Korey Singleton of George Mason University shared his story at our recent webinar, The Long Road from Reactive to Proactive: Developing an Accessibility Strategy. The event concluded with an insightful Q&A session led by 3Play’s Lily Bond, covering topics such as online video copyright and the University’s captioning process.
Below is an abridged transcript of the audience questions and Korey’s responses. Watch the full video recording here.
You mentioned something about your risk analysis and recommendations report. Do you have a template or key considerations for that, especially when the results aren’t good? Does George Mason University has an escalation or exception process for the final decision to go or not go with a piece of technology, based on other business needs?
KOREY SINGLETON: Yeah, essentially what happens– we do have a template that we kind of work off of, definitely some key considerations. Mainly, what happens, however, is that, like I mentioned earlier, if we get to a point where there is something– particularly, if we think it’s not a good idea to go forward, if it’s a big enterprise-wide platform– and what I mean by that is we’ve been on the panel where we’ve had a complete change in student email. And it was, do you go with Google, or do you go with Microsoft Office? And we fought the battle of going with Microsoft Office because it was more accessible. And it was the same for faculty and staff, when they went to make a change to the email system.
So yeah, those battles we will fight. If we’re talking about a database that’s kind of buried in an office, where you have 5 to 10 staff members who may only access it, neither of which has a disability, sometimes you’ve got to pick your battles, and we do. We will still provide a risk analysis and recommendations and say, hey, we suggest X, Y, Z. But it really is the decision of the person who’s initiating this purchase in terms of what’s best for their business need.
My office cannot determine what’s best for their business need. But we do want to say that we’ve told you what’s wrong, if there is anything wrong, and you make the decision on what’s best for you going forward.
More about the George Mason captioning process. Could you talk a little bit about how much of your recorded video you’re transcribing or if new online courses are required to have transcripts and captions prior to their launch?
KOREY SINGLETON: OK. Yeah, basically how it’s happening now is we partner with the Distance Education office, and they have specific times during the year– I literally just got the email like two or three days ago– on when they are reviewing new courses for a number of things, accessibility being one of them. And before those courses can go live, they’re asked to do certain things, one of them being accessibility.
So when the pilot goes out, if the videos aren’t captioned or things aren’t done, they identify those issues and then point them to our office. And we’ll work with them to get their stuff captioned. That is a part of the process. And that is something that is identified that they need to do.
As far as our captioning process as a whole, we’ve set it up so that faculty and staff members can make the request. For compliance, most of it comes through the Office of Distance Education, as you see, or the course is being developed there. We also receive a lot of requests from faculty members who are working with instructional designers who suggested the faculty members contact us to have their videos captioned.
We also receive a number of requests. A quarter of the requests that we receive– and that number is growing– come through the Office of Disability Services. We partner with the deaf and hard of hearing services coordinator to identify– there are a couple different things that we do. It’s a bit larger than captioning.
So the Office of Disability Services has a coordinator for sensory impairments who works specifically with blind, low vision students. And they have a deaf and hard of hearing services coordinator who works specifically with students who are deaf and hard of hearing. But at the beginning or prior to the beginning of each semester, they both send out emails to say, you have a blind or low vision student or you have a deaf or hard of hearing student in your course. And so if it’s a deaf or hard of hearing student, it’s suggested that they go get captioning, if this is something they have to do, and yadda, yadda, yadda.
And so our accommodations numbers have grown, as that’s been pushed more and more out of the Office of Disability Services. And it’s the same around document accessibility. First, we were looking at blind and low vision, but we learned quickly that the low vision students really don’t come to us. For the most part, if they can magnify it, they’ll magnify it on their own, work through whatever issue. They really only come to us if there’s a really significant issue.
Our blind students are the ones who are receiving the most challenges. So it may be three students. It may be five students. But you’re looking at roughly anywhere from 12 to 20 faculty members who may need help with documents. And so for that, we support them with document accessibility. And as far as captioning, that’s where we identify all of our accommodation numbers from. Students will point out things sometimes. But the students, again, don’t always want to rock the boat, because they don’t want to get on the bad side of a faculty member who’s in the process of determining their grades going forward.
Why did you face copyright issues with YouTube but not with Kaltura?
KOREY SINGLETON: It’s a lot easier. The issues still exist around Kaltura. But the library is able to adjust the guidelines, to implement their own guidelines. The other thing is Kaltura is a closed system. It’s not open to anybody other than the faculty member and the students who are going to be using it in that particular course. So you can really close things down. It’s not open to the public.
And YouTube, the copyright issues– one is that we were oftentimes getting requests for library content that wasn’t captioned. And the vendor may not caption it. It could be an old resource, whatever, or it was never captioned. And so do you take that library resource and then post it on YouTube, which is what we did, in some cases, very early on.
And even though our channel was unlisted so that it wasn’t seen to anybody other than the person who had access to that link, YouTube would flag it. And so if YouTube flagged it, then that blocked a lot of our content. And sometimes it was legitimate. We had a film and video studies course or something like that where they used a lot of video clips. It was a faculty member who was lecturing in the video, but he used a lot of the clips from different movies.
And all those videos, even though they were developed by GMU-TV, great videos, they were flagged on YouTube as copyrighted. And so we couldn’t host that stuff on that channel. And for a while, we couldn’t stream his content because we didn’t have Kaltura at that time. You only had YouTube, and you had Vimeo. And that was prior to Vimeo even offering the ability to add captions or subtitles. And so copyright is less of a challenge now because we have a closed system and you can control who sees the content.
Are you offering any incentives to faculty to make their sites accessible?
KOREY SINGLETON: The incentive, at this time, as much as possible, is for us to be able to do things. So one of things we learned early on is that nobody, for lack of a better phrase, has it out for individuals with disabilities. They’re not trying to deny access purposefully. But you can’t put in place processes that make it difficult for faculty members to do things.
If I’m here to teach history, I am here to teach history. If I’m here to do research and teaching is kind of a side thing, then that’s what I’m here to do. I don’t want to learn how to remediate a Word document. I don’t want to learn how to caption a video. And I’m saying that generally. That’s kind of the attitude that we would get.
Now I understand that attitude because it’s asking them to do something above and beyond what they’re used to. So how do we put in place processes that make it easy for you to do things? We wrote a proposal. The university backed it, gave us some money, and said, OK, we’ll centralize captioning out of your office. And then we put in place a web-based process that said, all you have to do is fill out a form, give us a link to your videos. We’ll take care of it for you. And people bought in because it was easy for them to do.
We’re trying to figure out a way to do that, on a broad scale, with documents, because I think if you do that, people will buy in. And we’re finding that the faculty members, certainly the faculty members who have a blind student in their course and are really overwhelmed when that first day of class starts, especially if their documents aren’t accessible, they’ll buy into that. They’ll show up. And if we can develop a process that makes it easy not only for my staff to handle it, but easy for those faculty members to participate in that process, people will do it.
How do you prioritize courses for accessibility?
KOREY SINGLETON: Priority is for students who have– if there’s an individual with a documented hearing impairment in the course and they need those videos captioned, we’ll do those first. After that, it pretty much falls to compliance for DE courses, because there is a specific timeline that they follow. And then there’s compliance for face-to-face courses, but as you saw, it was less than 1% of everything we’ve done. Those folks just don’t show up for compliance purposes. So we need to figure out better strategies to reach those people.
And then after that there was compliance for websites and those kinds of things. So one of the other strategies that we have going forward is to put language on university websites that basically says, if you need this content captioned or to be made accessible, yadda, yadda, yadda, to contact our office. We’re not going to get to everything. It’s very difficult for us to see everything. Content changes all the time.
But if we can put in place guidelines– and Courtney and I were just working on this a few days ago– that say, we need you to use that video for at least a year. We’ll give you a copy of the text file, but it has to be used in a GMU website or in a classroom, because we do have some faculty members who are teaching courses here, but also want to take that content and use it for courses that they may be teaching other places.
And so we need to identify that the ownership is with Mason. We paid for the hard work of captioning it, so we want to keep that content at Mason. But yeah, priority is for accommodation, then DE compliance, then face to face, and then websites.
How did you get your provost and other key higher up players to agree to endorse your process?
KOREY SINGLETON: The biggest thing for us was our office used to be called the Office of Equity and Diversity Services. When the director– he’s now the previous director, but he came in, I’d say, roughly about four or five years ago. And because he had a background in dealing with compliance for the NCAA, they ended up giving compliance duties to our office, so compliance, diversity, and ethics.
At that point in time, that was another thing we piggybacked off of, because oftentimes, you would go in into classrooms and say, I need you to caption your videos or I need you to make your document accessible. And they’re like, well, how many students are we talking about? And so we were able to change the culture and change the discussion away from accommodation and you know, I have somebody in the classroom with me now, to think down the road about accessibility and just about being more inclusive. We changed the conversation to compliance.
And so our VP at the time was very supportive of that. He wasn’t comfortable, necessarily, speaking about accessibility, but he would come to me and say, give me talking points. I’ll go and have a conversation with the folks on the exec counsel, because he sat on the exec counsel. And if he wasn’t comfortable having that conversation, then he would pull me into the meeting with the provost or pull me into the meeting with the deans and directors and so on and so forth.
That was extremely helpful. And that went a long way. So if you have a higher up who’s supportive of what you do and they have a role on those committees that make broad-reaching decisions, those are the people who really advance the discussion. And they advanced the discussion for us.
For more on captioning, check out Korey’s great presentation in December on GMU’s captioning process.
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