WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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Barriers to accessibility


From: Cyndi Rowland
Date: May 17, 2000 11:35AM

Hello to WebAIM ListSev folks
I wanted to get some feedback from LAAP partners as well as the
rest of the listserv so please read on and give me your thoughts. The
WebAIM partners at USU have been talking with others in postsecondary ed
about barriers to institutional coordination. Briefly, the main points
(barriers) are summarized below. I would love to hear from any of you who
would like to comment on these barriers. I apologize for the length, but I
really think you can read it in about 5 minutes. You can either read the
short or long summary. I am particulary interested in knowing if these
elements are present at your institution/organization.
Thanks in advance for your help and your thoughts. - Cyndi Rowland
Short Summary:
1. Institutions don't know who is involved in web design at their institution
2. Few policies exist that coordinate any aspect of websites (not
3. Designers awareness/skills/motivation to make the changes
4. Turn over of web designers
5. Old versions of adaptive equipment
6. Errors made by the student who does not know how to use the adaptive
Long Summary:
1. The sheer scale of the institution may prohibit coordination because
individuals are unknown to anyone taking the lead in a coordination role.
We know that many institutions do not even know who all the individuals are
that are placing web-content on the institutional site. Network
administrators know who have servers but this does not mean that anyone in
a central administrative position would be able to gather numbers, let
alone names & contact points, of web designers at their institutions. This
greatly affects coordination of accessibility since they can't even contact
"all the players" to receive training or coordinate accessibility issues.
2. Many institutions do not have articulated policies or regulations to
coordinate their many websites. It appears that most institutions are just
now developing policies to provide central coordination (e.g., because they
want the institutional word mark on every page or because they would like a
similar navigation through the site). These types of policies could
provide a vehicle for coordinating accessibility requirements as well.
However, they will be harmed by #1 above (lack of knowing who gets this
3. Many web designers do not attend to accessible design. I know this is
clearly the case for most designers in postsecondary education (project
data verifies this to be true). Of course there are distinctions between
those who don't know about it and those who do and choose not to change
over time. Within this barrier I am thinking that we circle back around to
the discussion we had earlier in this ListServ on motivation for web
designers to change their practices.
3. We wonder a great deal about turn over in web developers at
postsecondary institutions. We have preliminary data (515 responses to a
survey completed by web developers) to suggest that about half of web
designers fufil these duties in a part-time role. Perhaps they have other
assignments and web development is an add-on. Perhaps they are part-time
employees. We are also aware of several situations where web developers
are paid very poorly. For example, the positions of our USU institutional
(full time) webmaster is currently open. The posted salary is $25,000
/year (yes you read that correctly). We are aware of other institutions
with similar stories. For us this begs the question, "How long will these
highly skilled people stay in postsecondary ed?" In addition to part-time
or poorly paid employees are those that are gobbled up by high paying jobs
in the business sector. Eduction doesn't have a good history keeping up
with business. Clearly high rates of turn over will hurt accessibility
until all developers are trained initially with the ability to design in an
accessible way.
4. An academic culture of freedom is sometimes generalized to mean "we can
put anything down in any format we want" without oversight. Where the
traditions of academic freedom of content meet the regulatory world of the
federal government tension is bound to occur. I suspect, if this is indeed
a barrier, simple education would help separate the argument of faculty
content versus form. However I could be wrong on this one.
5. One of the institutional barriers to accessibility is the presence of a
poorly funded disability student center. We have heard several stories
that confirm this. For example, if an institution purchased several pieces
of adaptive equipment (e.g., JAWS, ZoomText) in 1996 they would not have
current versions. If these assistive devices populate campus computer labs
students may not have access to all information. This is because many
feature are simply not supported in older versions. The same can be said
for students or faculty that do not download current browsers. It is
difficult for designers to "degrade gracefully" from out-of-date versions
of adaptive equipment or browsers when there are SO many elements to
6. Sometimes the end user poses a barrier to accessibility. Some consumers
may not know how to best work their adaptive tech devices to make use of
design features found on the web. I put this item in as a possible
institutional barrier because I wonder if institutions could make sure that
"expert" are available on the use of the CURRENT version of the technology.
If so, then new students could be better trained on how to use the devices.

Cyndi Rowland, Ph.D.
Project Director, Web Accessibility In Mind (Web AIM)
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University
Logan, Utah 84322-6800
(435) 797-3381
FAX (435) 797-2044