"Accessibility is for everyone, it’s not about one specific disability. Ability can be situational, temporary. If I can’t use Slack with one hand because I’m holding my kid, I feel like I’m being punished." — George Zamfir
Western’s mission is to serve the people of the State of Washington, the nation, and the world by “bringing together individuals of diverse backgrounds and perspectives in an inclusive, student-centered university…” (source: Mission Statement and Strategic Plan). To uphold this mission and create an inclusive environment for all community members, the digital resources at Western must be accessible to all people.
Creating and publishing accessible digital content shows consideration to those who make Western a better place, and demonstrates Western’s commitment to inclusion.
Incorporating accessibility into Western Washington University’s culture is not only the right thing to do, but also provides many benefits to the campus community. Accessible technologies allow all members of the university to learn, work, and contribute in their own way. This page discusses how Western’s digital accessibility initiative helps everyone make Western an active and accessible learning community.
Accessibility Benefits Everyone
Western has a diverse community. Many accessibility features are essential to web users with disabilities, but these features can benefit everyone. Consider the following examples:
- Good color contrast and larger fonts are easier to read for individuals with vision-related disabilities, and can also help individuals in the aging population, or anyone using a computer for hours at a time. We all experience eye fatigue at some point in the day.
- While captioned videos are accessible to individuals who are deaf or have hearing loss, captions are also beneficial to anyone learning English as a second language, and to someone in a noisy environment that doesn’t have headphones.
It’s likely that if one person requires accessible features in web and digital materials, more people will benefit from them now and in the future.
Accessibility Helps Everyone Learn
While accessibility features are essential for individuals with disabilities or anyone using assistive technology to access information, making digital materials accessible can benefit everyone.
Accessibility is built into Universal Design for Learning, which suggests multiple ways of teaching and learning. Captions are necessary for someone with hearing loss or is deaf, and they could also help students easily retain information by listening to a video and reading captions. Captions are also useful as a study tool, as they are searchable by keyword.
Accessibility Means Access Anywhere
Given the prevalence of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, it’s no surprise that students are learning on devices other than the traditional desktop. Despite the power of these mobile devices, users can run into similar barriers that people with disabilities do with technology.
One common barrier is when text needs to be magnified to be read. Most mobile devices have screens that are too small for desktop content, making users zoom in on the text. When users zoom in, however, it requires moving the text horizontally in addition to vertically to get all of the information. This is also an issue for mobile users who have low vision or require use of magnification.
To remove this barrier, a simple solution would be to divide long chunks of text into readable sections and include headings for natural section breaks. This example is one way that accessible design can provide information access to a wide range of people.
Accessible Design is Less Work
When instructional materials are designed with accessibility in mind, the need to go back and create an accessible version is eliminated. Accessible documents are then available to anyone, regardless of ability or disability, on demand. Unless the material is significantly changed, this saves work in the future by building accessibility into the document from the start.
Time can also be saved by building accessibility into any new web and digital content. Making sure content is accessible from the beginning means time saved having to remediate inaccessible websites or documents, or having to start from scratch.
Legal Obligations for Accessibility
There are state and nationwide legal obligations related to accessibility that Western is required to follow. At the state level, Western is required to abide by Policy 188 from the Office of the Chief Information Officer. This policy states that all covered technologies must comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. As a public institution of higher education, we are also required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Western has an ongoing effort to improve its digital accessibility . We improve by creating awareness, learning from our diverse community, gently implementing systemic change, and by sharing our knowledge with humility. Accessibility matters because our growth, as a diverse and inclusive community, matters.