How to Fix Higher Ed’s Accessibility Problem
BY CAITLIN R. WEINER (VIA MODUS)
If a college education should be available to all, higher ed websites should be accessible to everyone.
An Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit was recently issued to 50 colleges and universities by a blind prospective student who felt the schools’ websites were not accessible. Not just tiny schools, either — big ones like Northeastern, Drexel, and Cornell are at the top of the list (figuratively speaking, that is, the list is in alphabetical order). Subsequently, many schools were also audited by the ADA to ensure they are working toward full WCAG compliance for their institutional websites.
Why accessibility is important in higher education
Yes, it’s important you don’t get sued. But if that’s the only reason behind making accessible websites, are we really solving anything?
Widen your audience
Diversity is one of the most important criteria for rising freshmen searching for their perfect college experience. But race is obviously not the only element of diversity prospective students care about. Diversify your audience by making your website accessible to those with disabilities. Each prospective student who utilizes a screen reader and lands on your website only to find they can’t interpret half of what’s on the page is a student you won’t enroll.
Search engine optimization
It just so happens that a number of the steps that enhance your college’s web accessibility can also improve your SEO. Header tags, alt text, mobile-first design — these are all elements that can bolster your SEO while improving your web accessibility. I mean… why not, right?
Encouraging UX that caters to all
Forgive my divergence into philosophy, but shouldn’t it be the goal of higher education to create a user experience that is enjoyable, navigable, and accessible to all? Why limit the experience to only those who can see and hear perfectly? Not making your college website fully accessible is not dissimilar from saying, “If you can’t see and hear, we don’t want you.” I know that’s not the message colleges and universities want to communicate, so let’s change how we do things.
Something to note: Web accessibility compliance does not only apply to a college or university’s main website, but to any subdomains that fall under it….