One in four Americans lives with a disability. That’s 61 million people who may rely on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to equitably access digital technologies, including Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions. This is particularly relevant in higher education, where almost one in five undergraduates report a disability.

In this blog post, we describe what WCAG is, why it’s important to implement across higher education content and technologies, and how we ensure WCAG compliance at Softdocs.

What is WCAG?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)—developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)—are widely recognized as the benchmark for creating accessible digital experiences for individuals with disabilities, including those who have visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language-related, learning, and neurological disabilities.

The first iteration of WCAG was released in 1995, consisting of 14 guidelines that describe a general principle of accessible design, including providing equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content. WCAG 2.0 is an updated list of principles and guidelines with testable success criteria. This second version has 12 guidelines organized under four principles: websites must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act adapted these recommendations into law, and the amendment ensures WCAG 2.0 AA compliance across public and private universities. A third version of recommendations is currently in development, including a new color contrast method recommendation.

As described by the journal article, Managing digital accessibility at Universities during the COVID-19 Pandemic, higher education institutions are legally obligated to provide WCAG-compliant technology and content across their offerings:

“There are many technologies utilized at universities, and all of them must provide equal access for students, faculty, and staff with disabilities. For instance, the software shells for content management systems (such as WordPress and Drupal) and course management systems (such as Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas) need to be accessible, as does the content posted (such as course content created by faculty).”

Why WCAG Compliance?

According to the latest data available from the National Center for Education Statistics, students with disabilities make up 19% of the undergraduate population. In this context, disability is defined as any student who reports deafness or difficulty hearing; blindness or severe sight impediments; trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition; or difficulty walking or climbing stairs.

Students, faculty, and staff rely on digital content and technologies for inclusive learning, research experiences, and general office tasks. To ensure equitable experiences for all, WCAG must be integrated into websites, e-books, content and course management systems, registration mechanisms, technologies for participating in a physical classroom (such as clickers), and video and other multimedia content, to name a few.

Unfortunately, higher education is only sometimes meeting the mark. The 2020/21 EDUCAUSE student technology report shows that approximately 1 in 3 students with disabilities are dissatisfied with how higher education institutions have served (or neglected to serve) their need for accessible content and/or technology accommodations. Students with disabilities are also making their dissatisfaction known in the courts, with several major US universities involved in legal action due to inaccessible content or technology.

Higher education has a legal—and ethical—obligation to provide equitable accessibility to individuals with disabilities. It’s also necessary to deliver the best possible student experience to individuals of all abilities in an increasingly competitive market.

Is your institution WCAG compliant across all of its digital content and technologies?

How does Softdocs ensure WCAG Compliance?

As new features are developed for our suite of products, testing against WCAG accessibility requirements is rigorously completed to ensure Softdocs solutions align with these standards. We are continually improving the user experience for everyone and applying the relevant accessibility standards to our products.

“Accessibility is not a checkbox. It is a mindset for building the product. Because technology is always evolving, companies like Softdocs that build truly accessible software approach these standards differently,” commented Andrea Link, vice president of product at Softdocs. “Inclusivity is also one of our company core values, so extending this to our solutions, and the end users, is part our commitment to making our solutions accessible to all.”

When choosing technology partners, be sure to ask about their WCAG compliance. Here, we encourage our clients and users to dialogue with us whenever they have accessibility recommendations and are excited to be partners in making inclusive software for all.