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There's an Iceberg Ahead for Higher Education Institutions

by Patrick McGovern - May 20, 2020 - 3 minute read

With all the changes underfoot right now in higher ed, accessibility will continue to be an area of emphasis - and something that institutions will have to get right .

Higher education institutions have enough on their plates right now, but the issue of accessibility is more crucial to success than ever and it's worth discussing. 

This isn’t new. In fact, it has been plaguing higher education for some time. One of the more well-known recent cases involved Jason Camacho, a blind resident of Brooklyn, New York. Camacho sued 50 colleges over the accessibility of their websites. 

Lawyers feeding off of this type of work have found higher education an easy mark. And it’s easy to understand why. 

Colleges have traditionally had an open-door policy when it comes to posting content to their website. Many staff members across campus have access and take full advantage of posting whatever and whenever they want.  The result – it’s not uncommon for college websites to have thousands of pages online. And often those in charge of the website have no idea what is out there.  

This is a bad situation that is primed to worsen in the wake of the student experience moving online at an unprecedented pace due to the pandemic.

Between layoffs and furloughs pinching staffing resources, a litany of new needs vying for the attention of school staff, and the constant changes made to schools' digital properties, there is a perfect storm brewing for accessibility concerns being neglected and causing real issues for institutions in the near future.

It’s time to take action 

Simple Steps To Prevent Big Problems 

Unlike many of the issues currently besieging higher education, this is one with some preventative steps. If proactively implemented, steps to ensure accessibility for all students can not only prevent legal hurdles, but provide a ton of value and differentiation for a school in a hyper-competitive environment.  

  1. Limit web access. The easiest way to reduce the potential for trouble is to limit the number of team members with the ability to make changes to the school's website. All content going up and coming down should flow through a specific web team, one who is knowledgeable about accessibility processes. This, of course, might be easier said than done. In higher education - where a decentralized system is the norm - limiting those that can post may take some time to implement. So, at a minimum, there needs to be a process whereby all content changes can be viewed and administered properly. 
  2. Conduct regular site audits. Colleges and universities need to implement a schedule for auditing their site(s) on an ongoing basis. Depending on the amount of content being posted, audits may need to be conducted once a quarter or as often as once a month. The investment into this will not only help identify potential issues but also provide the added benefit of helping to maintain site performance. 

These two steps are easy to implement and could safeguard institutions from lawyers looking to cash in.  

There’s an iceberg up ahead. Now is the time to signal the crew…hard to port 

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