Understanding Accessibility

Assistive Technology

Cognitive, hearing, motor and visual disabilities can affect people in different ways at different points in their lives. For example, you may know someone who is gradually losing their sight and/or hearing with age. Assistive technology is a term that encompasses the tools developed to allow individuals with disabilities to maintain their independence.

In the context of website management, assistive technology refers to the hardware and software created to ensure that users with disabilities can access content. To get a better sense of the diversity of disabilities that may impact how users interact with albany.edu, check out the following list of popular assistive technologies, then see how these tools are used by watching videos of assistive technology in action.

Cognitive Disabilities

Hearing Disabilities

  • Captioning software, like the tools available in YouTube's Video Manager

  • Transcription software, such as Dragon

Motor Disabilities

Visual Disabilities


Accessibility Laws

Federal Laws

  • Americans with Disabilities ActProhibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs run by federal agencies; programs that receive federal financial assistance; in federal employment; and in the employment practices of federal contractors.

  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973Requires "Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities."

State Policies

New York's Accessibility of Web-Based Information and Applications policy "establishes minimum accessibility requirements for web-based information and applications developed, procured, maintained or used by state entities.

Additionally, SUNY policy requires institutions to create web content that is accessible to users with disabilities.

Accessibility Laws in Practice

When the National Federation of the Blind’s civil rights complaint lodged with the U.S. Department of Justice against Penn State was resolved in 2011, the university and NFB entered into a voluntary Resolution Agreement. The agreement was drafted to guide the school’s future accessibility strategy and included the following requirement:

"The University shall develop an EIT (Electronic and Information Technology) Accessibility Policy Statement that continues to demonstrate its commitment to implementing accessibility of EIT to blind and other print disabled students, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This Policy shall be posted on a University website no later than August 31, 2011, and shall disclose that an audit is taking place and that a Strategy will be disseminated and posted by April 15, 2012."

After federal investigators visited McNeese University in Louisiana in 2008, the Department of Justice led a review of the school’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The DOJ found a multitude of physical and digital barriers to access, and the following revisions to the website were mandated:

Within three months of the effective date of this Agreement, and throughout the life of the Agreement, the University will do the following: 

  1. Establish, implement and post online a policy that its web pages will be accessible and create a process for implementation; 

  2. Ensure that all new and modified web pages and content are accessible; 

  3. Develop and implement a plan for making existing web content more accessible;

  4. Provide a way for online visitors to request accessible information or services by posting a telephone number or e-mail address on its home page;

  5. Periodically (at least annually) enlist people with disabilities to test its pages for ease of use.