Saturday, October 21, 2006

School web sites fail accessibility test

Only 14 percent of nation's top universities reportedly meet W3C accessibility guidelines
By Justin Appel, Assistant Editor, eSchool News

A maker of internet content management solutions says it has tested the web sites of the top 124 universities in the nation for how accessible they are to users with disabilities, and the results aren't good: According to the company, only 17 of the 124 schools' sites comply with the World Wide Web Consortium's standards for accessibility.

October 6, 2006—Eighty-six percent of the nation's top universities have web sites that do not comply with standards designed to make the internet more accessible to persons with disabilities, according to a recent survey.

Conducted in June by Hannon Hill Corp., a maker of web content-management solutions, the study examined the web sites of the top 124 universities in the United States, as ranked in U.S. News and World Report's annual account. Of these 124 schools, only 17 were found to have web sites that comply with the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C's) accessibility standards.

Those not passing had an average of 45 errors each on their home pages, Hannon Hill said. Each error indicates a standard was not followed.

W3C's guidelines are widely regarded as the industry standard for web accessibility. They are meant to give persons with disabilities unfettered access to web sites.

People who are visually impaired must rely on electronic screen readers to read web pages to them, explained David Cummings, chief executive officer of Hannon Hill. Those with severe myopia might use screen magnifiers or text-enlarging browser settings. Color-blind individuals will miss the nuances communicated by color and must look for other indicators that convey the same meaning, while people whose motor skills are impaired generally rely on keyboard shortcuts for navigation.

These individuals all must rely on assistive technology to help them navigate the web and find the information they need--and how a web page is coded can have a significant impact on this process.

"By upholding W3C web-site standards, colleges take the same approach to making a web site accessible as they would to making physical walkways and structures accessible to persons with disabilities," said Cummings, whose company has a financial incentive in publishing the survey results: It sells a product, called the Cascade Server, that provides an automatic checker to ensure that all web content managed with the solution is standards-compliant.

The list of schools whose web sites reportedly fall short of W3C standards includes some of the top liberal-arts and technical schools in the nation, such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Northwestern, Duke, the University of Pennsylvania, and California Institute of Technology.

Of the schools whose web sites failed Hannon Hill's accessibility test, only the University of Vermont responded to an eSchool News reporter's questions before press time.

"While I can't say we are where we'd like to be across the board, we do excel in many areas and go beyond what many 'automated' validation software packages can verify," said the school's Tatjana Salcedo. "We ... strive to improve in these areas and will continue to do so in each successive generation of web technology we implement."


Sunday, October 15, 2006

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