DECEMBER 7, 2015, CHICAGO. In 1998, the United States Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to strengthen provisions that protect online access to information provided by the Federal government to individuals with disabilities. The law covers every type of electronic and information technology and is not limited to assistive technologies used by people with disabilities. It applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use such technology. The Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards were released on December 21, 2000 and the initial deadline for 508 compliance was June 21, 2001.
Unbeknownst to most, the U.S. Access Board has refreshed its standards to use WCAG 2.0, which is the international standard for web accessibility. WCAG 2.0 is a more comprehensive approach to web accessibility than the current Section 508 standards. All government websites and higher education will need to become WCAG 2.0 compliant by early 2016, 6 months after the final rule is published within the next few months.
Courts and regulators are also pushing for better access to higher education web sites for the disabled. The scope of section 508 is only limited to Federal sector websites, but there is a catch for Universities and Colleges. The Department of Education interprets the Assistive Technology Act (the "AT Act"), 29 U.S.C. 3001, to require that States receiving assistance under the AT State Grants program to comply with section 508. Many states have proceeded to pass their own set of accessibility guidelines based on these section 508 standards.
Although many institutions of higher education have complied with 508 standards, there still remains a huge gap to fill with regards to website usability. “Universities have been so focused on 508 standards that they have completed neglected other aspects of digital health,” Bigby said. In a study released by DYNO Mapper, Bigby compares the top 15 colleges and universities in Illinois based on one usability metric - bad links. “I was completely shocked when the results revealed that most higher education websites were littered with bad links. Moreover, results revealed a complete oversight of the metadata that helps any student find the information that they are seeking via search engines. It is tantamount to putting thousands of books on library shelves with no title, description, or table of contents in each book.”
“I don’t think the oversight is intentional,” said Bigby. “Universities have extremely large networks that are maintained by many individuals and it is really hard to keep on top of every single detail that could be causing a terrible user experience thus preventing users from finding the information that they are seeking.”
The University of Utah’s Teaching and Learning Technologies department relied upon Bigby’s tool to revamp a website that provides teaching and learning resources to 17 campuses serving more than 100 departments.
“Rather than tediously clicking through dozens of links and documenting their content, we used DYNO Mapper to quickly enter home page URLs and generate comprehensive sitemaps of everything, with visual representations of site structures and related hyperlinks,” said TLT’s Paul Barrows. “DYNO Mapper also provides us the tool to sketch out what the underlying structure of our new ‘gateway website’ to teaching and learning services will look like. Can't ask much more than that!”
DYNO Mapper can not only help organizations solve accessibility issues, but we are proud to announce our latest version released in July 2015 - monitors a website’s health to assist administrators of large networks with diagnosing issues for a stellar user experience. The software is not just for government and higher education websites. “Everyone with a website should be concerned with accessibility and user experience. In an ever competitive market, none can afford to miss out on potential opportunities because of neglect - especially when the fixes are not completed, you just need to be aware to solve the problem.”
DYNO Mapper features include a sitemap generator that integrates analytics data, content audits and inventory, keyword tracking and accessibility testing. It gives creatives and IT the insight necessary to make quick and informed decisions about content strategy, information architecture planning and quality assurance.
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Create, edit, customize, and share visual sitemaps integrated with Google Analytics for easy discovery, planning, and collaboration.