Ablr’s Co-Founder & CRO On How to Achieve Accessibility in Higher Ed
Imagine visiting a website with the intention of applying for an undergraduate program. There’s just one catch: You can’t look at your computer screen at any point during the process. Someone else has to sit at the computer and read the content to you: every menu, every button, every bit of content right down to the images on the page. Applying would be a lot more difficult under those circumstances.
That experience is a daily reality for any of the millions of people who use screen readers. But web accessibility is just one tangible example of a much bigger issue, says Ablr CRO Mike Iannelli.
Ablr is a Disability Inclusion and Digital Accessibility company that works with higher ed programs, businesses, and nonprofits to remove barriers for people with disabilities. Iannelli joined Ablr after spending the early part of his career as the executive for a publicly traded education company.
“From an EDU perspective, I think the entire model needs to be reevaluated, so all people can get degrees and get real meaningful work,” Iannelli said.
Poor Accessibility Hurts Enrollments
About 90% of content, including content created by colleges and universities, is not accessible to people with disabilities. This lack of accessibility is about so much more than avoiding compliance issues. It prevents thousands of students from accessing college websites, registering for classes, or completing their degrees.
About 1 in 4 adults in the United States has some type of disability. That’s a huge pool of potential students that colleges and universities may not be serving. And, just because a website is accessible does not mean the rest of the enrollment experience will be.
When organizations apply accessibility as an afterthought, they may address specific issues but overlook the full process that students must go through. Elements like financial aid, taking classes, or communicating with instructors are often left out of the picture and may not be accessible. These oversights create a ripple effect that prevents the whole system from being accessible.
Lack of accessibility and usability also impacts a program’s brand image, says Iannelli. “When you think about the pressure on university systems today and the sheer amount of options that students have, brands and school systems need to stand out. The impact of being a fully usable and inclusive environment is not just for folks with disabilities, but for everyone else to also look in and say, ‘I want to be part of that.’”
Educating the Higher Ed Industry on Accessibility
Overhauling the higher ed industry’s approach to inclusion will take more than an accessibility checklist. Iannelli recommends that colleges and universities start by educating their staff. “A lot of times, folks just don’t even know what’s out there, what resources are out there, or even the basic disability statistics.”
Awareness of the scope of the issue is the first step, followed by disability etiquette. Disability etiquette training helps employees understand how to communicate with and about people with disabilities.
“Proper Universal Design positively impacts everyone, regardless of ability, so all people can feel included and feel that they belong,” Iannelli said.”
Accessibility in Higher Ed Is An Urgent Issue
Improving accessibility in higher ed is an urgent issue. Aside from just being the right thing to do, improving accessibility opens up new enrollment opportunities at a time when enrollment is shrinking.
Accessibility of online content is step one, but then consumers, including students, will look to organizations that can level the playing field for individuals with disabilities by providing training, education, job placement, and mentorship opportunities that lead to meaningful employment.
Putting students first now means that colleges and universities can remain part of the solution going forward. EducationDynamics and Ablr are here to help you engage with more prospective and current students.