NOVA Making Community College Web Accessibility a Reality

Boy with a white cane and backpack walking on a college campus demonstrating accessibility for back to school.

Background: Community College Web Accessibility is a Challenge

Achieving web accessibility across higher education campuses has not been easy. Aside from the changing ADA legislation and the pending Section 508 refresh, there is the unfortunate fact that some universities are being sued over inaccessible content and equal accommodation issues. The Department of Justice and The National Federation of the Blind want universities to take a proactive approach to accessibility.

Community college web accessibility coordinators are facing a growing backlog of inaccessible PDFs. Disability Services has to work with publishers to source PDF textbooks that then must be manually converted. As always, there are also a variety of diverse departmental goals and budgetary concerns. So, how do universities develop and meet an accessibility plan that benefits the whole campus?

The Challenge: Making Technology Accessible for All

An estimated 11 percent of undergraduate students on campuses today have a disability. Ensuring that these students have equal access to technology is a complex challenge requiring a coordinated effort across campus departments. Universities must maintain compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA, considered the standard for measuring web accessibility.

The Solution: Strategies and Tools that Make Community College Web Accessibility A Reality

Administrators from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) took a campus-wide approach to develop proactive web accessibility strategies. Tim Ferebee, Web Accessibility Coordinator and Estela Landeros, Director of Disability Support Services took advantage of new tools that enhance accessibility to ensure that their campus is WCAG 2.0 compliant — and meet the needs of students with disabilities.

NOVA created an initiative in 2014 to become a 100 percent accessible college for all, regardless of disability. NOVA serves 78,000 students on six campuses; students hail from 128 countries. Their ages range from high school kids to seniors and include people changing careers or seeking certification. NOVA’s accessibility initiative is based on a universal instructional design approach. “To achieve this goal, we created a steering committee. We included a representative from all academic and administrative departments to develop, coordinate, and implement a college-wide technology accessibility plan,” explained Ms. Landeros.

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,” said Ms. Landeros.

NOVA launched a universal instructional design faculty training session which is conducted three times a year. New faculty come to these training sessions, and experienced faculty are encouraged to attend.

Since HTML is much easier to make accessible than PDF files, Onix developed Equidox, a tool that helped NOVA “…convert 62 PDF documents to HTML code, totaling approximately 800 pages and 303 images captioned. In the past, converting that many documents would have taken NOVA six months to a year. But with Onix’s tool, it only took 2.5 months. It’s easy too,” said Mr. Ferebee. “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.”

Conclusion: Realizing the Goal of 100 Percent Accessibility

With the Section 508 refresh coming later in 2016, WCAG 2.0 AA will be the new standard. Equidox provides an automated process for converting inaccessible PDF files to WCAG 2.0 AA. Never has it been so easy to upload and convert documents, enabling community colleges and other organizations to meet web accessibility requirements.

NOVA continues to make progress toward their goal of making the college 100 percent accessible. Mr. Ferebee stated, “We also have been working to get Equidox for all of Northern Virginia Community College, and we’re hoping that the entire Virginia Community College system will link to these programs.”

To hear the full NOVA story directly from them, watch the University Business Web Seminar, Web Accessibility: A Campuswide Approach.


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Tammy Albee

Tammy Albee | Director of Marketing | Equidox Tammy joined Equidox after four years of experience working at the National Federation of the Blind. She firmly maintains that accessibility is about reaching everyone, regardless of ability, and boosting your market share in the process. "Nobody should be barred from accessing information. It's what drives our modern society."