Digital Does Not Mean Accessible: Building Accessible Institutional Infrastructures

January 16, 2013 BY SHANNON K. MURPHY
Updated: February 22, 2018

Recently 3Play Media partnered with the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) to bring you a free webinar discussing critical questions universities and colleges across the nation struggle with when creating accessible web infrastructures. According to a survey of online learning by Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, 6.7 million students have taken at least one online course. With more education going online, content accessibility for students with disabilities is a pressing issue. Furthermore, are educators ready to be advocates for the disabled within their school communities?

Watch the webinar: Administrative Panel: Understanding the Law & Building Accessible Institutional Infrastructures

Luckily, we had four accessibility specialists on hand:

Mark Riccobono, Executive Director: Jernigan Institute, National Federation of the Blind
Bill Welsh, Director: Pennsylvania State University Office for Disability Services
Gaeir Dietrich, Director: California Community Colleges High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU)
Norman Coombs, CEO: Equal Access to Software & Information (EASI)

Experts in accessibility issues, these panelists shared from their experiences not only creating accessible online learning but, in some cases, also how they have interacted with university infrastructures as a disabled person. Below are four key takeaways from the Sloan-C Webinar: Understanding the Law & Building Accessible Institutional Infrastructures.

Knowledge Breaks “Reactive” Accessibility Models: Welsh repeatedly hit on generating change through knowledge. Outreach initiatives to various departments about the importance of accessible curriculum make an accessible campus for the disabled a shared responsibility as opposed to only the interest of the disabled services office. Create a committee.  Need help getting the message across? Move away from traditional methods. Welsh advises holding a meeting where participants experience a college course through a JAWS screen reader or are asked to watch a lecture with no sound and captions.

Content Must Be Accessible in Three Ways: Deitrich enlightened many attendees with a reminder about what it takes to make online content truly accessible.

  1. Hardware: A device such as a laptop or tablet needs to have the capability to interface with accessible software. This was an early complaint of the Kindle.
  2. Software: Accessible software has keyboard, screen and audio assists enabling disabled users to consume information.
  3. Content: What is loaded into the software must also be in an accessible-friendly format. Unfortunately many believe placing content in a learning management system makes the content accessible. This is not the case.

Remember, any break in this chain can derail content consumption by a disabled user.

Accessibility Benefits All End-Users: Simply, accessibility is inclusiveness. Accessibility ensures disabled students and faculty can be more engaged, yet, accessible initiatives benefit all. Many online learners prefer to consume video with captions so they may read new terminology. ESL students utilize video transcripts as study resources. Websites designed for those with color blindness often yield a clean site visually appealing to all.

Educators Can Create Change: Both Riccobono and Deitrich recommended using the power of economy. Many educators and department heads fail to realize that by requesting accessible materials from their suppliers, they are using their purchasing authority to create a positive change. Furthermore, this step requires very little advanced planning. Ask that all systems have accessibility in purchasing contracts or find another supplier. Move into a more powerful position by finding local institutions adopting the same piece of software or learning management platform. After all, five institutions can carry more weight with a vendor than one.

Lastly, never underestimate the enhancement accessible content delivers to the end-user.  “You know the first time I got Kindle for PC with accessibility, I went online and bought a commercial book. First time in my life I could go online and buy a commercial book and read it myself,” Coombs remembered. “It’s a whole new exciting world that you can open up to all of us.”

So are you ready to build an accessible educational infrastructure at your university? Section 508 provides some guidance, but remember to define what success will look like. Start small and employ the wisdom of others. Begin by checking out some of our linked resources.


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