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ADA Compliance Is a ‘Major Vulnerability’ for Online Programs

Many universities may be vulnerable to complaints about accessibility issues in online courses because of the decentralized way they handle compliance with a federal law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination, a new report says.

Campuses often lack formal policies to ensure that their online courses comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, says the report about online-education management, sponsored by the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications and the Campus Computing Project.

In a survey of 183 colleges and universities, one-third of respondents said responsibility for complying with the ADA rests with individual professors who teach online. Almost a quarter reported that responsibility falls to academic programs or departments. Only 16 percent said their college has a central office that reviews every course for compliance.

The findings come after two national organizations representing the blind sued Arizona State University over its use of a different piece of technology, the Kindle e-reader, saying the device could not be used by blind students.

In the wake of that case, the new survey reveals what seems to be an “ad hoc” approach to ensuring compliance with the law, said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project.

“That’s not a good strategy for anybody,” Mr. Green told Wired Campus. “The danger is that you have another situation as ASU and others experienced with the Kindles.”

Among the other findings of the survey:

  • Colleges are making major investments in training online faculty members. Half of the institutions surveyed require professors who teach online to complete mandatory training. That training averages out to 22 hours.
  • Seventy-three percent of respondents said faculty resistance to teaching Web courses obstructs institutional efforts to expand online programs. “The issues that impede growth are internal, not external,” Mr. Green said.
  • Systems used to organize online programs are in flux at many colleges. Forty-four percent of those surveyed said their campuses have reorganized online management in the past two years.
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