Q&A: How the University of Maryland Implemented a Campus-Wide IT Accessibility Plan
There are approximately 52,000 people at the University of Maryland. 27,000 are students, 10,000 graduate students, and about 13,700 make up faculty and staff. The challenge of providing accessibility to such a diverse population is one that the university has been tackling headfirst.
In a webinar entitled, How the University of Maryland Implemented a Campus-Wide IT Accessibility Plan, University of Mayland’s IT Accessibility Specialist, Ana Palla-Kane, and Instructional Designer, Susan Johnston, dive deep into the university’s strategy to provide equal access to their diverse campus community.
In this excerpt from the Q&A portion of the webinar, we explore how the university organized their team, funding, and policies.
What was the process to put web accessibility standards in place? Would it be better to have a policy or standards?
ANA PALLA-KANE: It’s always better to have a policy. But the process of having a policy is a little longer. At least for us, it requires that our Senate approves. And there is a lot of different steps.
When we begin to create the policy, we want to have something in place as soon as possible. You don’t want to wait that year to have something available to the campus, so that’s why we chose to have the document with the standards available first. But in terms of accountability and resources, policies are the way to go. And I anticipate that we’re going to have a policy soon.
When we started the process of designing our policy document, we looked at our partner institutions from the Big Ten. And all their policies and standards they all listed on the websites. And we really began to look at what do they have in order to draft our policy, which now is in the draft form. But then, that also generated our standards document.
And because different states have different standards, have different legislation, I would say that different people have differences in how they wrote their policies. But the Big Ten universities, most of the universities now have a policy that can also be a resource for everyone.
Roadmap to Web Accessibility in Higher Education
How did you define the members of your IT accessibility community?
ANA PALLA-KANE: We want to have as large a representation as possible from campus. And we started with recommendations from the assistant vice-presidents, from University Relations, from Student Affairs, and within the DIT. And we have someone from Procurement. We have someone definitely from the Accessibility and Disability service. We did have faculty and staff representation. So we just want to have as large a representation as possible of people who could represent the different areas that we want to have included in the plan.
How did you work with IT to get a partnership off the ground? With difficult circumstances and difficult personalities, it’s hard for a school to get the conversation going.
ANA PALLA-KANE: Our Assistant Vice President, our CIO, our University Relations Assistant Vice President, and our Vice President from Student Affairs, were aligned in that we needed to improve. I think, if you don’t have the leadership alignment, I think that’s where our work with awareness and sharing the importance of IT accessibility beyond the fear of litigation needs to happen.
We are able to also connect our IT accessibility goals to the university’s strategic plan. And I would say that that’s what gave the power to the document, what actually generated some resources, so that I was hired. Then, Sue was able to also work with us and have her duties, within being Instructional Designer, being dedicated for course redesign and accessibility, that we were able to change, at least within the Division of Information Technology, our procedures of procurement to include accessibility checks, as part of our process.
I was recently with some of our colleagues from our IT accessibility group from the Big Ten, and I would say that a lot of us shared similar frustrations sometimes. But at the same time, I can say that I’m fortunate to be here at Maryland, because our leadership has really embraced the cause.
And I think that the leadership can also see the ripple effect. And they can also see how a lot of the accessibility work that we have been doing, how that serves not only our population disability, it serves the entire campus.
Do you have funding for your accessibility committee?
ANA PALLA-KANE: The accessibility committee specifically didn’t get funding. The Division of Information Technology has some funds that enabled them actually to hire me. And we have some money, not much, to implement the web scanning tool that I shared earlier. But for example, we don’t have the budget that we would need to put in place everything that we believe will be needed to go above and beyond the goals of a plan.
When someone asked earlier about the policy, one of the implications about passing a policy is also to have the structure behind to implement that policy. Because once we say, all units on campus, they have three years to make sure that all your websites are in compliance with the standard for web accessibility that we are setting on the document, the campus needs to be financially and have the structure of personnel and tools needed at the University, or by hiring some external company, to really provide those services.
So that’s when the budget constraints occur. Some of the things that we have been doing did not include the large investment from the University.
Who pays for the captioning of materials created on campus, either lectures that are recorded or other videos?
ANA PALLA-KANE: If a faculty has a student who requires captioning as part of their accommodation the Accessibility and Disability Service pays for that for the faculty.
And that also would include documents. For example, let’s say that someone has a PDF that’s been scanned and is an image, and they have a student who is using Kurzweil, and they cannot use that software to read the document. The Accessibility and Disability Service provides alternative documents, alternative format for documents, and also captioning for videos.
Faculty who want to caption their videos, because it’s a good practice, they have to fund that through their departments, or on their own. And we have created documentation to show faculty how to caption, how to do it yourself.
Unfortunately, we don’t a centralized funding on campus to provide captioning to faculty.
Which standards do you use to align the accessibility guidelines?
ANA PALLA-KANE: We use WCAG, which is W-C-A-G, 2.0, and level AA.
Watch the full webinar below!More: a11y, Accessibility Act, accessibility law, accessible video, campus-wide IT, captioning, federal law, legislation, OCR, Online Video, Rehabilitation Act, Section 508, state accessibility law, state law, state universities, transcripts, University of Maryland, video captions, W3C, WCAG, web accessibility