In today’s digital age accessibility is extremely important. The United States alone is home to roughly 56 million people with a disability, and according to federal data only about a third of students with disabilities who enroll in a four-year college or university graduate within eight years. For those who enroll in two-year schools, the outcomes aren’t much better—only 41% graduate.
For many students with disabilities, college campuses can be nerve-wracking to navigate. They are large, unfamiliar, and often crowded. College is a new experience for many young adults. For those with disabilities, more considerations and efforts need to be made.
U.S. higher education institutions are legally required to accommodate students with disabilities. However, features and resources can be difficult to find. One way to help overcome this confusion is to make sure that your university clearly displays and showcases these resources to their students in a central, interactive location.
With higher education, student needs have to be taken into consideration (of course), but so do the needs of their visitors. Parents, grandparents or other family members also may need special assistance when getting around campus for graduation, special events, or just for a visit.
Below I will discuss how making the most of interactive technology can increase accessibility for all students and visitors.
Display all-accessible routes
Putting in elevators, ramps, routes and other features does no good if the people who need these resources can’t find them. Interactive, mobile-friendly technology can show exactly where levels change, where trouble spots may occur, and where accessibility features are located. With an interactive map, elevators, grab-bars, sidewalks, and ramps can all be a specific color and routed in maps. This allows students and visitors to plan the best routes around campus beforehand, saving time and energy looking for the right option.
For example, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has an extensive accessibility tool that shows where all of the curbs, ADA accessible parking, building entrances, elevators, and video phones are located across campus.
With interactive technology for your facility, you can help your visitors, customers, and staff quickly navigate from one location to another and you can show exactly where the ramps and elevators are as well as what is under construction.
Showcase your resources
Many education institutions have resources and administration dedicated to students with physical and mental disabilities. Using new technology to keep your website or campus map up-to-date offers the ability to highlight the features and resources your school offers.
For example, the University of Alabama has their Office of Disability Services highlighted on an interactive map. When a location’s icon is selected, a description and a photo of the building appears. The University of San Diego also highlights their Disability and Learning Difference Resource Center, with its location and center information.
Making an effort to have these resources easy to find benefits current students, but can also serve to attract new students.
Accessible online platforms
In addition to having a campus that makes it easy to find ADA accessible features including ramps and elevators, it is important to have an online platform that is accessible to everyone, and from both mobile and desktop devices. Make sure that your school’s immersive technology and websites use the requisite ALT text and code structure to accommodate visual or auditory impairment and uses Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) tags.
The ARIA tags are, a “set of attributes that define ways to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities.”
Improving campus accessibility online is just as important as physical changes to the campus. Using the ARIA standards can allow visually-impaired audiences to easily navigate your website or interactive map, even without using a full keyword. In addition, using ARIA tags that enable screen readers for the complete interactive experience and offering a text-only platform for basic and quick reference are also helpful.
Lastly, color contrast is important for any online platform. Certain colors (as well as colors without enough contrast) can be challenging, so having a way to change and manage colors of items like wayfinding routes or text ensures that everyone can access the information.
Accessibility matters across the physical and digital landscape use your immersive technology to your advantage and show off your commitment to creating an accessible campus for everyone.