The University of Maryland’s Senate voted to require all new university web-based information to be accessible to students with disabilities, but removed a deadline for existing websites to be brought up to this standard.
Websites will look the same, but the coding in the sites will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, with screen readers and assistive technology that allows students to use websites without a mouse, according to Ana Palla-Kane, co-chair of the President’s Commission on Disability Issues.
The proposal, called the Revision of the Interim University of Maryland Web Accessibility Policy, passed 95-5.
Any new sites purchased by this university will be required to be ADA accessible, as will redesigned sites, according to Marcio Oliveira, the assistant vice president of Academic Technology and Innovation.
“Everything is electronic today and the university policy establishes standards for how the web and information technology is set up so our community within the college is better,” Palla-Kane said. “We need to think about students and staff … as well as faculty.”
There was a deadline for current university websites and web pages to be updated to be accessible for students with disabilities, but this new bill removes the deadline, which was the end of 2020.
“I think the big thing was concern over whether or not there would even be much compliance because there is no set deadline now,” Gregorio Zimerman, the undergraduate committee member from the engineering school said. “I don’t think it is a good thing that their deadline is kind of forgone, but I also do understand that some have really old websites … maybe 25-year-old websites.”
Some websites are no longer in use, because they were intended for classes that are no longer taught, said Andrew Smith, committee member for the computer, mathematical and natural sciences college. They would still be made accessible upon request, but not otherwise, he said.
The proposal covers new web pages, videos, images, audio, documents and resources through third-party vendors such as search engines. Video and audio files will require accurate captioning, images will require text options and teachers and faculty will be required to make all PDFs compliant with screen readers through software such as Adobe Acrobat, according to Palla-Kane.
“If you look at the amount of requests for captioning for videos … we have a large number of people with disabilities in our community,” Palla-Kane said. “I think one that’s primarily one of the things that drove the most the initiative. It’s really the university commitment to equality diversity and inclusion.”
Students currently are, and will still be, able to contact the Division of Information Technology when they are unable to use a website via a footnote at the bottom of the page, according to Oliveira.
The removal of the deadline brings this university’s policy in-line with Big 10 peer institutions, Oliveira said.
“Some departments actually have thousands and thousands of hours of video archived,” Smith said. “They didn’t want to dig up all these archives and they wouldn’t want to pay for thousands of hours of these and they would probably just end up taking them down. The new rule allows you to maintain archivals.”
In creating the proposal, the IT Council spoke with over 200 people, according to Oliveira.