The following are common questions accessibility and distance education staff receive from faculty outside of the information presented above.
Can the university be held liable or be sued if my course isn’t accessible?
Yes. Institutions of higher education are required to follow the guidelines and laws under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADAAA).
Executive officers of the university might also be named as defendants to compel changes to the format and instruction of course materials. Professors are irreplaceable partners, however, in university compliance and disability-accommodation efforts and requirements.
Why do I have to do all of this? I thought everything online was accessible.
While some items may be accessible out of the box (such as your learning management system or other services), this is not the case for all items. It is important to review all online content to ensure it is readily accessible.
Content provided by third-party publishers may also not be accessible. Faculty and course designers are encouraged to review a publisher’s accessibility policy and ensure that materials such as online textbooks, quizzes, and videos meet standard accessibility guidelines.
Will there be training available on accessibility?
Please reach out to your accessibility office to learn more about any accessibility training opportunities. If no training is available, there are many resources available online (including the links found on these webpages) to help you learn more about accessibility.
What do I do if a student approaches me and says they need assistance because of their disability?
Contact your school’s accessibility office to learn about your university’s procedures.
What if my course isn’t 100% accessible on day one of the semester?
If a course is not accessible on the first day, it is strongly recommended that the material be made accessible as soon as possible. Otherwise, faculty may end up scrambling during the semester to offer accessible content or alternative accessible formats for a student if they report a disability. Taking care of it beforehand will make a faculty and course designer’s semester easier.
How will I know if my materials are all accessible? How can I check?
There are many resources that cover accessibility and digital media. Microsoft, for example, offers information on accessibility for their various tools such as Word and PowerPoint. Some LMS companies offer tools (such as Blackboard’s Ally) that automatically check a course and generate remediation solutions for inaccessible content.
Becoming more familiar and aware of accessibility will help ensure that faculty and course designers can better spot potential accessibility-related issues as they arise and address them as needed.
Institutions may also offer course review or accessibility consultation. Contact your school’s accessibility office to see what is available.
What if I am unable to make certain content accessible?
Faculty and course designers are encouraged to consult with their accessibility office to discuss a reasonable solution that will make the content accessible. If it is not possible to make the content accessible, then an alternative offering should be made available.
I am recording lectures for my class and did not have any students with disabilities request captioning. Do I have to caption the recorded lectures? What about publisher content or live web conferences?
There are conflicting statements among the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), and Department of Justice (DOJ) pertaining to the requirement for captioning. This has caused confusion, especially with respect to whether captioning is required.
- The ADA requires that Title II entities (State and local governments) and Title III entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public) communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.
- WCAG Guideline 2.0 1.2.1 Audio-only and Video-only (Prerecorded) Level A states: For prerecorded audio-only and prerecorded video-only media, the following are true, except when the audio or video is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such:
- Prerecorded Audio-only: An alternative for time-based media is provided that presents equivalent information for prerecorded audio-only content.
- Prerecorded Video-only: Either an alternative for time-based media or an audio track is provided that presents equivalent information for prerecorded video-only content.
- WCAG Guideline 2.0 1.2.2, Captions (Prerecorded) Level A states: Captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such.
- The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) has excluded a requirement to caption all video from applying to state websites or to software applications and operating systems. This has been implemented in 1 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Sections 206.71 and 213.30 covering those types of EIRs, which expressly excludes the guideline using language such as the following from 206.71: . . . the standards referenced in US Section 508 Appendix C Chapter7 §702.10 (WCAG 2.0 Level AA excluding Guideline 1.2 Time Based Media).
- The Department of Justice (DOJ) has not officially identified WCAG as the specific technical accessibility standard for website or other software applications under its regulations implementing the ADA. However, the DOJ does generally expressly require WCAG compliance when it enters into a settlement agreement with an institution of higher education that arises out of a claim of website or software inaccessibility.
- The UT System Office of General Counsel advises that that the UT institutions need to have internal technical expertise in WCAG, especially for present purposes WCAG 2.0 Level AA, which is currently the most widely accepted standard. As part of this, it is recommended that captioning be implemented as broadly as possible, regardless of any confusion over whether it is specifically legally required, as that is the way things are progressing, and ensuring captioning is implemented will likely help in avoiding compliance issues, complaints, and potential lawsuits.
Do I need to make separate accessible items for all of my course materials?
No, all students can access the same content. For example, a video with captions can still be viewed by someone without a learning disability.
How will I know if my students need accessible content or have a disability?
You might not. Some students might not want to disclose their disability for one reason or another, but that doesn’t mean they should not have full access to course material like their classmates. Creating an accessible course means faculty won’t necessarily have to know and students with a disability would still have the opportunity to succeed in the course.
I have a student who has blindness/low vision in my class. How can I accommodate them?
Your content should be accessible to screen readers. Web pages and documents should have alt-text for all images and have properly formatted labels and tags, which will allow navigation via keyboard interface.
For more information, visit the W3C page on perceivability.
Who can I talk to if I have any questions?
Contact your institution’s accessibility office. They can provide you with more information related to your institution.