UW, state and federal policies and standards direct and guide the development, procurement and use of accessible IT at the University of Washington.
The UW Non-Discrimination Policy
The University of Washington has an equal opportunity and reasonable accommodation policy, approved by the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs by authority of Executive Order No. 4. The policy states:
The University of Washington reaffirms its policy of equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, or status as a disabled veteran or Vietnam era veteran in accordance with University policy and applicable federal and state statutes and regulations. The University of Washington is committed to providing access and reasonable accommodation in its services, programs, activities, education and employment for individuals with disabilities.
To ensure that all faculty, students and staff have equal opportunity, IT must be designed in such a way that everyone has access. The above policy requires equal opportunity "in accordance with… applicable federal and state statutes and regulations." These are described in the sections that follow.
This UW Non-Discrimination policy is consistent with federal civil rights laws, specifically Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities receiving financial assistance from the federal government. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities. Both laws require that the university’s programs, services, and activities be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
When both of these laws were passed, IT had not yet attained the prevalence that it now has throughout society, including education, and neither law explicitly mentions IT accessibility. If programs, services, and activities are delivered using IT, it stands to reason that they must be accessible. However, for a definition of IT accessibility we currently must look elsewhere (e.g., the Section 508 standards).
Federal Standards: Section 508
Section 508 standards were developed by the Access Board, a federal agency, as required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998. The law requires accessibility of electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government. The standards were published in the Federal Register in 2001 in order to provide guidance to federal agencies when developing or procuring IT. The Section 508 standards are currently organized into six categories:
- Software applications and operating systems
- Web-based intranet and internet information and applications
- Telecommunications products
- Video and multimedia products
- Self contained, closed products
- Desktop and portable computers.
Many states have adopted Section 508 standards, including Washington (see below).
The Access Board is charged with periodically reviewing and amending the standards to reflect changes in technology, and are in fact currently conducting an update of the standards. As the update progresses, new developments will be posted to the Access Board’s Section 508 Homepage.
W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The Section 508 Standards are the definitive set of standards for the full spectrum of IT accessibility products. However, for web accessibility, the Section 508 standards are informed by a more comprehensive set of standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 were published in 2008, and include 62 success criteria, organized under four general principles:
- Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
- Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Washington State Guidelines
In May 2005 the Washington State Information Services Board (ISB) adopted (as Policy No. 1000-G1) the State Guidelines – Accessibility to Information Technology for Individuals with Disabilities (document in PDF). The guidelines include the following general statement:
Information Technology should be procured, developed, maintained, and used so that it is accessible to individuals with disabilities, unless it creates an undue burden on the agency. Information Technology, including Web sites, Web-based applications, software systems, and electronically published documents, should provide the same functionality to individuals with disabilities as it provides to others.
The guidelines go on to adopt specific sections of the Section 508 standards, and WCAG 2.0 for web accessibility.
The ISB explicitly states in the Scope section of the policy document that "educational institutions" are covered by the policy.
Accessibility Laws and Policies at Other Institutions, States, and Countries
A growing number of countries and U.S. states have passed laws related to IT and/or web accessibility. Additionally, many higher education institutions have implemented policies requiring that websites be accessible, and in some cases requiring accessibility of any IT procured, developed, or used at the institution. For a list of example policies and other resources, consult our IT Accessibility Policies in Higher Education page.