Q&A: Who Should Be Involved in Your Campus’ IT Initiative?

Updated: January 4, 2018

On-campus accessibility should be a campus-wide, shared responsibility, but it can be daunting to think about where to begin and who to involve. Most universities tend to take a reactive approach to accessibility initiatives, but is this the best method?

Rob Carr, Accessibility Coordinator at Oklahoma ABLE Tech, has been an influential force in implementing and managing Oklahoma ABLE Tech’s successful and ambitious project to bring greater accessibility into higher education. In the webinar entitled, Who Should Be Involved in Your Campus’ IT Initiative, Rob Carr took audience questions about how to establish a better mindset on campus and become proactive with accessibility initiatives. Read below for valuable tips, or watch the full webinar here.

Who do you think should take the lead when it comes to greater accessibility on campus—faculty, tech services, disability services, or others?

ROB CARR: In my opinion, it depends on the reach of those different groups. In general, what I advise folks to do is to look for an office that has reach across the different silos that tend to pop up on campuses, and can reach in and influence across an entire campus.

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Also, it needs to be some place that can’t just kind of nudge and cajole. It needs to be housed somewhere with a little bit of authority as well to make sure that things happen. I think that’s why an initiative like this often ends up in IT because they have a policy environment that might be a little stronger. Sometimes it’s in disability services. But I’ve also encountered institutions where disability services doesn’t really have the clout to bring a policy or any kind of real weight to an effort.

And they also may not have the reach. Sometimes disability services shops that I’ve worked with have been in student affairs and they haven’t been able to or don’t commonly work with someone like HR. So I think that, in general, again, you want to look at where is the office positioned? Where can it reach and what kind of influence can that particular department’s authority actually reach and influence things on campus?

How can you stop your organization from being reactive rather than proactive? For example, faculty who don’t want to work with us because of the hassle of converting content.

ROB CARR: It has a whole lot to do with leadership on campus. When these efforts begin grassroots and stay grassroots, I think you’re more likely to encounter something like that.

Where I have seen this situation described more often than not, is where it’s the instructional design group who has ended up being the home for all of the eggs. They’ve ended up being the basket with all the accessibility eggs. But they’re not in a position to really influence things more broadly on campus. And they run into exactly what’s described. So I think that speaks to the need for more people in leadership to be directly involved in this kind of conversation.

How do you respond to instructors that use academic freedom to justify not implementing accessible content?

ROB CARR: I think it’s going to depend slightly on the policy environment on your campus. One of the ways that I advocate to address that is to work toward a university policy that is really clear about commitment to accessibility and the distributed responsibility. I know from talking to a few institutions that implemented policies that it made those conversations a bit easier. I think that one of the ways to make the environment a little more open to it, as well, is to get your academic leadership very much on board.

When you’re making content more accessible, you’re putting it out there for everyone in a more accessible format as opposed to relying on accommodation.

Even with all of those things in place, I will say that I know that on several campuses that I talk to pretty regularly, there are still holdouts that just don’t do it. And no one has, to my knowledge, come up with the magic combination of carrots, sticks, or a magic wand to really force the issue. So I think that’s one of the ongoing challenges in terms of just meeting it more head-on.

As an example, one of the things that I will remind anyone of, anyone who builds digital spaces is that we’re not doing this for ourselves. We owe it to our students to make sure that we provide learning material that they can use. So it can work to come at it from that angle. But again, I don’t know that there is a set and defined way to just move the people who aren’t going to do it to a place where they will.

What are your observations of the practical synergies between diversity services and disability services?

ROB CARR: I am a very strong advocate for disability services to work with any kind of a diversity initiative on campus to get your disability student groups involved with whoever might be bringing those diversity efforts to bear. I strongly encourage that.

I know here in Oklahoma it was a really big conversation statewide in higher ed after an incident at one of the universities a couple of years back. They did things on campuses like create basically vice presidents of diversity at a couple of the institutions who have a charge to help to reach out to and work with the marginalized student groups.

So in my mind it’s a direct connection. And I would think that disability services, working with whoever is overseeing those efforts, it seems to me like it would bring the community of students, faculty and staff with disabilities into, again, this mainstream conversation about diversity that so many of the institutions are having. And I can’t see that slowing things down, personally. So far I haven’t really seen it tested. But I think it makes a lot of sense to try to align those.

What’s your personal approach to making digital material more accessible?

ROB CARR: When we talk about accessible digital material as opposed to an accommodation, it’s not really as focused on an individual’s needs. So when we talk about creating more accessible content, the idea is that it’s more accessible for everyone. And, ideally, then it’ll interact without a mouse. It’ll interact with a touch screen interface. It’ll interact with screen reader use, et cetera, et cetera. So that’s part of why I stand from the outside of disability services on this because when you’re making content more accessible, you’re putting it out there for everyone in a more accessible format as opposed to relying on accommodation.

Want to learn more? Watch the full webinar below!


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