Overview of Legal Foundation for Accessible IT
Presenter: Sheryl Burgstahler, University of Washington, with input from attendees
Educational institutions across the nation are under scrutiny for failing to offer accessible classes and online resources. Many civil rights complaints have been made because IT is not accessible to individuals with disabilities—including uncaptioned videos, unreadable PDFs, and inaccessible websites and information kiosks. The legal basis for these lawsuits is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and it’s 2008 amendments, and other state and local laws. Policy #188 is meant to help us comply with these laws and collaborate in our efforts to ensure that our IT is accessible to all faculty, students, staff, and visitors.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, “accessible” means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner. On our campuses, everyone’s ability to see, hear, learn, walk, etc. falls somewhere on a continuum. Regardless of where that is, we want to ensure that they have access to the IT we procure, develop and use.
There are two approaches for making our campuses accessible: accommodations and universal design. Accommodations are reactive and allow us to fix a product or environment to be accessible to an individual who finds it inaccessible (e.g., captioning a video when a student with a hearing impairment requests it). Universal design is the proactive design of creating all aspects as accessible as possible before offering services and resources to others. A building that is technically accessible would have a separate ramp for people with wheelchairs, while a building that is universally designed would have one entrance that is accessible for all.
To make IT accessible, software and websites have to be designed with disabilities and assistive technology in mind. Some assistive technology emulates a keyboard but not a mouse, tabs from link to link, reads from heading to heading, and has issues with image and audio content. This means all information technology needs to be created with keyboard-only functionality, alternative text, descriptive links, structured hierarchical headings, video captions, and transcribed audio.
From other lawsuits and accessibility cases, we have learned the importance of gaining support from key leaders, building on existing roles and processes, developing partnerships with vendors, applying top down and bottom up approaches, sharing consistent messages on accessibility, securing a leadership commitment, leveraging third parties for consultation and audits, adopting a reporting process, engaging with community members with disabilities, and ensuring wide publication of accessibility issues and solutions.
The University of Washington (UW) utilizes these resolutions, the 2015 EDUCAUSE IT Accessibility Risk Statements and Evidence report, and Policy #188 to guide its steps towards improved IT accessibility. UW promotes accessibility within an inclusive campus culture. Other tasks IT departments can take on include the following:
- Create a partnership with Disability Resource Services.
- Develop the ideal state and gap analyses.
- Conduct an audit of the accessibility of IT to develop a corrective action strategy.
- Set and disseminate institutional standards related to accessible technology.
- Create, produce, and monitor compliance to ensure IT developed, procured, or used by the institution is accessible.
- Provide training and resources about accessibility to those responsible for creating or procuring IT and creating content.
- Institute procedures for addressing accessibility as a requirement.
- Provide and publicize a mechanism by which students, faculty, staff, and members of the public can report access barriers.
- Work in a committee to find and fix accessibility issues.
Learn more about what the UW is doing, see other institution’s civil rights complaints resolutions, and find more resources at the UW Accessibility page.
Overview of State Policy #188 Requirements
Presenter: Sheryl Burgstahler, University of Washington
WA Policy #188 establishes the expectation for state agencies that people with disabilities have access to and use of information and data and be provided access to the same services and content that is available to people without disabilities. By December 31, 2016, agencies must identify an IT accessibility coordinator as the key contact regarding the agency’s information technology accessibility plan, as well as the first line of support for complaint resolution. Agencies must also develop policies and processes to ensure compliance with Policy #188; although agencies might currently have goals and accessibility statements, these plans should be refreshed and tailored to ensure Policy #188 compliance. By March 31, a compliance plan should be put in place to describe how an institution will ensure new IT is accessible and how existing IT will be made accessible. The plan will contain a list of prioritized non-accessible IT, recommended alternatives for access to these technologies, and actions to be taken to make these technologies accessible.
For each instance of noncompliance of a technology, a waiver must be requested by the state CIO with a corrective action plan for each area of noncompliance and identification of the barriers and compromised functionality in relation to this noncompliance.
Q&A about Policy #188: Engagement with Ryan Leisinger, WATech
Attendees were invited to ask questions about Policy #188. Below is a summary of the responses.
What does the policy mean by “not possible due to technical or legal limitations”?
The “technical” aspect specifically looks at some systems set in place by the state government, where there are older interfaces that cannot be made fully accessible. The “legal” aspect was added so that accessibility couldn’t be used as a loophole to access protected data.
Why is there such a stringent deadline?
That date will encourage us to plan together instead of procrastinating. These requirements are meant to showcase how each institution is moving forward with accessibility.
Is research included in Policy #188?
Research is not included in the scope of the policy, but it is recommended that accessibility issues be addressed since both the ADA and Section 504 cover research applications.
If something is excluded due to “not possible due to technical or legal limitations,” does a waiver still have to be filled out? How do I know what specific IT to fill out a waiver for?
We hope to change the culture to include accessibility in Washington State. It doesn’t necessarily matter how many people are going to use a system or product, except possibly for prioritization. All IT should eventually be made as accessible as possible. The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) will not be auditing to determine if all waivers are submitted.
Is the waiver form available now?
Will everything have to have a waiver?
I would prefer that waivers be used to test products for accessibility and to find out what isn’t accessible. If you know a vendor is working on something, put that in a waiver. The waiver should include a plan for improving accessibility. The waiver is not a punishment, but rather an opportunity to discuss these accessibility options.
How will we get vendors to create more accessible products, especially if a specific vendor is the only one who makes a specific technology?
We are writing a statement to be used when communicating with vendors about accessibility. If something cannot be made accessible right away, look at making accommodations for the current product, then ask the vendor to provide a more accessible product by a specific deadline.
All software purchasers should be included in the policy for buying accessible software. If a purchaser doesn’t realize the ramifications for inaccessibility, or even how to tell if something is inaccessible, they won’t change their approach.
Is there a shared resource for finding accessible vendors and software?
There are some lists out there, but there is certainly room for a bigger database or shared resource including the accessibility information of all software products.
Where do we start and what should we prioritize?
From a legal standpoint, we should start with technology for which there have been accessibility complaints. Next we should focus on human resources software and software accessed by the public. The initial plan should cover all current high priority products, but also be a working document that can be expanded. You should also look for low-hanging fruit. It’s easier to train or contract for others to create accessible websites, PDFs, and videos, so that may be a good place to start as well.
Are hardware and equipment rentals included in Policy #188?
Policy #188 only looks at software. However, the ADA covers hardware and other IT and campus accessibility.
What are the repercussions for not following Policy #188?
The outcome is that your school won’t meet a state standard, which could have repercussions.
What is an example of an accessible software that could be used to showcase accessibility?
It’s rare that an application fully complies with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines. Accessibility is not a switch that can just be turned on and off. Accessibility is a spectrum, with software lying somewhere on that spectrum.
Policy #188 seems to be a risk management tool—if I bring this forward to some faculty, how do I prevent them from just scrapping entire projects to remove the risk? How do we go about talking to the administration about this policy?
Policy #188 will change the culture with respect to IT accessibility. Companies put out new updates and software on a regular basis. They are constantly taking feedback about technology and making changes in new updates. This is a good model to follow, with accessibility in a constant conversation between the user and the producer. We want to constantly be making products more usable. There will always be conflicts between accessibility, availability, and quick turn around.
And remember—it isn’t just you in this room taking this on. There are allies across your institution. There are allies across the nation. And we can all collaborate, find resources, and work together to make all of our tools, equipment, and spaces as accessible as possible.