In our increasingly digital modern world, accessibility considerations have emerged as fundamental pillars of inclusive education. So, for schools, colleges, and universities striving to provide equitable learning opportunities for all, the significance and importance of having an accessible website cannot be overstated.
But precisely what online access barriers do people face on school, college, and university websites? And how can they be overcome? Here’s everything you need to know…
5 Reasons Why an Accessible Education Website is Essential
An accessible website ensures that students, parents, faculty, and staff of varied backgrounds and personal circumstances can access and engage with educational resources, regardless of individual ability.
1. Adapting to Evolving Technologies
As people learn and the digital landscape evolves, new technologies continue to shape the way people interact with the online world. To provide learners an optimal experience, its imperative that educational providers keep up with the pace of change by providing features like:
- Mobile Accessibility – With the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, educational institutions must ensure their websites are mobile-responsive to different screen sizes and orientations for easy on-the-go access.
- Voice Recognition – Incorporating voice recognition and control into an accessible website allows individuals with mobility impairments to navigate and interact with the content using spoken commands.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) Assistants – AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants offer personalized support and information about course registration, finding resources, and can answer frequently asked questions.
2. Catering to Varied Use Scenarios
The educational journey encompasses various stages, each demanding specific online interactions. A well-designed, accessible website should address the following scenarios:
- Pre-enrollment Research – Prospective students, parents, and guardians often explore educational institutions online to evaluate available programs, campus facilities, and admission requirements.
- Enrollment and Course Selection – Once admitted, students often rely on the main website to enroll in courses, access syllabi, and manage academic schedules.
- Post-enrollment Resources – Beyond coursework, an accessible website should provide easy access to academic resources, digital libraries, research materials, and collaborative platforms.
3. Linguistic Diversity
Linguistic diversity is the hallmark of American educational institutions because:
- Over 67 million people in the US speak a language other than English at home (Center for Immigration Studies).
- Between 350 and 430 languages are spoken in the US, making it one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world (Translators Without Borders).
- 13.7% of all United States residents were born in another country. That’s around 44.8 million people (Congressional Research Service).
- Every year, up to a million students from across the globe travel to America to study, bringing opportunities for education providers to benefit from increased tuition fees and government funding.
4. Inclusive Design for All
It’s estimated that one in four Americans has a disability that can make accessing information online challenging. That may sound like a lot, but it’s essential to remember that up to 96% of disabilities are unseen:
- Visual impairments affect 14 million Americans (National Institutes of Health).
- Learning disabilities affect around 4 million people (Healthy Place).
- Language barriers impact accessibility for the 67 million residents who speak a language other than English (Center for Immigration Studies).
- Hearing loss affects one in eight Americans (National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders).
5. Legal and Ethical Obligations
Educational institutions have a legal and ethical responsibility to provide equal access to education. Failure by education professionals to comply with the accessibility in education standards can result in lawsuits and tarnished reputations. The two key pieces of web accessibility legislation that apply to education establishments in the US are:
- Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act.
Both exist to ensure website visitors are not discriminated against or treated less favorably online.
What Accessibility Problems Do People Face on School Websites?
Online access barriers occur whenever an element of a website’s design or presentation makes it difficult to read or interact with the content. Users usually struggle for one of four primary reasons:
- Reading Barriers – Including unsuitable font choice, text size, or the color contrast between text and background.
- Comprehension Barriers – The pages don’t flow logically when web copy uses overly complex language or terminology or when alt tags and link descriptions are missing.
- Navigation Barriers – Website errors like empty links and buttons, missing input labels on forms, and missing document language often make keyboard navigation impossible.
- Trust Barriers – Flashing images, videos, or distracting image carousels affect focus and can act as triggers for seizures.
Accessibility Barrier Examples
Let’s look at some real-life examples of access barriers that students could face.
Brayden has dyslexia. He’s researching and comparing engineering college courses but keeps encountering problems. The copy on some websites has poor color contrast with the background, and the justified text and double spacing create a ‘river effect.’ Unable to read all of the course information, he crosses the colleges with hard-to-read websites off his shortlist.
Jeff is a mature student with decreased vision. He’s trying to access his online course syllabus so he can design a study schedule around his job. But, many essential diagrams and images don’t have proper alt text descriptions, so he misses out on crucial information and ends up behind in his studies within the very first month.
Yolena has a shoulder injury and relies on keyboard navigation. She’s trying to upload her coursework and read feedback from her tutor on her previous assignment. But, the assignment page has a confusing and unordered layout and an overly intricate navigation system, making both tasks impossible. She spends half a day trying to submit her work but ultimately ends up having to email her tutor for an extension.
5 Ways to Make Your Online Content More AccessibleProviding accessible technologies, websites and learning platforms is the best way to guarantee inclusion. Follow these steps to ensure that disabled students are not excluded or left without the necessary assistance to succeed in their studies.
1. Adopt Inclusive Marketing Strategies
Best practices to use across your website and all marketing communications include:
- Using Headings (H Tags) to define a hierarchy in your online content.
- Providing captions and transcripts for videos.
- Being mindful of color combinations with insufficient contrast.
- Writing descriptive anchor texts (i.e., avoid using ‘click here’ or ‘read more’).
- Enabling easy keyboard navigation.
- Making PDF inquiry forms more accessible.
- Avoiding videos with flashing effects or fast-moving graphics.
2. Improve Your Communication Policies
- Developing a clear and comprehensive accessibility statement outlining your commitment to web accessibility. This can be done with our free website accessibility statement generator.
- Utilizing a variety of communication channels to cater to individual preferences.
- Using plain and simple language over technical jargon or overly complex terms.
- Ensuring your social media accounts and other digital platforms adhere to accessibility guidelines.
- Providing avenues for students to give feedback for improvements.
3. Use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Learning Materials
UDL principles state there should always be more than one way to represent, engage with, and express comprehension of information. For example, providing a video with subtitles, a verbal explanation, and a written explanation to account for varied student needs and learning styles. It’s also good practice to personalize learning journeys and support students by providing more inclusive online learning platforms that allow them to:
- Access course materials and upload work.
- See their grades, gain feedback, and contact tutors.
- Keep a library archive of their coursework.
- Watch online videos and lessons.
- Use messaging services and forums.
4. Familiarize Yourself with WCAG Guidelines
Despite the ever-increasing digital focus on accessibility in education within the education sector, many educators remain unaware of existing guidelines that ensure people who face digital access barriers are not excluded from online life. Worldwide Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards apply to anyone involved in building and maintaining a website and those who produce written, video, and audio content. In terms of compliance, Level AA is typically the minimum reference point when discussing ‘making a website accessible.’
5. Invest in Assistive Technology
Making your website and learning materials as accessible as possible will reduce student frustration and fatigue, and investing in assistive technology like the Recite Me Toolbar is a proven way of supporting people online.
Embedding accessibility software on your website takes just a few hours and typically involves just a few lines of simple code. Once installed, students can create fully customizable online experiences by:
- Personalizing font size, type, and color options.
- Choosing the exact color contrast between the text and background.
- Utilizing the mask screen tool, which isolates parts of the page to help with focus.
- Using the ruler tool to make reading easier.
- Downloading content as an audio file as an alternative to reading.
- Converting page content into over 100 different on-screen languages.
- Having the page read aloud in a choice of 65 different languages.
- Customizing PDF documents and having them read aloud or translated.
- Zooming in on any part of a webpage.
- Using the built-in spell-checker and a fully integrated dictionary and thesaurus.
You can learn more about the benefits of assistive technology in education here.
How Recite Me Can Help
Recite Me’s innovative suite of accessibility on-demand tools makes websites accessible and inclusive for a diverse range of people:
The Recite Me Website Accessibility Checker audits back-end and front-end web development processes by running 396 separate compliance checks in line with WCAG 2.1 and breaking down the issues you should be working to fix.
The Recite Me Toolbar promotes inclusivity by allowing end users with sight loss, cognitive impairments, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, and varying linguistic needs to access your website per their individual needs and preferences.
What the Data Says
Thousands of organizations using Recite Me technology are already benefiting from their investment. Results from our 2022 annual report show that during the previous 12 months:
- The Recite Me toolbar was active on over 5000 websites
- Individual toolbar usage increased by 59% to over 5.5 million users.
- We made 34.4 million pages of web content inclusive.
- On average, Recite Me toolbar users viewed 6.33 web pages per session – more than double the internet average of 2.8 pages per session.
Organizations Leading the Way for Inclusive Education
- Foothills Academy
- Educational Service Center of Central Ohio
- Sage International School
- Whatcom Center for Early Learning
- Kent Denver School
- Raritan Valley Community College
- UCP Charter Schools of Central Florida
Start Your Organizational Journey Toward Digital Inclusion Today!
Our team is here to guide you on your mission to achieve digital inclusion. Get started on your online inclusion strategy today by working through the following action points:
- Contact our team for expert advice on digital inclusion, tailored toward your specific organizational needs and goals.
- Run a free check of your website for WCAG 2.1 AA compliance.
- Schedule a free toolbar demonstration to see the difference our technology can make for your disabled applicants and employees.