WCAG 2.1 AA and ADA Compliance and Certification for Educational Sites

Why Web Accessibility Matters for Educational Websites

The educational sector—more than any other segment of our society—is expected to respect the need for ADA web compliance standards. In 2017, Section 508 of the ADA was updated, requiring school websites to be accessible to those with disabilities. This should come as no surprise. Why? Because beyond merely offering e-tools for choosing classes and accessing academic results, much of the educational ecosystem has embraced the online world to complement educational courses and project submissions from students. These online elements need to be optimized for all students.

With most educational institutions so heavily reliant on the internet, it should come as no surprise that the educational sector has become a target for ADA lawsuits. 15% of all students require special education services; of those, 34% suffer from learning disabilities. Just as all students (by law) must have equal access to all physical locations, such as campuses, offices, and classrooms, they must also be able to access forms, calendars, news feeds, emergency alerts, and other online elements that are posted on a school’s educational website(s).

When it comes to education, it is not just about access—it is about doing the right thing. Education should never be contingent on access boundaries. And while your educational institution may have years of legacy content online, it is time to make sure that you are ready for the future by updating that content and making it accessible to a whole new world of willing knowledge-seekers.

What Is Web Accessibility for Educational Websites?

While the ADA was not originally written to include the digital world, several additions and amendments have been added to better reflect the needs of our interconnected world. According to CampusSuite.com, “Website accessibility and ADA compliance have become a focus due to an increase in the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) complaints, investigations and even lawsuits.” The WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) revolve around four core accessibility principles: that websites are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Some of these guidelines include:

  • Color contrast
  • Providing descriptive labels
  • Alt text for links and images
  • Making information in tables accessible and easy to read
  • Navigation of your site via keyboard only
  • Indicating the focus for the user on the screen (pointers and lines)
  • Size of fonts
  • Headings and labels
  • Captions for video and audio content

Who Are Educational Sites Helping by Becoming Compliant?

There are currently over 7 million students in the United States who have a recognized disability, and this only accounts for students within the 3-21 age range. Considering that there are millions of Americans outside this range who are furthering their education, this statistic underestimates the impact your WCAG 2.1 AA-compliant educational site can have on:

  • The visually impaired
  • Persons with physical disabilities
  • Persons with auditory disabilities
  • Persons with cognitive and learning disabilities
  • Persons with epilepsy
  • The elderly

How Does Your Educational Site Become Compliant?

Educational websites come with their own specific set of ADA-compliance challenges beyond what a standard ecommerce website will encounter. While automated accessibility is a perfect place to start, manual fixes will likely need to be part of your strategy—which can take months or in some cases up to a year to execute properly.

For an educational site, stopping all access for any length of time is a non-starter. A programmatic approach will be needed. Educational sites are often complex, and this is why our team leverages AI (artificial intelligence) to both provide ongoing automated fixes while also identifying where ongoing manual attention will be required. We are striving to combine rapid short-term fixes with effective long-term compliance—all while leveraging patent-pending technology to keep compliance costs affordable.

Choosing a Manual, Automated, or Hybrid Solution

Education Website Accessibility Lawsuits

Educational entities have been prime targets for website compliance-based lawsuits. In fact, a single “mass-filer” based out of Michigan has filed more than 2,600 web accessibility complaints in the past three years alone, with over 1,000 resulting in resolution agreements.

One such case found the Seattle School District being sued by a mother of three as well as the National Federation for the Blind due to curriculum information online not being accessible to visually impaired students. That resulted in $5,000 in damages plus $80,000 in legal fees to the case plaintiff.