- US Laws
The web opens a world of opportunities to people unlike any other medium of communication. As a public higher education institution, NECC helps to make these opportunities possible through its high quality academic offerings and services by striving to provide access to everyone regardless of disability. This is required by disability law to ensure that communications with persons with disabilities are “as effective” as communications with others. People with disabilities cannot be excluded simply by the design of communication materials.
For many years federal legislation (e.g., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and 2008 Amendments) has mandated that an institution’s programs and services be accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities. However, many institutions have not addressed media accessibility as aggressively as they have addressed the physical accessibility of their campuses. The goal of the laws is to make sure that people with disabilities can have an equal opportunity to participate in programs, services, and activities.
Background on Media Accessibility and the Shifting Legal Landscape
The Internet plays an integral role in the delivery of post-secondary academic content as well as student and administrative services. However, many digital materials are not designed in such a way to be accessible to some individuals who have disabilities, including those who are blind and using assistive technologies such as screen readers or Braille displays.
Federal laws have previously focused on “program access.” Until recently, accommodations relating to accessibility of media were made on an individual basis by college disabilities offices. This model is considered a “retrofitting” model.
In the last few years, there has been a legal shift from making accommodations with digital materials to proactively designing media in an accessible format. The Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights is saying “retro-fitting is no longer acceptable.”
A Dear Colleague Letter from the Department of Education was sent to all college and university presidents strongly encouraging presidents to plan proactively as an institution, for media or technology accessibility compliance. The focus of the Dear Colleague letter was that planning needs to be institution wide and must start immediately. There is a shift in the legal landscape regarding media accessibility.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 is aimed at making educational programs and facilities accessible to all students.
This act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability which applies to any program that receives federal financial support.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that most information technology (IT) that federal agencies procure, develop, maintain, and use be accessible to people with disabilities, both employees and members of the public.
The web standards are based in part on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In 2008, the W3C updated its standards to WCAG 2.0, and in 2011 the Access Board issued a second draft of updated accessibility standards for Section 508 (Access Board, 2011). There is legislation that requires federal agencies to develop, procure, and use accessible electronic and information technology.
Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADA AA)
This act is a wide ranging law intended to make American society more accessible to people with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.
Definition of qualified individual with a disability: An individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable modification to rules, policies, or practices, the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity.
Section 255 of the telecommunications act of 1996
FCC rules under Section 255 of the Communications Act require telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities, if such access is readily achievable. Where access is not readily achievable, manufacturers and service providers must make their devices and services compatible with peripheral devices and specialized customer premises equipment that are commonly used by people with disabilities, if such compatibility is readily achievable.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photo-sensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also often make your Web content more usable to users in general.
WCAG 2.0 success criteria are written as testable statements that are not technology-specific. Guidance about satisfying the success criteria in specific technologies, as well as general information about interpreting the success criteria, is provided in separate documents. See Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview for an introduction and links to WCAG technical and educational material.Print View