GOALS: Developing a comprehensive approach to web accessibility in higher education

Jun 12, 2012
a "road closed" sign
Even if some parts of an organization are committed to web accessibility, their pages are still hard to reach if those linking to them are inaccessible.

The best-designed web page is still inaccessible if people with disabilities can’t navigate to it.

A CPD project aims to help higher learning adopt a system-wide, comprehensive approach to web accessibility—and its researchers are looking for institutions that want to participate. 

The GOALS (Gaining Online Accessible Learning through Self-Study) project is pilot-testing a tool that will help colleges, universities and private institutions identify accessibility gaps in their websites. Then, the tool will help administrators correct the problems they might have found.

Free premium licenses are currently available to the first 45 actively participating institutions.

The process is important because accessibility is mandated by law, said Cyndi Rowland, the project’s director.  “You can wait around and hope nobody will complain, or wait around and hope you don’t get sued, but that doesn’t fit with what higher education is all about.”

The GOALS project’s Benchmarking and Planning tool builds on former research, which has pinpointed four areas that an institution must focus on if it is committed to web accessibility.

Leadership support at the administrative level is crucial to accessibility that works site-wide. Without it, some units may make accessibility a priority, but their web pages will remain in their own enclaves, surrounded by less-accessible pages that fail to lead people to them.

“What we have found is, if you have mediocre support from leadership, you end up with mediocre implementation,” said Dr. Rowland.

Policy planning and implementation is the next step. It should set the standard for web accessibility and identify who is responsible to make changes. A stated goal is not enough; to be effective the policy must include a concrete plan with enforcement. “If an institution just has a guideline but it’s not, ‘You must do this,’ it’s easy for people to do what they want,” Dr. Rowland said.

Resources must then be provided. Leadership needs to offer more than just an edict; it needs to provide the tools and support that can make the plan a reality.

Assessment helps the institution understand if the changes are really making a difference. It should gather feedback from many sources, not just people with disabilities but also from the people who have to implement it.

Logo for the GOALS project

The Benchmarking and Planning tool walks the review team through each of these steps by posing a series of questions. (For example: “Do you have a document that shows commitment for accessibility by upper administration?”) When the reviewers are finished, the institution’s performance is displayed on a graph. Once they’ve assessed what their needs are they can begin an action plan. The tool allows the institution to create a plan of action, as well as a detailed final report that is intended for administrators in higher ed. The tool also contains multiple templates, handouts, and examples.

When it’s fully developed, the Benchmarking and Planning Tool will come in free and premium versions. The free tool will allow a one-time use; the premium will provide multiple accounts per institution, more support and access to resources.

For more information on the Benchmarking and Planning Tool, visit the National Center on Disability and Access to Education website  or contact Dr. Cyndi Rowland.

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