MIT has a new Information Technology Accessibility Policy covering both web pages and software. This expanded policy is an update to its predecessor, the Web Accessibility Policy, first developed in 1999.
Recognizing that software as well as web pages should be accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, a team from Information Systems, Disabilities Services, the Libraries and Student Services crafted the new policy and guidelines. They can be found on line.
The guidelines are divided into two sections: one for purchasers of software and web-based products and another for developers of web pages and software. The purchaser guidelines include lists of questions to ask vendors about their products to determine how accessible they are to users with disabilities. Accessibility problems can include:
- Lack of access via the keyboard (for those who cannot use a mouse)
- Unlabeled graphics such as icons, image maps, illustrations and photos, which can cause problems for vision-impaired viewers using screen readers)
- Documentation that is not in an accessible format (for example, not all screen readers can read PDF files)
- Fixed color or text sizes that cannot be adjusted to different colors or sizes.
The developer guidelines link to information on how developers can build accessibility into their software or web pages.
NEED FOR COMPLIANCE
Several federal laws require "program access" for persons with disabilities. Since MIT receives federal funds, it is subject to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires that programs offered by such universities be accessible to persons with disabilities. MIT is also bound by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to provide effective communication to persons with disabilities, including communication that is delivered via the Internet.
These federal laws apply to MIT's software and web-based products used in administration and services, courses of instruction, departmental programs and Institute-sponsored activities. For more information, see the policies and guidelines on line.
Staff at the ATIC (Adaptive Technology for Information and Computing) Lab can help users determine the accessibility of a product. If a product doesn't meet the guidelines, the ATIC Lab at x3-7808 or the Disabilities Services Office at x3-1674 can help create a plan for access. In some cases, there may be ways to supplement accessibility using adaptive software.
Information Systems also offers a free noontime Quick Start class on web and software accessibility. Check the monthly Quick Start calendar card for dates and times.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 13, 2001.