Community colleges are required by law to meet physical accessibility requirements, but what about soft resources, such as your website or your other marketing materials?
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all public or private universities receiving federal funding must provide equal access to their programs for students with disabilities. This includes ensuring the physical architecture of a building is accessible, providing materials in braille or in formats that allow for assistive listening technologies, offering a sign language interpreter in the classroom, or by modifying policies and practices around service animals or test taking.
Colleges who have taken these steps to support their students should be commended. However, despite these efforts, many may still be limiting their awareness of accessibility to the most obvious applications. And to be fair, a campus that doesn’t have curb ramps or elevators to the second floor is facing much more urgent accessibility needs. But having provided the basics, colleges should not consider their jobs complete.
Instead, colleges should take the time to consider the broader scope of their resources, and whether their efforts are reaching all those who might benefit from them. Especially when it comes to digital resources and marketing outreach, there are aspects of accessibility that apply to all students, and which could be limiting your enrollment efforts in ways that are not immediately obvious. Here’s what to consider.
1. Accessibility for online resources.
While many colleges are aware of the accessibility requirements for physical spaces, they may be less aware that these standards also apply to digital resources, such as college websites. Common features of website accessibility include:
- Content structured using appropriate headings to enable screen reader navigation.
- Alt tags on images that describe the picture for visually impaired students.
- Transcripts for audio content.
- Clear labels on infographics to avoid confusion among colorblind students.
- The elimination of moving content blocks, such as carousels, that can be disorienting to elderly users or those with a limited field of vision.
- The elimination of small buttons or complex menus that can be difficult to click on for users with motor control challenges.
Achieving full accessibility may require working with a specialist, but many changes can be made by college staff. Putting these adjustments in place can greatly improve the experience that many of your visitors have on your website without creating an unreasonable burden on colleges.
2. Accessibility also means findability.
Too often, community colleges allow the home pages of their websites to become bulletin boards, dominated by time-sensitive announcements that bury more crucial, evergreen information under several layers of menu navigation. Or, they offer up a platter of options with no hierarchy, giving equal weight to the headline encouraging students to register for classes as the headline for the fall festival.
Instead, community colleges should view this space as an opportunity to reconsider the most essential information to incoming students and structure it in a way that guides them towards the most crucial resources. If a prospective student has to click through several pages to find a financial aid form, or if they have to already know a resource exists in order to search for it, then your students could be failing to access these documents because they’re not in a location that is easy to discover.
3. Accessibility applies to your marketing, too.
Having put significant effort into creating an accessible campus with accessible courses, how much time have you spent marketing your college to the students who might actually use them? People with disabilities face all of the same barriers to entry as every other prospective student—lack of funding, childcare needs, language barriers—and just like their abled peers, they need resources to guide them toward the solutions to these challenges.
Marketing to this demographic means ensuring that all these resources are both accessible and promoted to prospective students with disabilities. It can also mean featuring these students and their stories in your marketing materials. In fact, interviewing these students about their experiences might also help uncover gaps in your services.
4. Accessible Internet matters (and why paperless is premature).
Finally, as colleges make moves toward paperless resources, they must also realize that not all students have reliable Internet access. In fact, a 2022 survey indicated that as many as one in eight students living off campus lack consistent broadband access, with many relying on cell phone data to complete or turn in homework.
In other words, while online courses can be a boon to many students by providing access for those who are less mobile, lack stable transportation, or have limited childcare support, this gain in accessibility for one group cannot be interpreted as a universal solution. Colleges should hesitate before making all resources exclusively online, and should still recommend that their instructors provide hard copies of syllabi or homework to students who ask for them.
This is also why “old-school” marketing tactics, like direct mail, continue to show results. Print resources can reach prospective students and their families even if they aren’t online. Community colleges should also not undervalue the longevity and traveling power of physical materials, which can linger on desks and kitchen counters for weeks as students mull over their options.
Awareness is the first step toward accessibility.
Before students can access your course, they need to know it exists. They need to know whether attending will fit with their work and home lives, whether they will be eligible for financial aid, whether the program will lead to a career that will provide for them and their families—and whether it will be accessible to them.
At Aperture Content Marketing, we can help you answer all these questions by getting information-based marketing materials in front of prospective students. We rely on a multi-channel approach using online microsites, social media, and direct mail to help community colleges distribute researched articles to key demographics in their region.
If you would like to learn more about how we can help raise the profile of your community college, contact us today.