In the United States, there are three major accessibility-related laws serving as the basis of federal policy for public accommodations, services, and employment: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act (Section 508).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and the 2008 Amendments, which is a civil rights law, prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life: Title I (employment), Title II (state and local government), Title III (public accommodations), and Title IV (telecommunications).
ADA Title II
“Subject to the provisions of this subchapter, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” 42 U.S.C 12132.
ADA Title III
“No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation…” 42 U.S.C 12182(a).
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandates the elimination of discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities by entities with federal financial support including higher education institutions. It covers equal educational requirements for students with disabilities.
“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705 (20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires telecommunications and online classrooms to offer equal opportunities. It covers the accessibility of technology and website content. As a state university, the University of Illinois is committed to ensuring equal access and an inclusive environment for all individuals.
The Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA) requires Illinois agencies and universities to ensure that their websites, information systems, and information technologies are accessible to people with disabilities. While the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act already require the state to ensure accessibility, the IITAA establishes specific standards and encourages the state to address accessibility proactively.
The University of Illinois ensures equal access and an inclusive environment for all individuals. In collaboration with the Title IX & Disability Office, the Office for Access & Equity, Disability Resources & Educational Services (DRES), and campus stakeholders, the University of Illinois is committed to providing universally accessible services and opportunities to everyone.
Strategic Priorities of Gies College of Business include diversifying our programs. It requires us to apply universal design to meet the needs of all learners and improve access including diversity in languages and formats that meet international students’ needs and access.
With all these laws and regulations (Section 508 and WCAG 2.1 AA level compliance in particular), we are responsible for holding to these accessibility standards. As educators, however, we know that our responsibilities should go beyond the laws. All these raised standards can actually benefit more diverse learners with or without disabilities since learners have different learning styles and preferences. This is more important and meaningful in the online courses where identification of students’ disabilities is less evident and easy with limited contact. Ultimately, for better learning experiences and outcomes, we should be more attentive to the inclusive and flexible design of our courses. In addition, it needs to be done proactively so that learners can have equal access and feel more included from the first moment they start taking a class.
If you have any questions or suggestions on this topic, please contact Jinhee Choo (eLearning@business.illinois.edu).