When it comes to boosting enrollment, educational institutions can help their cause by appealing to the widest possible student base. This is especially true of undeserved potential students, including people with disabilities. To appeal to this group, schools need to make sure that their online resources, as well as their physical facilities, are accessible to students with disabilities. Make those
enrollments surge by adhering to WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 11% of U.S. undergraduates are classified as having a disability. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals just 16.4% of
students with disabilities have a bachelor’s disagree, significantly below the 34.6% of students without disabilities who have completed their schooling and obtained such a degree.
This discrepancy is likely caused by the lack of support for people with disabilities at institutions of higher learning, including inability to access online resources at these schools.
Students who can’t easily access material vital to their education online are likely to have greater difficulty succeeding in a course of study.
As a result, more of these students are likely to drop out of school in frustration over the difficulty they experience trying to access educational content. Given the rapid growth of online courses
at educational institutions around the country, lack of digital access becomes even more of a hurdle for students with disabilities who hope to complete their education. By making your school’s website accessible to them, you can boost enrollment by keeping existing students with disabilities in school and achieving success.
Also, these improvements to accessibility will make your institution more attractive to future applicants with disabilities.
Regulatory pressure to comply with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines comes from several sources. The updated Section 508 standards of the Rehabilitation Act, which went into effect in January of 2018, specifies online accessibility standards applicable to federal agencies, employers and contractors. Universities which receive federal funding would also fall under these guidelines. Additionally, some states require schools to comply with them.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has adopted WCAG 2.0 at its Office of Civil Rights (OCR) as the relevant set of standards which the federal government and its agencies must comply with. Additionally, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, has widely been
interpreted to require offering equitable website access to those with disabilities. Thus, even those schools not receiving federal funds or under state mandates can help shield themselves from lawsuits by complying with the guidelines found in WCAG 2.0.
Protecting your institutions from the consequences of non-compliance (and the associated black eyes that come with them) will keep enrollments coming in from all markets.
Adopting WCAG 2.0 has both practical and compliance benefits, but the consequences of noncompliance will always be a motivator for action. Harvard University and Miami University of Ohio, for instance, are two schools which have experienced litigious wrath over the issue of online accessibility in recent years.
However, in addition to helping schools conform with the requirements of Section 508 and avoiding potential lawsuits, doing so can help them increase enrollment by making their site easier to navigate. This is because designing your website to meet these guidelines can benefit both students with and
without disabilities, given that the principles underlying WCAG 2.0 in effect make a website easier to use for all users – not just those with disabilities. This makes adherence to these standards a win/win proposition for all of a site’s users.
Once you’ve decided to design (or updated) your site to conform to WCAG 2.0 guidelines, the first step is to audit your existing or proposed site for accessibility. To adhere to the WCAG 2.0 standards, your site should be readily viewable and accessible to people with the following disabilities:
Once you’ve identified the areas that need improvement, there are basic steps you can take to start the process of making your site compliant. These include:
Adding an accessibility statement on an easily viewable part of your website is another way of helping attract students with disabilities to your school. The statement should indicate the standards followed in making the site accessible, WCAG 2.0, for instance, and outline your institution’s commitment to making the site accessible for people with disabilities. It should also let your visitors know how to get into contact with the site administrator(s) if they have a question or comment about the site’s accessibility.
Not sure how to make your website ADA compliant? Begin our website compliance checker to walk through what makes a website compliant and learn how you can check to see if yours is compliant.
Written by Raegan Bartlo