I. Policy Statement

Emerson College provides equal opportunity and access to its educational and administrative services, programs, and activities in accordance with federal and state law. This Policy aligns with Emerson’s values of equity, diversity, inclusion and access, and governs the College’s digital content and the systems that deliver it, referred to below as “Digital Systems.” This Policy also aligns with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended. Accordingly, all Emerson programs, services, and activities should be accessible to all students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the general public, provided that making them so does not fundamentally alter the content or constitute an undue burden for the College. For purposes of this document, these concepts will be discussed using the broad term “digital accessibility” unless otherwise specified.

Under this Policy, Emerson will:

  • Acquire and develop Digital Systems that are accessible to people with disabilities. 
  • Create digital content that is accessible to people with disabilities. 
  • Promote awareness of this Policy to all members of the College community who interface with digital content.

Ensuring equally effective access to digital content and the systems that contain them is the responsibility of all College administrators, faculty, and staff. As discussed below, if a product or service cannot be brought into compliance with this Policy, Content Providers must request an exemption from the Digital Accessibility Review Panel.

II. Definitions

Accessible

Individuals with disabilities are afforded the opportunity to independently acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services within the same timeframe as individuals without disabilities, with substantially equivalent ease of use. 

Content Providers

The department or individual who is responsible for directly creating digital content, or who contracts with an external party to provide or manage such content. 

Digital Content

Inclusive of instructional materials, all written, audio, visual, or other content delivered via a digital system or consumed within a digital medium.

Digital Accessibility Review Panel

Reviewing body consisting of the Vice President for Administration and Finance, the Vice President and General Counsel, and in instances that involve faculty or pedagogical technology, the Provost, as well as others whom they may designate to assist them on individual matters, as appropriate.

Digital Accessibility Working Group

Advisory body consisting of representatives from the Instructional Technology Group, Web & Digital Services, Procurement, Student Accessibility Services, Information Technology, and others that this group may designate on an ad hoc basis.

Digital Systems

Includes the codebase, architecture, and design of software and/or systems that facilitate the creation, transmission, and consumption of digital content. These systems are inclusive of but not limited to websites; web applications; learning and content management systems; library systems, event and calendaring systems; mass-email delivery systems; mobile apps; customer relationship management (CRM), administrative and management systems; any system or software used to conduct college business; computers and peripherals, information kiosks, telephones, digital signs, and other electronic equipment involving a digital display.

Equally Effective Alternate Access

With respect to digital content: an alternative format, medium, or other aid that timely and accurately communicates substantially the same content as does the original format or medium, and which is appropriate to an individual’s disability. To provide equally effective alternate access, Emerson will provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services as necessary to afford individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to obtain the same result, gain the same benefit, or reach the same level of achievement, in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. An Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan is a written document that explains how such access will be provided when the content itself cannot be remediated per this Policy.

Legacy Content

Content is deemed “legacy content” if it is (a) more than 5 years old; and (b) either not public or is being used by fewer than 10 people. While legacy content may be archived, such archiving efforts are not exhaustive. Accordingly, legacy content may be reviewed and remediated in different ways than other content, depending upon the usage at issue. 

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”)

The WCAG is a widely used tool to assess the accessibility of digital content. The WCAG has three levels of accessibility, A, AA, and AAA; the College sets Level AA as its standard. This tool will be reviewed with each new version and this Policy updated as appropriate. 

III. Policy Goals and General Responsibilities

Under this Policy, Content Providers are required to follow current accessibility standards when creating new or modifying existing content. Content Providers are also charged with ensuring that the adoption or installation of new systems and features meets applicable standards set forth in this Policy. 

In situations in which Content Providers cannot comply with this Policy, specific and limited exemptions from the Policy can be requested. Such requests are reviewed by the Digital Accessibility Review Panel, which will review and make a binding (and final) decision with regard to providing the exemption and the term of the exemption. The Digital Accessibility Review Panel may also discuss the exemption request with other departmental level leaders, as appropriate and at their discretion. 

The Digital Accessibility Working Group meets at least quarterly to discuss and coordinate training and outreach efforts to facilitate the College’s efforts with regard to this Policy. Human Resources, Student Accessibility Services, Information Technology, the Instructional Technology Group, and Web & Digital Services will also coordinate their efforts to support community members in complying with this Policy, while also promoting awareness of the College’s efforts.

The Instructional Technology Group monitors accessibility within the Learning Management System and provides faculty development on accessibility as well as guidance on how to design and/or select accessible course materials and platforms.

Web & Digital Services actively monitors emerson.edu to ensure that both its content and infrastructure remain in compliance with current WCAG accessibility standards. Additionally, Web & Digital Services also monitors, tests, and ensures that the infrastructure of public Digital Systems within its purview meet those same standards. Web & Digital Services also provides customized training, resources, support and remediation for Content Providers of public-facing digital properties*.

The College will also establish procedures to assure that College specifications for Digital Systems purchases include specifications for accessibility when relevant and are uniformly applied across departments. 

IV. Exemptions from the Policy

Generally speaking, Legacy Content does not fall under this Policy unless a specific request for accommodation has been received. Such issues will be discussed with Student Accessibility Services, Human Resources, or other components of the College, as appropriate. Similarly, Digital Systems and Digital Content not used for College-related business or educational purposes does not fall within this Policy. 

For all other Digital Systems requests for exemption from the Policy may be made, in writing, to the Digital Accessibility Review Panel, which may grant an exemption on several grounds, including the following: 

  1. Unavailability: Digital Systems for which no equivalent accessible option is available. Content Providers are responsible for documenting the following:
    1. The Content Provider must identify alternative applications or equipment with similar required functionality, if any exist (if not, please indicate no alternatives are available);
    2. The Content Provider must demonstrate that the alternatives identified do not meet relevant requirements (e.g., coursework requirements); and
    3. The Content Provider must describe whether efforts by the vendor are underway to remediate the non-compliant features by a defined date.
  2. Specific Need: Certain Digital Systems may be appropriate for an exemption from this Policy if the individual seeking the exemption can demonstrate:
    1. The content is of interest to only a specific and limited audience (e.g., researchers in a particular academic discipline), or;
    2. From a technical perspective, the content is exceptionally difficult or impossible to remediate, would constitute a fundamental alteration of the content, or would create an undue burden for the College;
    3. There is an avenue for individuals with disabilities to identify items of particular interest and request remediation of those specific materials. 

The Digital Accessibility Review Panel will consider other exemptions upon the request of a Vice President who presents a case for exemption because of special circumstances. The Digital Accessibility Review Panel will inform the Content Providers whether, as part of the exemption to be considered and/or granted, the Content Providers must submit an Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan.

V. Non-Compliance

If Digital Systems are non-compliant and not subject to an exemption defined above, the responsible Content Provider or departmental administrator must, within a reasonable period of time to be determined by the Digital Accessibility Working Group in consultation with the Digital Accessibility Review Panel, remediate or provide upon request a documented plan to remediate the noncompliant elements. The managing department is responsible for any costs associated with remediation.

VI. Cross-References to Related Policies

VII. Responsible Officer

The Digital Accessibility Review Panel is responsible for the oversight and implementation of this Policy, which will be a collective effort with the Digital Accessibility Working Group.
The Responsible Officer for this policy is the Vice President and General Counsel. Questions relating to the implementation of this policy should be directed to the Vice President and General Counsel or the appropriate Vice Presidents for aspects of implementation for which they are responsible.

VIII. Links to Procedures or Forms

Date: 23 Mar 2022

Revised: 29 Jun 2022