Higher education websites unsuitable for special needs students, says report

23 Sep 2014

A new study has found that poorly-designed Irish higher education websites could be contributing to significant dropouts among students with particular disabilities because they cannot access certain assignment services.

The study which was undertaken by Siteimprove analysed 20 Irish higher education websites with every site failing to meet 44 basic international standards to allow students with disabilities access the same online materials and tools that those without disabilities can.

Quoting the Institution of Education Sciences, the report says that the number of students with disabilities dropping out of higher education before completing their degrees is nearly double that of the average student.

One of the students who contributed to the survey detailing his experience was Saleem Ur Rahman who, as a visually impaired student, uses a computer program to be able to read web pages aloud, does not work with his university’s website.

Speaking of the difficulties, Rahman said: “Turning in assignments can be hard. We are required to submit them via the class website, but the form fields and buttons do not work with my software for reading web pages aloud. I have to look for help from a sighted person in order to upload my assignments correctly.”

Meanwhile, Helene Nørgaard Bech, someone who dedicates significant times to helping websites become more accessible to all was not surprised by the findings: “Most educational institutions fail to ensure their website meets minimum accessibility standards. It is no surprise that students with disabilities are becoming frustrated with a higher education system that does not accommodate them.”

Disabled computer user image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic