University of Iowa (UI) Focuses on Web Accessibility

OCTOBER 14, 2010 7:20 AM

Twenty years ago, it was enough to guarantee a physically disabled person access to a school. Not anymore.

Now, officials are working to broaden the scope of their assistance, trying to improve educational technology for a wider range of students.

University of Iowa officials are establishing programs to improve web accessibility for disabled students, making sure people with a variety of disabilities, from dyslexia to blindness, can easily view university websites.

“It’s no longer good enough to get into the building,” said Mark Hale, a research and developing project leader at a presentation to the Staff Council on

Hale has been talking to governance groups throughout the UI about the latest initiative to accommodate those with disabilities through web accessibility.

They hope to add more advanced software that reads text aloud for blind students to more pages. Another program highlights certain words to help students with dyslexia.

The software the UI uses now has both these functions, but Hale would like to invest in software which tests the webpages for readability.

National web accessibility guidelines, soon to be under the Americans with Disabilities Act, have been in place for nearly a decade. The UI drafted its
own guidelines in 2003, but with leadership changes, they were never formally adopted.

But last summer, the Department of Justice addressed university presidents — including the UI’s Sally Mason — saying they need to make web accessibility a priority. The federal government is creating web regulations for campuses, similar to building codes already in place.

The UI is planning to spend more than $100,000 on the initiative, Hale said. This will include an accessibility support specialist position. Descriptions
for the position will be completed and advertised later this month. The position would help better acquaint faculty and staff to the new guidelines.

Officials are currently drafting a policy. And for the most part, Hale’s audiences have been open to the change.

“[The] general response is receptive,” he said. “They understand it’s a civil-rights issue.”

Sean Thompson, an editorial associate, said he both manages and produces content for the web and feels good that people are using the system.

In addition to the increased accessibility for viewers, Hale included in his pitches, the authors would also benefit, allowing search engines such as Google, to better read and prioritize the website’s content.

“Well, hopefully, it will be easier to access,” said Kathleen Testin, an office coordinator in the statewide residency training program.

Though decisions have not been made on the funds that would aid the purchasing of software, steps were taken anyway to begin the process.

“It’s tech we need to provide no matter what,” Hale said.

Reproduced from