Bradbard, D. A., Peters, C., & Caneva, Y. (2010). Web Accessibility Policies at Land-Grant Universities. Internet and Higher Education, 13(4), 258–266.

Note: All pull quotes below are from this paper. The additional comments and questions are my own, unless otherwise attributed.

Salient Details

Premise:

Web accessibility policies guide university faculty and staff that serve as Website developers for the organization.

Note: the premise doesn’t address students as web content creators

Purpose:

To examine the extent and effectiveness of Web accessibility policies at land-grant universities in the United States.

Conceptual framework:

  • overview of Web accessibility studies
  • legal mandates
  • literature on organizational policies

Note: no theoretical framework is provided

Note: authors’ positionality or bias not provided

Note: authors are from a school for management and approach this as a management/policy deficiency issue

Methods:

  • content analysis of the Web accessibility policies of land-grant universities
  • 2 trained reviewers followed an emergent coding process as described by Stemler (2001) to independently review and code all transcripts.
  • 2 point rating system: 2 = covered in-depth, 1 = covered and 0 = not covered
  • Inter-rater reliability for the two independent reviewers was computed using the number of agreements divided by the total number of observations as described by Hartman (2006). (97%)

Findings:

  • most universities have a Web accessibility policy
  • most are adept at covering:
    • reasons for the policy
    • standards and guidelines
    • tips/examples
  • more than half had minimal coverage of:
    • responsibilities
    • validation tools
    • contact information for IT support
  • more than half failed to cover:
    • to whom the policy applies
    • definitions
    • information on training
    • the time frame for implementation
    • approval for the accessibility
    • enforcement
    • violations of the standards.
  • See Table 7 for data points, mean, standard deviation, etc.
  • median score from content analysis scheme was a 6.5 out of 26 possible points, this supports the author’s conclusion that most policies have serious deficiencies.
  • “many schools are likely in violation of the ADA and at risk for a lawsuit from a disabled person unless these policies are strengthened.”

My Notes With Quotes:

“As part of their course work, students are being asked to access Web sites to download course syllabi, PowerPoint slides, and assignments, among other materials (Clarke et al., 2001Osika et al., 2009Wood et al., 2008).”

Question: If this paper was being written and published in 2020, would this statement require citation?

“Arguably, Section 508 could be interpreted as applying at the level of individual faculty Web sites that are created and utilized to support classroom instruction. Thus, university faculty could be held responsible for complying with the legal mandates of Web accessibility law for the Web sites they create and maintain for instructional purposes. However, this is potentially problematic as many faculty may not have the Web design skills necessary to build an accessible Web site (Bradbard & Peters, 2010). Research shows that as faculty are placing an increasing amount of course-related material on the Web, they are simultaneously expressing concern about the lack of free time and institutional support necessary to stay abreast of new technology (Lincoln, 2001Osika et al., 2009Smart et al., 2003)”

Observation: In 2020, there are web accessible templates for self-published websites and web accessible LMS features that weren’t available at the time of this publication. However, faculty and students may not have the accessibility literacy skills to know how to use the features to make their site or content accessible. They may not know they need to adjust their workflow.

Question: I think it’s fair to say in the overnight shift to COVID-crisis-education online, educators are expressing many concerns about lack of time and institutional support related to digital tools. How often / how well are accessibility content practices included in educator and student training for the pivot?

To Do: Look for research post-COVID pivot on educator’s sense of support /time/accessibility issues in 2021 .

Data from the U. S. Census Bureau (2005) indicate that approximately 40 million Americans have at least one form of disability. Furthermore, of the total number of disabled Americans, approximately 40% use computers and access the Internet (Wellner, 2000). Although only a portion of disabled people attend postsecondary institutions, disabled students may be more likely to use computers and access the Web, when compared to the larger disabled population….recent estimates (2003–2004) for the size of the population of postsecondary students with disabilities put the total number of undergraduate students at 2,156,000 out of a total population 19,054,000, and the number of graduate students at 189,000 out of a population of 2,156,000 (U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, 2008, Table 215). Thus, disabled students represent approximately 11 and 7% of the total undergraduate and graduate student populations, respectively.

To Do: look for comparable Canadian stats. Pull stats from centers from accessibility in post sec and Stats Can.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) identifies four types of disabilities (visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor) especially relevant to Web accessibility. Visual disabilities include blindness, color blindness, and low vision (i.e., peripheral constriction or retinal detachment). The latter two make it harder for students to read the information on certain Web sites since dark backgrounds, unusual or small fonts, and unclear images pose problems for people with these two visual disabilities. Students with audio disabilities such as deafness or a hearing impairment are impacted when Web sites use audio files or low quality recordings. Students with cognitive impairments (also called learning disabilities) include autism, ADHD, and dyslexia as exemplars. Those with cognitive impairments can have difficulty reading text or lack the full ability to identify links within a Web site. Motor impairments include people with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel, broken bones, or other conditions that cause tremors or loss of fine muscle control. Students with a motor disability often have difficulty using their hands to navigate Web sites. Disabled students can use a variety of assistive technologies to access the Web, depending on their disability. Representative examples of assistive technologies for each of the four types of disabilities are presented in Table 1.

Observation: Excellent overview! The table is a valuable quick-reference for assistive technologies and needs.

Consider: drafting a similar table relates the data available on communities of disabled students in post sec and accessibility features/skills that relate to their needs. E.g CAL’s annual report has a pie chart with categories for disabilities reported by the students they support. Consider mapping skills and features to those categories.

Question: what would be an appropriate way to cite this table in my thesis as the inspriation for this idea?

Table 4. Section 508 guidelines.

1. Provide alternative text for all images
2. Provide alternative text for all image map hot-spots (AREAs)
3. Explicitly associate form controls and their labels with the LABEL element
4. Give each frame a title
5. Provide alternative text for each APPLET
6. Provide alternative text for all image-type buttons in forms
7. Include default, place-holding characters in edit boxes and text areas
8. Identify the language of the text

NoteTable 4 was adapted from Loiacono (2004b)http://www.w3c.org, and http://www.section508.gov. Words in all capital letters indicate HTML tags.

Observation: This rewrite of the 508 guidelines does make them more readable but it doesn’t differentiate which of these can be addressed in code vs content. From an educator’s POV, how would they know what they can do vs what is done behind-the-scenes by the platform they use or university IT?

Consider: by redrafting WCAG requirements as skills and proficiencies (literacies) I’ve made the to-dos approachable for educators but can I go further by mapping those literacies to the tools commonly used? E.G where in the technology we use do we apply the skills? Where is alt, text entered? How are captions created/found? Is that too much? Or would it make for a useful resource?

…university Web accessibility policies must be designed appropriately so they actually get utilized by faculty, departments and colleges. This is important as Rowland (2000) states that most of the existing university Web accessibility policies are not effective.

Observation: UVic CAL has a statement for educators to add to syllabi and their website says,” University policy requires all members of the university community to share the responsibility to promote equality, remove barriers, and create a respectful and inclusive learning environment.” The actual policy is not provided.

To Do: Ask for most current UVIC policy on web accessibility.

Consider: survey BC and ON faculty and students – are they aware of the institution’s policy on web accessibility? Would they know how to meet it? Are they aware of legal requirements? Would they know how to meet them? Do they feel the policy / laws apply to their use of the web?

WebAim (2004) identifies five elements that cause policies to be inadequate: no official technical standard; no indications whether compliance is required or suggested; no implementation of timeline or deadline; no system for evaluating or monitoring; and no consequences for failure to comply. Accordingly, WebAim (2004) developed a list of components that should be included in a Web accessibility policy targeted toward Web developers at universities. The list of components is listed in Table 5

Observation: recommendations targeted at developers, not educators and students. Study uses the recommendations as basis for content analysis data collection.

To Do: Look for updated recommendations from WebAim.

…university Web accessibility policies must be designed appropriately so they actually get utilized by faculty, departments and colleges. This is important as Rowland (2000) states that most of the existing university Web accessibility policies are not effective.

Consider / To Do: Find out if participant institutions updated and shared web accessibility policy during the COVID pivot. Do educators new to online education know the policy and legislation requirements?

The lack of training could perpetuate Web design with aesthetics, rather than equal access, as the goal.

Consider: how could I determine the level of web accessibility training / effectiveness of training that is offered to post sec educators and students?

Two universities with very good policies are Purdue University and the University of California 

Observation: I’ve tried to navigate Purdue’s Online Writing Lab with a screen reader. It’s very challenging. Alternative navigation seemed to be minimally supported in that section of the site. This is not a condemnation of their efforts, only a reminder of the potential for a gap between policy and execution; and the potential inconsistent execution.

If the policy does not explicitly state that pages designed by faculty for instructional purposes must be compliant with the university policy, faculty may assume that they do not have to abide by the university policy.

Observation: this assumes faculty have wondered about the policy’s applicability to them and consciously decided they are exempt. I suspect most faculty aren’t even aware of the policy’s existence and don’t know enough about what web accessibility to think to ask for the institution’s policy on it. I don’t think we have any baseline statistics for: awareness of web accessibility; and awareness of institutional policy.

Many common flaws inhibit Web site accessibility such as missing text tags for images, uncaptioned audio, undescribed video, and misuse of tables (see Carter and Markel, 2001McCormick, 2006bMiller, 2006) that are corrected with a modest amount of training. Universities could easily improve the accessibility of their Web sites if they provided training to address a shortlist of design flaws mentioned …

Observation: This is a powerful conclusion / recommendation. Common web accessibility errors are published by various sources.

Future Research: Consider running an analysis of various common errors; relating them to content creation/ content curation (i.e. seperate content authoring issues from development issues); then doing a content analysis or institutional ethnography looking for training/interventions that addresses the issues in BC and ON post sec institutions. ***

If a university is committed to making all of its Web sites accessible, there needs to be a Web accessibility champion selected from the upper echelon of the university’s management structure. 

Future Research: identify the role / person / people responsible for web accessibility policy, training and enforcement at participant institutions. Do any institutions treat WA skills as professional development for educators? A required academic writing skill? A literacy skill for educators and students sharing digital course content?

A potential solution may be to provide a Web content management system that enables faculty to develop Web sites (with little or no assistance) conforming to the university’s policy regarding Web site accessibility.

Observation: Learning management systems have become more pervasive since publication. Many still pose accessibility challenges for students. One could do an entire study on the accessibility hurdles that extend from inconsistent/minimally-trained use of LMS. Getting everyone on an accessible platform is step one but getting everyone to load accessible content remains a problem. Getting people to use built-in accessibility features is another. And the flexibility that all faculty have to set up their course their own way in an LMS means that students with cognitive disabilities experience serious accessibility issues stemming from inconsistent navigation systems and information architecture.