Category: Uncategorized

Global Accessibility Awareness Day meets Higher Ed

May 15, 2014 is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. We all have work to do to better understand accessibility in higher education and to design more usable instructional materials for students with disabilities. In support of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I’m hosting a virtual round-up of accessibility activities in higher ed.

On May 15, do something to learn more about accessibility or to improve accessibility on your campus or in your classroom. Share your activities here.

According to GAAD organizers, “The purpose of the day is to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) accessibility and users with different disabilities.” And for a little more background, “The target audience of GAAD is the design, development, usability, and related communities who build, shape, fund and influence technology and its use.”

If you’re a college prof, you may not consider yourself part of the design, development, usability community and you may not think yourself much of techie who needs to worry about software and such things. (If you do consider yourself a designer, techie, etc.–great! Stick around while I try to persuade everyone else). Even if you feel like your job is not really about usability and technology, consider the documents & tools you use every day in your classroom: pdf files, video lectures, maybe an LMS like Moodle or Canvas. If any of that sounds familiar, you are designing digital content that may present accessibility barriers for students with disabilities. Global Accessibility Awareness Day is for you!

A few ideas for what you could to do to mark the day:

  • Caption a Video: Try Amara or learn about captioning tools for YouTube
  • Visit your institution’s disability services office. Talk with the staff about challenges their students face and how you can make your instructional materials more accessible.
  • Learn about the accessibility of your Learning Management System. For example, here are a few accessibility guidelines from Canvas, the LMS my institution uses.
  • Make an accessible PDF 
  • Try using a screenreader (try NVDA for Windows or VoiceOver for Mac) to navigate your course or institution’s website.
  • Host a brown bag lunch on your campus to talk about accessibility with students, staff and faculty.

These are just a few ideas. I hope you’ll participate in Global Accessibility Awareness Day and join me here to share what you (plan to) do. Add your ideas in the comments. Let’s do this.

ADA Anniversary/ Accessible Infographics

July 26th marked the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In celebration, The Whole Brain Group created this informative and accessible infographic.

I wanted to share the infographic because it both gives a valuable overview of the ADA’s history and provides an excellent example of how visual communication can be made accessible for screen reader users. Details about the accessibility features of the infographic can be found at the Whole Brain Group’s ADA posting, but you can explore the  image and text version of the document below.

Americans With Disabilities Act 23rd Anniversary Infographic
Courtesy of: Whole Brain Group

Infographic text included for screen readers:

We are are excited to continue honoring the Americans with Disabilities Act, now celebrating its 23rd anniversary! As public perception evolves and technology advances, more attempts are being made to address inequality through accessibility legislation and standards. This updated infographic addresses recent legislation enacted to improve digital equality in the US and Canada.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Signed into law on July 26, 1990, this act is a civil rights law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. It was intended to be a flexible set of laws that could only be strengthened, not weakened, by future case law.

How the ADA Defines disability:

A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.

Approximately 50 million Americans are living with a disability, about 16% of the population

Age Distribution of Americans with a disability: 5-17 year olds: 5%, 18-64 year olds: 10%, 65 year olds and over: 38%

Types of Disabilities that Americans (ages 18-64) have:

3.2 million: Visual
3.4 million: Self-Care
3.9 million:Hearing
6.6 million: Independent Living
7.9 million: Cognitive
9.8 million: Ambulatory

Of people over the age of 25:13% of those with a disability have a bachelor’s degree or higher, while 31% of those without a disability have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

28% of those with a disability have less than a high school education, while 12% of those without a disability have less than a high school education


The unemployment rate for people with a disability is typically twice as high as the rate of people without a disability:

Approximately 10% unemployment rate for people without a disability
Approximately 20% unemployment rate for people with a disability


There are ADA standards for accessible design, which have specific building code requirements. For example:

  • Bedroom and bathroom on the first floor
  • Light switches no more than 48” from the floor
  • Outlets 15” above the floor
  • Clear width for a single wheelchair: 36”
  • Have a ramp for the entrance

Web Accessibility

When websites are poorly designed or built, they create barriers to people with disabilities

Tips for making websites more accessible:

  • Making a website navigable using the keyboard improves accessibility for people with motor limitations
  • Adding alternative text to an image makes that image accessible to the blind
  • Providing the text format for audio files makes them accessible to those with a hearing disability

An estimated 90% of websites are not accessible

Studies show accessible websites have: better search results reduced maintenance cost, increased audience reach

Assistive Technology

  • Screen readers-Identify what is on the screen
  • Speech recognition-translates spoken words into text
  • Screen magnifiers-Present enlarged screen content
  • Braille translator-Translates script into braille cells

Disability Milestones

1880-National Association for the Deaf founded
1920-Disabled veterans of America and national Mental Health Association Founded
1940-National Federation of the Blind founded
1947-President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped created
1956-Social Security Act is amended so that working age people with disabilities receive income benefits
1961-American Council of the Blind founded
1968-Architectural Barriers Act passed which required that all buildings constructed, renovated, or financed by the federal government to be physically accessible
1973-Rehabilitation Act passed****
1975-Education for all Handicapped Children Act Passed
1982-President Reagan appoints heads of National Council on Disabilities (NCD)
1988-Senator Lowell Weicker and Congressman Tony Coelho support NCD by sponsoring the ADA
1990-ADA is passed and becomes law

Significant Sections of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

#501 – Federal agencies are to develop affirmative action programs for hiring, placement and advancement for persons with disabilities

#502 – Establishes the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to ensure compliance with the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 and to eliminate transportation barriers and seek ways to making housing accessible

#503 – Parties contracting with the US government are required to use affirmative action to employ qualified persons with disabilities

#504 – States that “…no otherwise qualified handicapped individuals in the United States…shall solely by reason of his handicap be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Section 504 was crafted using language in the Civil Rights Act and Education Amendments Act of 1972. Section 504 became known as “The Civil Rights Law for the Handicapped.”

#508-The law applies to all Federal agencies, and requires that electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities.

2013: Section #508 Refresh: A “refresh” to Section 508 is planned for late 2013 or early 2014. This update will require government agencies to comply with WCAG 2.0 level AA standards. Technology has changed at a rapid rate over the past several years, leaving holes in accessibility standards. The refresh aims to fill in these holes with mandatory testing procedures and development tools.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

Ontario was the first Canadian province to develop enforceable accessibility standards. Membership on the AODA Standards Development Committee is equally divided between people with disabilities and representatives from business, government, and the public sector.

There are 5 sets of standards under the AODA

• Customer Service

• Information and Communication

• Employment

• Transportation

• Design of Public Spaces

Post ADA

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), of 2010, requires telecommunications services and video content to be accessible to users with a disability.

How to make audio or video compliant with CVAA:


  • Hearing impaired: in depth captions should be visible and in sync with the multimedia
  • Vision impaired: a full text transcript which describes the media should be available


  • Hearing impaired: make content accessible to the hearing impaired through captioning
  • Vision impaired: include audio narration which contains descriptions of key elements

Infographic Designed by:

The topic of accessibility is a very broad one, and we couldn’t possibly cover everything we wanted to in this infographic. So we’re throwing it back to you! Did we miss something that absolutely should be included on an infographic about accessibility? Did we get anything wrong? We’d love to get your feedback in the comments!