The VitalSource Resource

The VitalSource Resource

What is web accessibility and why does it matter?

Posted by Saskia Watts on August 21, 2019

Laptop on a desk with coffee and cell phone. Accessibility is an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent in the modern world, with new technologies presenting new challenges. But what do we mean when we talk about this, and in particular, what do we mean by web accessibility?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) describe web accessibility as “websites, tools, and technologies [that] are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.” The responsibility for this falls with everyone in the process of eTextbook provision: the publishers who create the content, the platforms that deliver it, and the librarians who procure the materials.

But why should higher education institutions in the UK worry about this? The Equality Act 2010 states that:

“The responsible body of such an institution must not discriminate against a student—

  1. in the way it provides education for the student;
  2. in the way it affords the student access to a benefit, facility, or service;
  3. by not providing education for the student;
  4. by not affording the student access to a benefit, facility, or service”

Print textbooks can often fall short in the support they provide for students with disabilities—the font size is static, black text on white paper can be unfavourable, and there are no read aloud capabilities. This means that the way a student who does not have the same sensory abilities that the majority enjoy is provided an education that may not meet the necessary standards.

In addition to this, an EU Directive came into force in September of 2018, explicitly stating the “need for digital materials from public bodies (which does include universities) to be accessible,” including content in the virtual learning environment (VLE). This means these materials must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. So now truly is the time for universities to sit up and pay attention to the accessibility of the education they are providing, especially digitally.

But aside from legislation or talks of unlawfulness, no institution wishes to be knowingly exclusionary to any student or staff member. Accessibility is an important aspect of modern education around the world, and one that is becoming of increasingly higher priority for both institutions and students. 

In this blog series around accessibility, we’ll be looking at the accessibility features of digital learning materials, how universities can work to become more accessible, and finally, VitalSource’s ongoing commitment to accessibility. Be sure to keep an eye out for these future posts.

Topics: Accessibility, International

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