ICT Accessibility Policy FAQs

These FAQs are in regards to the Information and Communication Technology Accessibility Policy. Questions about these FAQs should be sent to the Web Accessibility Coordinator.

Law and Policy

1.  How does the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Accessibility Policy differ from the Web Accessibility Policy?

The ICT Accessibility Policy is an updated version of the Web Accessibility Policy. As the Web Accessibility Policy was being reviewed, it was determined that not only did the policy need to expand its scope, develop accompanying procedures, and update the language to fully address new technologies and laws, it also needed a new name to reflect all that the policy now embodies.

2.  The ADA does not directly address web accessibility, so why do we have to follow these ICT accessibility regulations?

The implementing regulations for Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require public universities to ensure that communications with persons with disabilities are as effective as communications with others, unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the program or is an undue burden. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) considers the term “communication” to include the transfer of information over the Internet and other electronic means.

3.  According to the law, I am not required to make something accessible if it is an “undue hardship”. What is an undue hardship? How is it determined if an adjustment or accommodation qualifies as an undue hardship?

The term “undue hardship” means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense, when considered in light of several factors outlined in the ADA, such as the nature and cost of the accommodation needed and some financial considerations. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(10). An “undue hardship” is determined on a case-by-case basis and within the context of the entire university budget. OCR has stated that if you could have purchased software, for instance, that was accessible and chose not to, then the “undue hardship” defense does not apply. The Web Accessibility Coordinator, in consultation with other university officials, will determine if a particular action constitutes an “undue hardship.”

4.  According to the law, I am not required to make something accessible if it “fundamentally alters the program or service”. How can I tell if an adjustment or accommodation fundamentally alters the program or service I want to offer?

OCR requires that decisions regarding essential requirements for a course or website be made by a group of people who are trained, knowledgeable and experienced in the area after a careful, thoughtful and rational review of the academic program and its requirements. Although, for example, a professor may be an integral part of the interactive educational process, he or she is not qualified to solely determine whether the requested accommodation constitutes a “fundamental alteration” of the course. Inquiries regarding this issue should be directed to the Web Accessibility Coordinator (accessibility@uncg.edu).

5.  My program is very visual (e.g. Design or Art) and blind students are not really able to pursue it. That means I don’t have to make accommodations for them, right? (This could also be assumed for other types of disabilities and programs).

Each department, school, and college should develop technical standards if there are qualifications unique to a particular field. The university can develop a disability-neutral description of the skills, or technical standards, needed to complete the program, and then ask all applicants to certify that they meet those standards, with or without reasonable accommodations. The permissible goal consistent with Section 504 and the ADA is to identify persons who can complete the program, not to identify persons with disabilities who may be unable to complete the program. Contact the UNCG Office of General Counsel for advice on developing technical standards.

6. Only people who are interested in my field visit my department website. Do I need to make it accessible?

Yes. Unlike courses, public-facing websites have no way to know every user’s functional limitations or to control who has access because these websites are open to the public. Because UNCG receives federal financial aid, we are required by law to make our web content accessible to everyone. All university websites that are open to the public, including departmental websites, must be accessible to everyone including but not limited to people who are blind, deaf, or have limited mobility. This also applies to public-facing software, electronic documents, electronic files, multimedia and any other item classified as an ICT resource.

7.  What is within the scope of Information Communication Technology (ICT) as it relates to this policy?

ICT includes any information technology, equipment, or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment for which the principal function is the creation, conversion, duplication, automatic acquisition, storage, analysis, evaluation, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data or information. Examples of ICT are, but are not limited to, electronic content, telecommunications products, computers and ancillary equipment, software, information kiosks and transaction machines, videos, IT services, and multi-function office machines which copy, scan, and fax documents.

Content Creation

 1.  I typically don’t have students in my class who need an accessible version of my online content. Do I still need to spend time providing things like captions for videos and alternative text for images?

The ICT Regulation allows you to use inaccessible electronic resources in your class if:

  • you control who has access to the resource,
  • you know the functional limitations of everyone who has access to the resource, and
  • no one needs an accessible version of the resource.

However, choosing to make a course accessible only when it is requested to meet the needs of a student with a disability often takes a great deal of time and energy. It is difficult to retrofit a course for accessibility when you are required to make significant changes in a short amount of time.

A more effective alternative is to incorporate accessibility as you are designing your class. There are many accessible design features that require a small amount of additional work (alternative text, headings, color contrast, descriptive links, etc). Also, because accessible design is a subset of universal design, designing accessible content often results in other positive  benefits for all users. Putting in 10% more effort in the design phase will result in many hours of time saved down the road and it will ensure that all students can participate in your course.

There are some aspects of courses that are quite costly to make accessible, like providing audio description for videos. In these cases, if you control who has access to the content and you know their functional limitations, it is acceptable to not include audio description for the videos at the design phase and to provide it on an as needed basis as part of an accommodation. If you choose to provide it on an as needed basis, you must provide it in a timely manner when it is requested. In these cases, it is strongly recommended that you develop a plan to address how to provide this content in an accessible format. Here’s an example of how you can plan for providing audio description (this process can also be used for other accessible design features that could be costly):

  • Keep a list of the multimedia that needs audio description for your course
  • Determine if there is an alternate way to provide the content
    • Can you find a similar video that already has audio description?
    • Is there another way to teach or reinforce the content to be learned? (substituting the video for a different activity or learning object in your course would be an effective option if a student requires audio description)
  • Determine who will create the audio description (audio description is difficult to accurately do yourself; it is best to use a 3rd party vendor)
  • Estimate the cost and potential funding sources

If this information has been collected proactively, you should have no problem with providing audio description in a timely manner when a student with a disability requests it for your course.

2. Some accessibility issues will be expensive to address. How can we get everything done with limited budgets?

Making content accessible will vary in both cost and difficulty, as it depends on what is being created. There are some accessible design elements that can be addressed in both new and existing courses. These elements do not cost any money and will not take a huge amount of time to implement. Getting Started with Accessibility has more information about how to implement accessible design elements that are inexpensive and less complicated to do.

Other accessible design elements such as captioning, audio description, and in some cases document remediation require more complex solutions which can be expensive and time consuming. UNCG has a captioning grant that can assist with covering the costs of captioning for online courses. Review the Captioning FAQs for more information about the eligibility requirements for the captioning grant.

It is always advisable to maintain a list of multimedia that need captioning and/or audio description because it will make it easier to determine when and how each resource will be made accessible (see Question 1 in this section for more information). Here’s a helpful priority guideline to follow when deciding how to begin with captioning multimedia in your course:

  • Highest priority: courses which have a student who needs captioning enrolled and multimedia is used in the course
  • High priority: multimedia that you will use frequently over a long period of time (e.g. used in multiple sections, multiple semesters, etc)
  • Medium priority: multimedia that is short in duration (consider DIY captioning for multimedia that is less than 5 minutes long)
  • Low priority: multimedia that will change frequently or will only be used once (provided a student does not need it)

If your video or audio recordings are public-facing (see Question 6 under Law and Policy), captioning should be included. If you need assistance with this or other complex accessible design elements, contact accessibility@uncg.edu for a consultation.

3. This seems like a lot of work. How will I find the time to make all of my courses accessible?

The idea is to proactively address accessibility issues over time for existing courses and to incorporate accessibility into the design of new courses. It is unrealistic to expect an existing course to be inaccessible one day and 100% accessible the next. The best way to do this is to develop an accessibility plan to identify the design elements that are not accessible and determine how and when they will be fixed and who will fix them. Actively work to fix the less complicated accessibility issues (see Getting Started with Accessibility) and create a list of the complex issues, that includes a timeline for when these issues will be address, who will address them and any potential cost that will be incurred. Contact the Web Accessibility Coordinator for assistance with developing an accessibility plan for your online course.

4. I received an accommodation letter from the Office of Accessibility Resources and Services (OARS) and there is an ICT resource that I use in my course that is not accessible. How long do I have to make this resource accessible?

ICT resources must be available to all students to ensure everyone has equal access to it. Accessible ICT resources must be provided in a timely manner, so all students can adequately make use of and benefit from the technology that is being used as a learning tool for the course. Generally this means all students must be able to participate in all activities at the same time as everyone else, and the accessible ICT resource must be available in sufficient time to allow the student to participate in the activity at the same time as other students in the class.

5. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to “retrofit” pages when a student having a particular disability registers for a particular class?

No. Retrofitting Web pages or documents in order to make them accessible requires much more time than planning for accessibility from the beginning. Putting in a little more effort in the design phase will save you a lot of time down the road. When accessibility is not planned for from the beginning, design decisions are often made that make the possibility of making an electronic resource accessible extremely difficult or impossible. In some cases the best solution is to recreate the resource because it would take more time to fix all of the errors in the original resource.

OCR considers “effectiveness” of communication under Title II of the ADA to include timeliness of delivery, accuracy of translation, and provision in appropriate manner and medium. UNCG has a continuing obligation to comply with the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), meaning that implementation of technology should include planning for accessibility. Considering the time that may be required to fix pages, and that students may register for the class up through the first few weeks of the semester, not planning for accessibility may cause the course materials to not be accessible in a timely manner.

6. If I plan to use a third-party website, does it have to be accessible?

This depends on if the use of the website or resource is essential or supplemental. If third-party websites and resources are essential to performing certain tasks, then they must be accessible. For example, if a student is required to read an article on a third-party website or take a quiz in a third party resource like Canvas for a grade, both the website and resource would be considered essential and would need to be fully accessible. However, if the third-party website or resource is supplemental to performing a specified task, then it does not have to be accessible, but a concerted effort should be made to find accessible resources or work with the third-party to make the resource more accessible.  For example, if an article on a third-party website is listed under “additional reading” resources, it would be considered to be supplemental and would not be required to be fully accessible. It could be argued that although a course’s supplemental resources are not essential because they are not directly connected to a grade, using them could help students better learn the subject matter. While it may not be possible to have your all of your third-party supplemental resources fully accessible, having accessible alternatives that are equivalent to those inaccessible third-party resources will ensure that all students benefit from the additional learning opportunities that your supplemental resources have to offer.

7. What does “providing an equivalent experience” mean? Does this mean I can use my inaccessible ICT resource if I can provide an alternative for students who aren’t able to access it?

In some cases, yes but this cannot be the blanket approach that is used towards accessible ICT resources. Title II of the ADA requires public universities to ensure that communications with people with disabilities are as effective as communications with others, unless doing so would mean a fundamental alteration to the program or is an undue burden. Ideally all learners should use the same ICT resources, participate in the same learning activities and appropriately engage as the instructor intended. However, if the same learning objective or functional task can be successfully completed in an alternative method, while also ensuring all learners can engage in the activity in an equitable manner, then alternative methods for communication are fine to use.

8. Why should I make my materials accessible if I’m going to use them for only one semester?

Making ICT resources accessible takes some extra work, so that’s a reasonable question to ask if no one in the current course needs the content to be accessible. The current ICT Accessibility Policy does allow you to keep course materials inaccessible if you control who has access to the materials and no one who has access to the materials needs them to be accessible. However, if a student enters your course at any time during the semester, you are required to make those materials accessible in a timely manner. This is often difficult to do if the ICT resources were not designed with accessibility in mind. When designing online content these general guidelines should be followed.

  1. Use authoring tools that allow for accessible content to be created easily. This can greatly facilitate the process of having to go back in later to add accessibility information when the need arises.
  2. Even if no one currently needs the content to be accessible, learn the work habits of making the content accessible. Many accessibility needs require very little extra work and many “accessibility” features of content also benefit other users.

9. Isn’t there already technology available for people with disabilities to use in order to access ICT resources (text reading software, speech-to-text software, etc)? Shouldn’t this issue be handled by the end user, and not the content creator?

While it is true that there are several assistive technologies that allow people with certain disabilities to access some ICT resources that they’ve not previously been able to access, this is only possible if the ICT resource is designed to be used by the assistive technology. If the ICT resource has not been designed with accessibility features, the assistive technology will likely not work with the resource and it will be difficult to transform the resource into an alternate format that can be used by the assistive technology.

10. Graphics often have a lot of visual imagery represented in them. Wouldn’t describing a graphic in its entirety take a lot of time, and could potentially discourage faculty from using them to enhance their online materials?

Adequately making a graphic accessible basically requires you to convey the graphic’s meaning elsewhere in the document or page. Often this is done as alternative text when a graphic can be described with a short, concise description that thoroughly conveys its meaning. If the graphic requires more than a short description to thoroughly convey its meaning, a longer description is needed. This  long description can be made available on a separate page or document (typically a descriptive link is included in the main content that takes the user to the long description). However, if the text in which the graphic resides thoroughly describes the graphic, additional description is not needed. The main questions to ask are “What message does this graphic need to convey?” and “What should the reader learn from this graphic?” If these questions are answered directly in the text, then no further description is necessary. If these answers cannot be found in the text, then you’ll want to make sure your additional description provides answers to them. Whether alternative text or long description is used (or a combination of the two) will depend on the complexity of the graphic and the context in which it is being used. You can find more information and examples in the Alternative Text section of the Accessibility Resources website.

Procurement

1. I am trying to decide between using two pieces of technology in my class. Both perform the same general tasks and will produce the same outcome but only one of them is accessible. Do I have to choose the one that is accessible even if I prefer the inaccessible technology’s features better?

When trying to choose between competing technology products, start by identifying what you need the technology to do. What educational or business needs are you trying to meet by using this technology? What is the problem you need to solve by using this technology? The answers to these key questions will help you determine the essential functional requirements the product must have in order to meet your needs (e.g. does the product work the way you need it to work?). Because accessibility should also be an essential requirement, you do need to determine if the product is accessible. Ideally you want to choose the product that meets all of your essential requirements (in functionality and accessibility). If you find that a product meets all of your essential requirements except accessibility, contact accessibility@uncg.edu for a consultation to determine if it is still possible to use the inaccessible technology. Please note that The OCR (responsible for making legal decisions about disability lawsuits) takes the position that “undue hardship” is not a valid defense if you choose to use purchased or free technology that is not accessible over one that is.

Online Events

1. Are we required to provide accommodations such as live captioning for public meetings and presentations? Does it matter if it is an in-person or online meeting?

Live meetings, presentations, and events that are open to the public, whether in-person or online need to have some form of interpretive service available for guests with hearing impairments. This is typically provided in the form of live captioning or American sign language services. For courses that require students to attend and/or participate in these types of events, OARS can help with coordinating this service (visit Request Real-Time/Live Captioning for more information). For events that are not required by a course but are open to the public, the department responsible for coordinating the event will need to arrange for interpretive services.

Other types of requests for reasonable accommodations made by event participants will be honored to the extent possible. To ensure these requests are received in a timely manner, all campus groups (academic departments, business units, student groups, etc.) are strongly encouraged to include the following accommodation statement on all printed and electronic announcements for upcoming events.

“In compliance with the American with Disabilities Act, UNC Greensboro will honor requests for reasonable accommodations made by individuals with disabilities. Requests can be served more effectively if notice is provided at least 10 days before the event. Direct accommodation requests to (insert the appropriate contact person for your event here).”

If a participant contacts you with a reasonable request 10 days or more before the live event, then it is the university’s expectation that the request will be fulfilled by the unit. If, due to exceptional circumstances, a unit finds difficulty in honoring a request made 10 days prior to the event, the unit is strongly encouraged to contact the Office of Accessibility Resources and Services (OARS) to discuss potential consequences for failure to provide reasonable accommodations.

2. What if an event participant requests an accommodation within the 10 day window?

If the participant contacts you with a reasonable accommodation request after the 10 day window has passed, an effort to fulfill the request still must made when

  • it is logistically feasible to fulfill the request on shortened notice, and
  • it does not prohibit the completion of other essential and time-sensitive job duties.

Responding to a request for a reasonable accommodation is considered an essential job function, regardless of the time frame in which the request is made. One’s obligation to attempt to honor a request for a reasonable accommodation should be considered when prioritizing job duties. If fulfilling the reasonable accommodation request would adversely affect other essential and time-sensitive job duties to a degree that they cannot be performed, the director of the unit must make a determination as to whether it is possible for the unit to provide the accommodation. Prior to determining that it is not possible to provide the reasonable accommodation, it is strongly recommended that a representative from the unit contact Office of Accessibility Resources and Services (OARS) to discuss the issue.