Background: College Websites Must Meet Accessibility Guidelines
Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is one of many community colleges nationwide that provide sound foundations for transitions to careers and Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate-level studies for students of all ages. As such, they often include significant numbers of nontraditional, multicultural, and disabled students, and more learning styles and abilities must be accommodated. In an effort to accommodate such a range of abilities, administrators from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) created an initiative to become a 100 percent accessible college for all, regardless of disability. This was no small undertaking since NOVA has over 75,000 students from more than 180 countries on its six campuses. NOVA’s accessibility initiative is based on a campuswide, universal instructional design approach and proactive web accessibility strategies.
Achieving digital accessibility can seem like an overwhelming task for a Community College that may face budgetary and staffing restrictions, or just not know where to start. Dividing the tasks of website testing and auditing and PDF remediation between web accessibility coordinators, disability services staff, and other faculty can make the process easier, but it’s often helpful to seek assistance from outside experts to get the process started effectively and continue efficiently. So, how do universities develop and meet an accessibility plan that benefits the whole campus and helps all students become successful?
The Challenge: Making Information Accessible for All
An estimated 11 percent of undergraduate students on campuses today have a disability. Ensuring that these students have equal access to information requires a coordinated effort across all campus departments. Universities must maintain compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA, which is considered the standard for measuring web accessibility so that all students are able to access information on a variety of platforms using a variety of assistive technologies.
The Solution: Strategies and Tools that Make Web Accessibility A Reality
Tim Ferebee, Web Accessibility Coordinator, and Estela Landeros, Director of Disability Support Services, took advantage of tools that enable web accessibility to ensure that their campus is WCAG 2.0 compliant — and meets the needs of students with disabilities.
“To achieve this goal, we created a steering committee. We included a representative from each academic and administrative department to develop, coordinate and implement a college-wide information accessibility plan,” Landeros explained.
Beginning with an external evaluation, the college conducted a complete website review to determine problem areas. This resulted in a redesign of the school’s website; the team continues to work to ensure that all pages are fully accessible. One major issue was the number of instructional materials that had to be made accessible.
“We evaluated two potential solutions — to hire an external company or to do the work in-house. We opted for the second option and are training all the faculty to do their own captioning,” Landeros said.
NOVA launched a universal Instructional Design faculty training session, conducted three times a year. New faculty attend these training sessions, and experienced faculty are encouraged to participate as well.
Nova also leveraged Equidox by Onix, a software solution that converts inaccessible PDFs into WCAG 2.0 AA compliant HTML, accessible PDF, and EPUB 2 content. Equidox software helped NOVA convert hundreds of pages of PDF documents and images to HTML code, cutting down remediation time by 75 percent.
“It’s easy, too,” Ferebee said. “Simply upload your documents, run it through the product’s converter and voilà; you’ll receive HTML output that you can easily copy and paste into your LMS or CMS.”
One of the most significant benefits to have resulted from this increase in accessibility is the drastic improvement in the course pass rate for NOVA’s disabled students. In fact, Equidox has empowered NOVA to increase its course pass rate for disabled students from 45 percent up to 75 percent in just the first year.
Besides helping students become successful, digital accessibility is also a legal requirement. The Department of Justice and the Department of Education both require educational institutions to be fully accessible, including their digital spaces, so all students can experience full and equal access to college goods and services in order to receive federal funding. That accessibility can be achieved using standards set forth by WCAG 2.0 AA. Equidox provides an efficient process for converting inaccessible PDF files to WCAG 2.0 AA compliant formats.
Never has it been so easy to upload and convert documents, enabling community colleges and other organizations to meet web accessibility requirements.“We have also been working to get Equidox for all of the Northern Virginia Community College campuses, and we’re hoping that the entire Virginia Community College system will link to these programs,” Ferebee said.
NOVA continues to make progress toward its goal of making the college 100 percent accessible