBBY finds JAVA script on a page it will pass it up and prompt the user to conduct a manual check. This passing over of items does not affect the "approval" of the page and thus can yield an "approved" designation for a page that is not accessible. For the record, BOBBY asks users not to consider their page "approved" until they pass all the manual checks, however, in large scale accessibility studies these time consuming checks are not done. On the other side of the spectrum, BOBBY can fail a page when it is really accessible. For example, if BOBBY detects an image without alternative text it routinely fails the page. However, designers who are sensitive to those using screen readers may purposely leave a description off an image of a "decorative border". This is so the user does not have to listen to items that have no bearing on the content of the page (e.g., alt tag ="this is an image of a decorative boarder"). The point is that although BOBBY is the current standard in the evaluation of objective elements of Web page accessibility, it is not infallible. In the future, evaluation software, including new versions of BOBBY, will be able to improve upon this picture.
It is apparent that the current national snapshot of accessibility to postsecondary web sites is horrible. What makes it even more tragic is the fact that ample information currently exists to assist developers to create accessible web sites (Note 28) . The problem of access to education becomes more perplexing when one considers the federal prohibitions against discrimination based on disability status as noted earlier. A national solution to full accessibility in postsecondary education is needed if we are to abide by civil rights legislation, federal rulings, and common ethics.
The Complexity of the Problem
Finding a sustainable solution to accessibility is vital. However, one will not be found if all the elements are not considered. Accessibility in postsecondary education is a complex problem. Figure 1 portrays part of this complexity. Think of accessibility as 6 pieces of a puzzle. With any single piece missing the puzzle is not complete. In other words, the accessibility of the site is in jeopardy. Many people are most familiar with how web site design affects accessibility (e.g., as indicated by the BOBBY data). Knowledge of the designer is just one of many elements to this puzzle. What follows are descriptions of all 6-puzzle pieces.
The first piece of the puzzle represents the knowledge and skills of the web designer. Considerable attention is given to how pages are designed and how specific elements are made accessible. For example if a web designer is unaware of the problems associated with not using alternative text tags for non-text elements, or avoiding confusing frame structures, or using valid HTML code (4.0), the accessibility of his site would be in question. Fourteen main guidelines already exist for web designers to follow (Note 29) . Tutorials and courses also exist to teach w eb developers how to design with accessibility in mind (Note 30) . Soon federal regulations will be published that will spell out what each designer must do to make their sites minimally accessible and fall within federal compliance (Note >31).
The next 2 puzzle pieces represent the knowledge and skills of the individuals who develop the authoring tools often used to create web pages. There are two main types of authoring tools used in postsecondary education. The first is a markup language editor; the software a web designer would use to create a page of content. Right now HTML is the markup language used for most editors like Dreamweaver and Front Page. Future editors will help designers easily create in other markup languages like XHML and XML. Markup language editors make it relatively simple for web developers to create pages. The software offers tools a designer needs and allows them to work "in front" of the code (e.g., they could use a format tool to "bold" text with one click rather than write a string of HTML code to do the same thing). The second type of authoring tool that is used in postsecondary education is course software. In the same way that markup language editors enable a web designer to create a page, course software enables a developer to create a class, or portion of a class, that will be posted to the Internet. Faculty members often use course software because of their ease. Web CT and Blackboard are prominent examples of course authoring tools. When someone develops a course using this type of tool, they are asked to supply basic information (e.g., instructor name, syllabus, readings, assignments). The information is placed on the site without the individual writing in HTML. The dilemma for both types of authoring tools is that whenever an element of accessibility is compromised it is too difficult for many people to fix. For example, if a web designer wished to place an alternate text tag onto an image, she may not know how to accomplish this without going back to the code to change it. Of course if she does not know how to do this, or even that it needs to be done, the site will have inaccessible elements. In another example, a faculty member might use course software that relies heavily on frames. Since this feature would be central to the architecture of the tool, it would be outside the range of "repairable" for most individuals. Guidelines for accessibility are currently available for authoring tools (Note 32) .
The next two pieces of the puzzle represent the knowledge and skills of those that create "User Agents". For the purposes of this paper, a user agent falls into two distinct categories. The first category is reserved for those that create the browsers that enable us to gain access, and make sense of, the World Wide Web. Examples of these agents would include Internet Explorer, Netscape, and America OnLine. The second category of a user agent is reserved for those that create the assistive technology interfaces the consumers use. Examples of this category would include screen readers (e.g., JAWS, IBM HomePage Reader) and screen enlargers (e.g., Zoom Text). Since a consumer might need both types of user agents, I have separated them into 2 categories. Although they both work to help the student with a disability gain access to the content of the Internet, there are times when one cannot support another. For example the latest version of JAWS would not be well supported if the student used an old version of Internet Explorer. This is because JAWS would have features that would be unsupported by the old browser. Both must work in consort to gain the intended result, accessibility. One will always be constrained by the limits of the other. Although I have split user agents into two groups they are considered to be guided by the same set of guidelines (Note 33) published by workgroups of the Web Accessibility Initiative for the W3C.
The final puzzle piece represents the knowledge and skills of the user (i.e., the student with a disability). It is possible for a site to be designed in an accessible way and for the student to have difficulty accessing the site if they are unfamiliar with the features of the browser or their adaptive technology device. This principle can be seen when a student upgrades to new assistive technology; he may not know the new features available or how to use them. Typically it is just a matter of time for a student to learn the updated features, however, some students may require assistance to learn them.
The most important aspect of this puzzle is its interactive nature. Full accessibility cannot be guaranteed unless all pieces fit together. To summarize, accessibility includes the skills of a webmaster who knows how to design with accessibility in mind and who uses authoring tools that help her do this. It also includes the use of browsers and assistive technology that work together and work well with what the designer has created. Furthermore, an accessible climate is created by a user who has current versions of browsers and assistive technology and knows how to use them.
Aside from the complex puzzle described above, there are added elements to the problem of accessibility in postsecondary education. The three most prominent are the (a) size, (b) resources, and (b) administrative structure of the postsecondary institution or entity.
It is certainly easier to coordinate the actions of 10 individuals than 1,000. Moreover, it is easier to insure coordination across 15 units than 150. Size does matter in coordination and reform efforts in postsecondary education. This is not unlike any corporate environment that struggles to support, monitor, and ultimately comply with internal policies or federal regulations.
Resources committed by a postsecondary entity will also factor into the complexity of the problem. Entities that can purchase updated versions of adaptive/assistive technology for their students and that have the manpower to insure that all campus labs use updated browsers will do better in accessibility for their students than those that cannot. Also, postsecondary entities that use their resources to create a stable environment for web development staff will have a better chance getting accessible sites across the institution. Training and support in accessible design for web developers are two important elements of this. Salary and career incentives to stay in postsecondary education are others. Over 1,400 webmasters in postsecondary education were recently surveyed (Note 34) . Of the 536 response (38% response rate), most had been in their current position for only 2 years. Just over half of the sample (54%) indicated web design as their fulltime responsibility. Sixty-two percent (n=334) reported that they had learned about at least some aspect of accessibility; most (n=300) reported that they did so on their own and not during any preservice or inservice training. It is likely that frequent changes in web personnel would have a negative affect on the accessibility of sites within a postsecondary institution. Postsecondary entities that commit more resources to this issue will also be able to better monitor the accessible design of their web development staff.
Finally, administrative structures that support accessibility are an important ingredient. The administration can provide leadership in training and support, as well as in monitoring and compliance. For example, the administration in some higher education entities require that web masters (a) attend training on institutional policies, (b) sign agreements to follow them, and (c) are monitored over time for compliance. Web personnel who do not follow policy are provided extra support and , if changes are not made, placed on notice. Of course such an endeavor would assume that the administration has a way to (a) identify and track ALL individuals who place web content on an institutional sever, (b) have articulated policies that pertain to accessibility, (c) provide training and support in accessibility to web personnel and faculty, and (d) monitor accessibility as one feature of broader institutional policies. Furthermore, it assumes that structures are in place to assure that updates have been made to all user agents that are owned by the institution and that training and support are available to students who use the technology.
The Future of Access in Postsecondary Education
There are many elements to the future success of postsecondary access. The most salient would be (a) commitment, (b) action, and (c) an eye toward new technology solutions. Postsecondary entities must begin to grapple with current inequities and the coming federal mandates. Institutional commitment and coordination will go a long way toward reforming the present crisis. The institutional "actions" that are taken will show the commitment that is present. These actions must include all stakeholder groups: students, faculty, web designers, departmental units, administrators. Action plans should be created with input from all and should articulate change in small, measurable steps that are place along a reasonable timeline. Systems that include multiple points for input in the process will be more likely to succeed over time. Finally, there are technology solutions to accessibility on the horizon. It is imperative, however, that postsecondary entities not wait. In one example, server-side solutions to accessibility are possible. In current prototypes (Note 35) , web content is placed in a single source (i.e., database). When a user comes to the site they can select how the information is "served" out to them (e.g., optimized for their needs, such as for a screen reader or for single switch access). Typical users would experience the site as they always have. In the past, accessibility has been solely a "client-side" solution. This may change in time. Another technological advantage to access would be industry standards that coordinate accessibility requirements across those who develop tools for the web. Such processes have now begun for distance education (Note 36) .
In postsecondary education, we can no longer afford to participate in ad-hoc systems that create individual accommodations for fair and reasonable access. A priori systems must be created to optimize the participation of all students. This goal is not unreasonable and can be accomplished in postsecondary education environments. The community of postsecondary education is a resourceful group of individuals. It is imperative that we create coordinated systems that enable full access for students. We will meet the challenge of online accessibiltiy for students with disabilities. It is important to note that system change is a slow, and at times, painful process. However, the work must be done. The sooner we create and implement sustainable solutions, the sooner ALL students can participate in their right to experience the power of the Internet for lifelong learning.
- Universal Web Accessibility Symposium 2000. October 31, 2000, San Antonio Texas. See http://www.aace.org/conf/webnet/symposium.htm
- WebAIM is funded under the Learning Anytime Anywhere Program which is managed by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. The project website is http://www.webaim.org
- The Digital Divide. See http://www.digitaldivide.gov
- Waddell, C. (1999). The Growing Digital Divide in Access for People with Disabilities: Overcoming barriers to participation. Paper presented at Understanding the Digital Economy: Data, Tools, and Research Washington, DC. See http://www.aasa.dshs.wa.gov/access/waddel.htm
- See Project EASI http://www.rit.edu/~easi WebAIM http://www.webaim.org
- Bohman, Paul (2000) Creating Web sites from the outside in. . . From the user's perspective. Unpublished WebAIM training material. Center for Persons with Disabilities Utah State University. Logan, UT. See http://www.webaim.org/materials/starterkit/outsidein
- Kaye, S (2000). Report #13: Computer and Internet Use Among People with Disabilities. Disability Statistics Center. See http://www.dsc.ucsf.edu/UCSF
- Henderson, C (1999). Update on College Freshman with Disabilities. Information from HEATH, National Clearinghouse on Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Disabilities. See http://www.acenet.edu/...
- National Center for Education Statistics: NCES Fast Facts. See http://www.nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=60
- Waddell, C. (1999). The Growing Digital Divide in Access for People with Disabilities: Overcoming barriers to participation. p.3-4. Paper presented at Understanding the Digital Economy: Data, Tools, and Research Washington, DC. See http://www.aasa.dshs.wa.gov/access/waddel.htm
- Web Accessibility Initiative Web Content Guidelines. See http://www.w3.org/tr/wai-webcontent
- Web Accessibility Initiative User Agent Accessibility Guidelines. See http://www.w3.org/tr/wai/uaag
- Web Accessibility Initiative Authoring Tools Guidelines. See http://www.w3.org/tr/wai-autools
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. Section 794. See http://www.ed.gov/offices/ocr/ocr504.html
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C 12131 et seq.; Sec 28 CFR Part 35
- Harken, T. (1997). Digest of Response: ADA accessibility requirements apply to Internet web pages.
National Disability Law Reporter 10(6), 1053-1084
See also United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights docket number 09-95-2206, Jan 1996; docket number 09-97-2002, April 1997
- See http://www.access-board.gov/about/RehabActAmend-508.htm
- See http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/status.htm
- Schmetzke, A. (2000). Institutional accessible Web design policy statements. Unpublished list, University of Wisconsin. See http://library.uwsp.edu/aschmetz/accessible/pup_resources.htm#policy
- See http://www.cast.org/bobby
- See http://www.w3.org/wai
- Rowland, C., & Smith, T. (1999). Web Site Accessibility. The Power of Independence (Summer Edition), 1-2. Outreach Division, Center for Persons with Disabilities: Utah State University.
- Rowland, C. (1999). University-Affiliated Programs Face Web Site Accessibility Issues. CPD News, 22(3), 1-5. See http://www.cpd.usu.edu/newsletters
- National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (1998). New Review of NIDRR Grantees Web Sites. The Research Exchange, 3(3), 12-14.
- Flowers, C.P., Bray, M., & Algozzine, R.F. (1999). Accessibility of Special Education Program Home Pages, Journal of Special Education Technology, 14(2), 21-26.
- Walden, B., Rowland, C., & Bohman, P. (2000). Year One Report, Learning Anytime Anywhere for Anyone. Unpublished report to the U.S. Department of Education, FIPSE/LAAP.
- Schmetzke, A. (2000). Web Page Accessibility on University of Wisconsin Campuses. A Comparative Study. Unpublished study, University of Wisconsin. See http://library.uwsp.edu/aschmetz/accessible/pub_resources.htm
- See http://www.w3.org.wai and http://www.cast.org and http://www.webaim.org and http://www.rit.edu/~easi and http://trace.wisc.edu/world/web/
- Web Accessibility Initiative Web Content Guidelines. See http://www.w3.org/tr/wai-webcontent
- See http://www.webaim.org/tutorials and http://www.rit.edu/~easi/workshop.htm and http://www.blackboard.com/courses/inst5320/index.htm
- See the U.S. Access Board Web site at http://Access-Board.gov
- Web Accessibility Initiative Authoring Tools Guidelines. See http://www.w3.org/tr/wai-autools
- Web Accessibility Initiative User Agent Accessibility Guidelines. See http://www.w3.org/tr/wai/uaag
- Rowland, C., & Bohman, P. (2000). Survey of Web masters in Postsecondary education: Analysis of accessibility knowledge and experiences. Unpublished survey data, WebAIM project. Center for Persons with Disabilities, Utah State University, Logan UT.
- See the prototype disability options at the top of the navigation structure on the following sites: http://www.webaim.org
- See IMS project with WGBH in Boston http://ed.gov/offices/OPE/FIPSE/LAAP/LAAP2000awards.html