Accessibility

One issue that is of critical importance to university web site developers (and most other large organizations) is that websites are required to be in compliance with government regulations in regards to accessibility. Failure to comply with these regulations could mean loss of federal funds (including federal student loans) for the entire university as well as opening up the university for the risk of legal liability.

Among numerous recent lawsuits, Target was sued for failing to comply with these regulations even though they do not receive any federal funding. They ended up paying $6 million dollars to settle their case and were forced to fix their website.

The main set of rules is the “Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973”, more commonly referred to as just “Section 508.” You can think of Section 508 as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for web sites (although the ADA is a completely separate set of laws and regulations). Section 508 deals with all manors of electronic communication, but for the web site we only need to look at complying with all 16 parts of SubPart B (1194.22)

Related to Section 508 is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium. While these are completely voluntary guidelines, it is generally considered “best practice” to comply with these guidelines, as well as just being the best way to reach all of our students and faculty. Complying with these guidelines also helps limit any liability claims. As an added bonus though, many of the rules for compliance have other benefits such as helping with search engine optimization (SEO), mobile browsing, and many other things.

A common misconception with these regulations is that most people think that they are just about making websites usable to blind people. There are actually many different disability groups that are affected by these regulations ranging from people with motor skills issues who might use a mouth device to navigate the computer screen, to color blind students that can’t see red text on a green background.

All that being said, one of the great things about using a CMS for website management is that most of the accessibility issues have already been dealt with for you. The following is a list of items that you need to consider as a content manager.