While the title of this article may sound like click-bait, the threat is very real. In November 2018, fifty colleges were hit with a lawsuit alleging they discriminated against students with disabilities and thereby violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The culprit: a missing snippet of code on their admissions websites called an alt tag.
Jason Camacho, a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y. who is blind, attended a college recruiting fair last Fall. Once he got home he fired up his screen reader and visited the admissions website for one of the colleges he was interested in. This is where Jason hit a roadblock. The website had an image that students could click to find out more, but the screen reader couldn’t tell him to click on the image because it was missing an alternative text tag. The purpose of this tag is to accurately describe images on a site in words so that students can navigate a site using a screen reader. This was the first of many challenges that Jason encountered as he tried to navigate the admission websites, and what ultimately led him to sue the colleges for discrimination.
Accessibility features in public spaces are common and expected. Architects and planners make certain that ramps exist for wheelchairs, cross walk signs talk, parking lots have enough handicapped parking spots, and multi-floor buildings have elevators. This ensures that anyone with a disability has the same access to public spaces as everyone else.
The same rules apply to virtual spaces, including websites, apps, and learning platforms. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by state and local government entities, including colleges and universities. Title III of the ADA likewise prohibits discrimination by private educational institutions. If a technology platform provided by universities for use by their students does not support certain accessibility features, they are in violation of the ADA and open themselves up to both lawsuits and action by the Department of Education Office of Civil rights.
Fortunately, there is quite a bit of guidance on how to make sure your websites comply with federal requirements. Schools can protect themselves by ensuring that their internal websites and external vendor supplied platforms comply with WCAG 2.0 (Level AA), a set of international accessibility guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Some examples of common fixes encouraged by WCAG are:
- Alternative text for images
- High contrast colors
- Keyboard accessible forms
- Labeled form fields
- Videos with captions
- No dead links
At Career Fair Plus, we’ve spent the past several months auditing every screen of our iOS and Android career fair apps for WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. We found several areas for improvement and are in the process of implementing necessary changes. While this has been time consuming, we believe that the results are worthwhile, both for student users who must overcome significant challenges, as well as our customers who must ensure they are safeguarded from legal action. We encourage you to perform proactive audits on your career services websites, and perhaps more importantly, check with your tech vendors to ensure they too meet WCAG 2.0 AA standards.
Should you have any questions on this topic, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be glad to host a call to discuss this topic further.