PDF Accessibility Goes for Its Degree

 In Articles, Education, PDF Accessibility

Accessibility on Campus or Lack Thereof

The Downside

Think about these numbers; they are startling. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2016) 11 per cent of undergraduate students in the US have a disability. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) states that only 16.4 per cent of students with disabilities have completed a bachelor’s degree – a major difference when compared to the 34.6 of students wiacademic adult architecturethout a disability who complete a first degree. And in a 2016 Progress Report for the NCES, 70 per cent of all major universities in the US were found to have poor web accessibility.


While there is more than one reason for the graduation disparity, lack of digital accessibility must be considered a major factor. In today’s world, much of the college curriculum and learning experience revolves around the web…accessing information online is just an everyday occurrence. If students with disabilities, be they physical or cognitive, can’t access the information they need, they are immediately at a disadvantage. These students aren’t able to complete assignments on time, if at all, it becomes harder for them to participate in classroom discussions, and more. Students may begin to feel disengaged and drop out.

Change Is Coming

Two occurrences are converging and changing life on campus for the better.

Section 508 and WCAG Making a Difference

Mandates from the government, such as the Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 stipulated that “all electronic and information technology used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities.” Although the original intent was to provide accessibility in the federal sector, it has been widely accepted that colleges and universities are subject to its requirements under Title II because they almost universally receive some form of federal funding.  With the advent of the Section 508 refresh, coupled with adherence to the WCAG 2.0 AA Guidelines, institutions are now required to remove those barriers that prevent access to and interaction with electronic content, including PDFs, by people with disabilities

Students Are Taking Charge of Their Own Destinies

Perhaps the biggest and most important occurrence on college campuses is the behavior of the students themselves. Students, especially students with disabilities, are becoming activated and demanding change. Miami University, Harvard, MIT, Louisiana Tech are just a few out of an increasing number of schools who have faced or are facing lawsuits over accessibility issues in the classroom.

Recently, the University of Maryland’s Senate voted to require all new university web-based information to be accessible to students with disabilities. Although it removed a deadline due to the number of existing antiquated sites to be brought up to this standard, this is still considered a major step forward. 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. It should be noted that the proposal, called the Revision of the Interim University of Maryland Web Accessibility Policy, passed 95-5.

The University of Colorado Boulder has created an information and communication technology accessibility program which is overseen by the ICT Accessibility Review Board. The Board is comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, and students to ensure the school is constantly monitoring and improving digital accessibility.

Getting That Accessibility Degree

Accessibility is here to stay. Thanks to legislation and most importantly, students, the learning experience will be an inclusive one for everyone. Everyone benefits from these new developments. Certainly, students with disabilities benefit as they now have the same access to information as everyone else and thus the same opportunities for success in the classroom and beyond. But the overall campus benefits as well—from more voices and a more diverse student body.

And that’s a win-win situation for all.