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Big East Is a Big Loser in Web Accessibility for Disabled People, Study Says

Denver – Big East colleges may shine on the basketball court, but they’re getting stuffed by the competition when it comes to the Web-accessibility battle.

The Big East posted the most consistent problems in a new survey of how good a job universities are doing in making their Web sites accessible to people with disabilities. The survey of 80 universities, presented at the Educause conference here this week, pitted five athletics conferences against one another in an attempt to draw attention to the issue.

The worst of the worst are Villanova University, Baylor University, and Providence College, says the study by Jon Gunderson, coordinator of assistive communication and information technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The study skewered those institutions and 13 others on a list called “Schools Who Need New Coaches.”

The universities doing the best job of making their sites accessible are Illinois, Virginia Tech, and Michigan State, says the study, which crowned them as frontrunners in the “Sweet 16.” The Pac-10 posted the best performance over all.

Mr. Gunderson’s study, which is not available online, evaluated about 100 Web pages for each university using a free tool that assesses them based on categories like the use of headings, keyboard support, and layout issues. The bottom line for the worst-scoring colleges is that their disabled students will likely find themselves asking for help finding stuff on Web pages, whereas students at the high-scoring ones can probably find it on their own.

Very few colleges have administrators responsible for auditing and managing Web accessibility, says Mr. Gunderson. They have policies, he says, ”but there’s no follow up with responsibility or accountability.” He draws an analogy to the need to invest in security.

“Nobody wants to invest resources in security, but they have to insure privacy and integrity of data and applications,” he says. “The same is true for accessibility. Everybody wants it to happen, but without resources allocated to ensure accessibility, it won’t happen magically.”

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