Accessibility of the Universities of the European Union in Times of Covid-19
Tania Acosta, Sergio Luján-Mora
Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies (Edulearn 2021), p. 5475-5484, July 5-6 2021. ISBN: 978-84-09-31267-2. https://doi.org/10.21125/edulearn.2021.1115
(EDULEARN'21b) Congreso internacional / International conference
The Directive (EU) 2016/2102, also known as the Web Accessibility Directive, defines the accessibility requirements of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies in the European Union. This regulation encourages the institutions of the member states of the European Union to implement accessible websites and mobile applications for people with the widest range of abilities without discrimination. Public higher education institutions are also part of the public sector; therefore, they also must guarantee compliance with the Web Accessibility Directive and, thus, they have to make their websites accessible by complying with the AA level of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 proposed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Nowadays, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which affects millions of people around the world, students have been forced to increase the number of accesses to the services offered by higher education institutions through their websites. These services, such as access to virtual classrooms, tutoring and access to information contained in multimedia material as well as documents in different formats, allow students to continue with their distance learning activities. However, due to the lack of accessibility of the websites of higher education institutions, not all students have the same opportunities to access information and education. On many occasions, websites have accessibility problems so serious that they completely prevent the use of the websites by some users with disabilities. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the accessibility of the websites of the 1,584 best universities in the European Union according to the Webometrics ranking. Pa11y, an accessibility testing tool based on WCAG 2.1, was used to automate the testing process. Pa11y embeds two different test runners: aXe and HTML CodeSniffer. The statistical results showed that the position in the ranking of the universities of the European Union does not constitute an indicator of the level of accessibility of their websites. In the same way, it was shown that the percentage of failures regarding compliance with WCAG 2.1 was very similar to the percentage of failures regarding the coding standard of HTML source code. This study highlights the urgent need to provide accessibility features to the websites of European Union universities, since the rights of access to education of people with disabilities are being violated. Consequently, web designers, developers and authorities of educational institutions must reflect and make decisions to eliminate accessibility barriers and deficiencies in their websites.