In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a supplemental advance notice of proposed rule-making (SANPRM) on possible web accessibility regulations for state and local government entities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). EDUCAUSE joined several higher education presidential associations – including the American Council on Education, Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities – as well as the National Association of College and University Business Officers and NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education in filing a response.
The comments submitted by this broad-based coalition of higher education leadership associations support the DOJ proposal to base potential web accessibility regulations on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Version 2.0, Level AA (WCAG 2.0 AA) standards, subject to limitations acknowledge by DOJ in the SANPRM. The associations recommend, however, that DOJ adopt a five-year compliance time frame for most higher education institutions, with a requirement that institutions produce comprehensive plans to achieve regulatory compliance by the third year of that time frame. (Longer planning and compliance time frames are recommended for small and very small institutions, consistent with DOJ points in the SANPRM.)
The associations also agree with DOJ proposals that (a) learning management and/or content management systems providing access to course content solely for the campus community, as opposed to the general public, should also meet the regulatory standards, and (b) that institutions would need to make such content compliant with the standards once a student enrolls in the given course, subject to important clarifications (e.g., what constitutes “enrolls” and “within a reasonable time frame”). Reflecting concerns from the higher education research community, the comments ask DOJ to recognize the significant research activities college and university websites must enable, which are distinct from the standard public functions of state and local government sites. With this in mind, the comments request DOJ to focus compliance requirements on pages, sites, and content over which the institution maintains direct, centralized control, even as institutions continue to recognize and fulfill their responsibilities under the ADA to reasonably accommodate individualized needs.