How to Foster an Inclusive Institution

This page will walk you through the process of making your institution accessible, step-by-step. A successful accessibility effort involves four key components:

  1. A shared commitment
  2. A concrete policy and plan
  3. Sufficient support for personnel
  4. Ongoing evaluation

* Much of the following content on this page was modified from the Dr. Jonathan Lazar’s PowerPoint  presentation “Campus IT Accessibility: What do Campuses Need to do to Comply? that he presented in December, 2011, and January,  2013.

Road map to Accessibility

Step 1: Make a plan

A successful accessibility plan should:

  • Be created with input and support from high-level administrators (VPs, Dean, Directors, Provosts, etc.)
  • Be publicly posted
  • Have clear timelines and specific goals
  • Include incentives for compliance and penalties for non-compliance

Set a Policy

We all want inclusive access to information to be a cultural value and a priority at our institutions. The first step to achieving this is creating a written, institution-wide accessibility policy and enforcement measures for making sure that everyone is compliant.

Sample accessibility policy from Penn State University.

Create a Timeline

Set clear deadlines with specific goals and be transparent about progress. Share publicly when goals are or are not met. Here is a sample timeline:

  • 6 Months: complete accessibility audit
  • 9 Months: ensure that IT procurement and purchasing processes include accessibility
  • 12 Months: ensure that major web pages are accessible
  • 15 Months: goal to have 95% of online content accessible
  • 18 months: major online processes (library catalog, e-reserves) are all accessible

Step 2: Determine your accessibility starting point

There are three ways to test all of your web services (your websites, instructional technology, online courses, LMS, finding aids, etc.) for accessibility:

  1. Conduct an accessibility audit
  2. Conduct accessibility testing
  3. Conduct automated accessibility testing

Conducting an audit

Conducting an audit will reveal which technologies at your institution are or are not accessible. You can conduct an audit by:

  1. Hiring an external accessibility consulting company. Although these can be expensive, some organizations offer audits for free.
  2. Conduct an internal audit by studying W3C Accessibility Guidelines and/or attending accessibility training. Then evaluate a sample of your different web services (major home pages, online catalog, databases, distance learning systems, etc.) according to these accessibility standards. Your internal audit can include a survey to all web authors and departments in your library.

Accessibility & Usability Testing: Test Early, Test Often!

Testing the usability and accessibility of your technologies with real users who have a diverse set of needs is important. It will make your technologies more user-friendly and help you preemptively avoid larger accessibility problems in the future. Real users will pick up important issues that automated tools or checklists miss. Accessibility testing can be time-intensive or expensive, but there are creative options for getting a user’s perspective:

  1. Conduct live, in-person testing with real users
  2. Use a service to conduct remote testing
  3. Use personas and scenarios to simulate users completing important tasks
  4. Use assistive technologies, such as screen readers, to navigate your web materials and see for yourself how easy it is to use. One great technique is to navigate a website using only your keyboard! This will reveal a majority of accessibility issues.

Testing is a core principle of universal design. Things to remember when designing a testing program:

  • Testing should be iterative and ongoing. Decide how often testing will take place and include this in your plan.
  • Test new technologies for accessibility and make the necessary corrections before deploying them

Conduct Automated Testing

Automated testing has many limitations because it can uncover false problems and skip over real ones. It is helpful in conjunction with other forms of testing.  It can help you gauge the overall state of your web accessibility or inaccessibility and identify some high-level problems.

Free automated accessibility checkers:

Robust automated accessibility testing tools:

  • Odellus ComplyFirst
  • HiSoftware Compliance Sheriff

Step 3: Train your staff to practice accessibility

  • Train all current staff, especially web authors, about principles of accessibility
  • Embed accessibility training into the hiring process for all new hires
  • Provide resources , such as tools and templates, for your staff to use and make them easily available
  • Connect staff with accessibility experts at your institution: make it clear that people are encouraged to seek help!

Sample training tools:

Step 4: Embed accessibility into procurement

  • Explain upfront that accessibility is a core value for your institution and therefore you are only able to purchase accessible technology
  • Ask if the vendor has a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template): VPATs document a product’s conformance with the accessibility standards under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • Ensure that any necessary software customizations will not introduce accessibility problems

Procurement resources:

  • PALM Initiative from the National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials

Model Licensing Language

As libraries negotiate these terms it may be helpful to begin with reference to model language that has been proposed by several organizations. This language is designed to permit libraries to make content in their collections fully accessible. This model language is based on several existing model documents, including the Northeast Research Libraries Consortium Generic License, the California Digital Library Model License Agreement, the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) Draft Language for Model Licenses, and draft language developed by OCUL for local load agreements. Of course, this language should not be used uncritically as “boilerplate.” Individual institutions should instead use this as a starting place to begin their own consideration of these issues.
Model US License
Licensor shall comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by supporting assistive software or devices such as large-print interfaces, text-to-speech output, refreshable braille displays, voice-activated input, and alternate keyboard or pointer interfaces in a manner consistent with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative. Licensor shall provide Licensee current completed Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) to detail compliance with the federal Section 508 standards. In the event that the Licensed Materials are not Accessibility compliant, the Licensee may demand that the Licensor promptly make modifications that will make the Licensed Materials Accessibility compliant; in addition, in such an event, the Licensee shall have right to modify or copy the Licensed Materials in order to make it useable for Authorized Users.
Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) Draft Language for Model Licenses
Definition – 1.0 Accessible Formats
Content must be perceivable and operable by persons with visual, perceptual, or physical disabilities and be useable with assistive devices, such as screen readers and screen reading software. Formats need to comply with the Accessibility Laws within Canada, including the Information and Communication Standards of Ontario Regulation 191/11, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005. To address the requirements of the Act, web content must conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, initially at Level A and increasing to Level AA.
Persons with Visual, Perceptual or Physical Disabilities
Licensed Materials must be provided in a format accessible to Authorized Users with visual, perceptual, or physical disabilities. In the event that the Licensed Materials are not Accessibility compliant, as defined in 1.0, the Member Institution shall have the right to modify or copy the Licensed Materials in order to make it useable to Authorized Users, within the framework of this Agreement.

Step 5: Evaluate and maintain web accessibility

Testing and evaluation of web accessibility needs to be consistent and ongoing. Set regular testing schedules in your plan. Monthly reports are optimal. Then share your progress!

  • Provide monthly, publicly-posted reports on web accessibility progress and remaining challenges
  • Think of web accessibility as a regular auditing activity
  • Reward compliance and set measures for enforcement
  • Data must be collected on an ongoing basis