Accessibility on college campuses is no longer optional. Your focus needs to be on building an inclusive campus, and that begins with digital resources. There’s a reason, after all, that efforts to improve campus accessibility continue to be a major priority and challenge for college campuses of all sizes.

It’s why you’ll see increasing efforts to alleviate accessibility issues, from building accessibility policies to putting physical measures in place that help students and faculty members. An approach to continuous improvement in your digital efforts, in particular, can go a long way toward helping students with mobility impairments and other types of disabilities. This guide can help you get started as you improve campus accessibility.

Why Is Campus Accessibility Important in Higher Education?

Campus accessibility is a crucial part of higher education for many reasons. It enables you to provide equal access to education while promoting diversity and inclusion in ways that may not seem obvious. Also, of course, it enables you to comply with laws and regulations that could otherwise introduce legal trouble.

Equal Access to Education

Close to 20% of all U.S. adults have some type of disability. A strategic approach to digital accessibility can help ensure that students will be able to enjoy their education at the same level as their peers.

Done right, campus efforts to improve campus accessibility remove barriers. Measures might be as simple as offering ramps next to stairs or as multifaceted as outlining accessible pathways, parking, and restrooms on your campus map. The focus should always be on enabling your students to acquire knowledge and engage in college experiences that are on par with those of all students on campus.

Promotes Diversity and Inclusion

The time for narrow definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion is long gone. Today, the term means as much about students from a variety of backgrounds as it does about race or gender. Colleges and universities are embracing a broad range of students, and students with disabilities are among those audiences.

Building up your campus inclusivity resources should, then, include your accessibility resources. Raising your diversity and inclusion efforts in this manner enriches the learning environment for all students, bringing more diverse perspectives into classrooms and residence halls while fostering a more welcoming atmosphere.

Compliance With Regulations

Last but certainly not least, taking steps to improve campus accessibility matters for legal reasons. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability, while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 has broad implications for all areas of campus.

These legal obligations to improve campus accessibility exist for a reason. They’re designed to ensure that the benefits mentioned above for students are not haphazardly applied but are firmly in place on college campuses around the nation. Non-compliance can lead to potentially hefty fines and other legal issues.

Best Practices for Improving Digital Campus Accessibility

Of course, having the best intentions for improving your digital accessibility is only the beginning. You need to put specific measures in place to make sure it happens and continually improve campus accessibility, guided in large part by these six best practices for improvement.

1. Adopt Universal Design Principles

The concept of universal design for learning (UDL) describes a teaching method that optimizes content for all learning styles, explicitly seeking to remove barriers to learning. It’s based on three principles:

  1. Presenting information in different ways
  2. Differentiating the ways in which students express their knowledge
  3. Providing multiple ways in which students can engage

While the details of this approach go beyond the scope of this guide, focusing your accessibility on teaching first ensures that the fundamentals of your education will be in place for students with disabilities.

2. Training and Education

For most members of your faculty and staff, accessibility is learned knowledge. That means you need comprehensive training about how to improve campus accessibility and educational programs in place to educate your employees. Include both a focus on the basic principles and the practical steps for implementing more effective training programs.

3. Flexible Teaching and Learning Practices

To build on these fundamental practices of how to improve campus accessibility, encourage and incentivize your faculty to offer more flexible means of teaching. For example, recent trends like the flipped classroom model enable students to take a more active part in the learning process. Also, constructivist teaching democratizes the process and thus makes it easier to adapt to different learning styles.

4. University Support Services

Naturally, your university support services need to be built out specifically to assist students with disabilities. Specifically, staff in IT and residence life teams need to be trained to accommodate these students. Also, services like note-taking, communication access, and alternative testing accommodations can help ensure an equally valuable experience for all students.

5. Incorporate Assistive Technologies

Part of the process of offering support services has to include assistive technologies that help your students succeed. Some of the many examples include:

  • Live note-taking software available in physical and virtual classrooms
  • Text-to-speed learning tools to help with reading and writing
  • Screen readers and writers that help students with vision and motion disabilities
  • Text-to-audio converters and text magnifiers for students with low vision

Some of these technologies may already be available on your campus. Becoming more strategic in their acquisition, management, and daily use enables you to serve your students, regardless of the exact disabilities they may have.

6. Interactive Digital Campus Map

Finally, an interactive digital campus map will play a significant role as you improve campus accessibility. Interactive layers enable you to show anything from accessible building entry points to accessible restrooms, parking spots, and more. Students and other visitors to campus will always know how to navigate and where to find where they need to go.

Of course, accessibility in your campus map also goes beyond wayfinding. The map itself should be easy to read for screen readers and other assistive technologies. This ensures that the information is easily available regardless of disability.

How Digital Campus Maps Enhance Accessibility

College student in a wheelchair easily navigating the student center

The subject of interactive campus maps deserves further consideration. As it turns out, this digital tool can make your campus more accessible in more ways than one, including anything from showcasing your accessible campus routes and pathways to creating an entire category focused on the subject.

Showcasing Accessible Campus Routes and Pathways

Perhaps most obviously, your digital mapping solution can drive accessibility through its core function as a wayfinding tool. Here, you can easily show the routes and pathways on campus that are accessible for visitors and students with disabilities. This new view can include walkways with ramps and other features allowing barrier-free movement.

Traditionally, this information either doesn’t exist or lives on a separate campus map specifically designed to show accessible routes. By integrating it into your interactive map, you create a more inclusive wayfinding tool for users with disabilities. Then they can see the regular campus map (and all of the features you want to highlight). They can also see the sections pertaining specifically to their needs.

Providing an Accessibility Category on Your Digital Map

Speaking of accessibility integration, the right digital map solution also allows you to create an accessibility category that allows you to show far more than “just” those disability-friendly pathways. This category could house any amount of physical information you want to highlight, including (but not limited to):

  • Handicap-accessible parking options
  • Accessible and family restrooms
  • Accessible entryways to buildings, especially for buildings with multiple entrances
  • The locations of elevators within buildings

Gathering all this and other related information in an accessibility category brings a few advantages. First, you can showcase to all users how easy your campus is to navigate. In addition, you also create a hub of accessibility information that you can now link to in other communications, from emails to printed materials and more. Used in this way, your campus map can even help boost retention among current students because they’re getting a better experience on campus.

Handicap-Accessible Pathways

An interactive map of your campus includes all the half-levels, the elevator locations, and even the grounds outside.  With a 3D digital map, you can point out any accessibility features your building has. Make it easy for any visiting guest to find exactly the accessibility features they’re looking for.

Where a 2D map would have trouble rendering a multi-level design, a 3D map can clearly show exactly where levels change, handicap trouble spots may occur, or accessibility features are hidden. Elevators, grab bars, slide-walks, and ramps can all be a specific color and route to make them easier to find and navigate for those audience segments needing them the most.

Real-World Uses of Digital Campus Maps to Boost Accessibility

These best practices may seem complex. The good news is that colleges and universities across campus have begun implementing them. Use these valuable real-world examples of leveraging digital campus maps to boost digital accessibility.

Rice University

One of the best examples of a richly interactive campus map is found at Rice University. Each item in the sidebar menu, such as Housing, Transportation, and Parking, gives the user the option to instantly light up the campus map with a particular area of interest. For example, by checking the box beside Accessibility Information, the map will light up with icons marking the locations of all campus accessibility resources.

Given the impressive range of accessibility resources found on the Rice University campus, nearly every inch of the map will light up if you choose to view them all at once. You’ll also find subcategories like:

  • Bus stops
  • Curb cuts
  • Entrances
  • Ramps
  • Wheelchair lifts
  • TDD (telecommunications devices for people who are deaf or hard of hearing)

University of Colorado

The University of Colorado features a robust, fully interactive Accessibility category within its Boulder campus map. The Accessibility category, in turn, includes an innovative subcategory for Accessible Paths. When you click or tap on the checkbox beside the Accessible Paths menu item in the map’s sidebar, the university’s map lights up with vivid lines tracing all accessible routes throughout the Boulder campus.

Duke University

Duke University has invested in a remarkable interactive mapping solution with a richly featured ADA Accessibility category. One of the category’s most remarkable features is the ADA Steep Grades option. When you click or tap on the checkbox for ADA Steep Grades, the map instantly highlights all steep routes throughout the campus in red. This feature is especially helpful for hilly campuses. It gives those who wish to steer clear of these steep sections an excellent way to plan ahead.

University of North Carolina

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has an intuitive interactive map that includes an Accessible Elevators option. Simply click or tap the corresponding checkbox. Then, the UNC map will light up with orange icons marking the locations of all wheelchair-accessible elevators on campus. Mouse over one of the orange icons to view the name of the corresponding building.

By clicking the arrow to the left of the Accessible Elevators menu item, you can also browse a complete list of campus buildings and addresses with accessible elevators. Furthermore, by double-clicking on a specific building or address, the map will instantly zoom to that location to give you a closer look.

Display Campus Accessibility Resources Effectively With Concept3D

Leveraging campus accessibility is about far more than the narrow scope of disability services. While those services matter, it’s about the broader goal of equal opportunity that all college students deserve. Equal access to education for disabled students matters just as much as the ability to promote accessibility and DEI initiatives and comply with regulatory requirements.

That’s why all college campuses can benefit from embracing and communicating about their physical accessibility capabilities. At its best, this communication enhances the academic experience and creates a level of advocacy that others in the community can begin to emulate.

That’s where Concept3D comes in. Our digital maps can become a resource center for all things student success, including the ways your campus can support students with disabilities. Highlight the accessibility services and needs in your physical spaces in simple, intuitive ways. Ready to get started? Learn more about our interactive campus maps and how we can help higher education institutions improve campus accessibility.