Q&A: Creating an Accessible Campus at Wichita State University

March 28, 2018 BY PATRICK LOFTUS

In April 2016, Wichita State University (WSU) received an OCR complaint. After a few months, WSU entered into an agreement with the National Federation of the Blind to make their student-facing educational technology accessible by 2020.

Almost two years later, WSU is becoming an outstanding model of campus accessibility, with a plan of attack that demonstrates WSU will never put accessibility on the back burner again.

Michael Cole, Educational Accessibility Technologist at WSU, recently led a webinar presentation about his institution’s progress since the complaint including new initiatives being enforced on campus, as well as future plans for accessibility on campus.

Read on for highlights from the Q&A session or watch the full presentation.

Do you get pushback from internal parties within the university at first?

MICHAEL COLE: There’s always going to be some kind of pushback. I think that’s expected. And in some ways, we are really asking our faculty, some of us who have been here for several decades, to really change the way that they’re doing things. And that can be very scary.

There’s always going to be some kind of pushback.

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Right now, because we don’t have to have these things fully set until 2020, we are just really focusing on creating a culture of teaching what accessibility is, why it’s important, and reinforcing for instructors that we’re not sitting here saying, you have to change everything. We’re sitting here saying, we want to show you how to do this as accessible as possible and what’s out there, what kind of resources can help you do that so that it’s not a huge shift in your preparation and materials that you’ve been using forever.

What tactics have you used with publishers and vendors who are not compliant?

MICHAEL COLE: Really, just almost kind of harassing them for certain things that we need — so VPATs, asking for those VPATs, asking questions about the VPATs when they don’t seem accurate, asking, very specific questions about which of your tools are not accessible, what are you going to do to fix these, and making it very clear to them come, at the very least, 2020, if this tool is not accessible, we will not be using it. We hopefully have an enforcement mechanism in place for that, but just making that clear to those publishers that it’s a financial bottom line for them.

Are faculty responsible for the accessibility of their materials?

MICHAEL COLE: So right now, I think that’s still something that’s kind of in flux with our face-to-face standards in particular. It just depends on what the department is and what the class is. I would say, overall, providing accessible materials will be the responsibility of the professor or of the instructor. But we are doing everything we can to get them information on how to do that. So whether or not it’s a service that can be provided — captioning images, or captioning videos, captioning audio, placing alt tags in images — we’re trying to find methods for that. We’ve looked into acquiring for the university a live-captioning service that would service all of the university. That would go back and caption all of our catalog of videos. So we are looking into ways that we can make it easier for everybody.

And then also training. So just providing training that says, if you’re reading a PowerPoint in your classroom, make sure that you describe the images to your class, whether you think you need to or not. Make sure that you are reading it word for word and then go on to kind of expand upon things for those students.

Are faculty who do not author accessible materials sanctioned?

MICHAEL COLE: So as far as this department is concerned (Instructional Design and Access), we were kind of lucky because we were given the go-ahead to say that “we cannot work with [inaccessible] materials,” which is not really the same thing, not really what you’re asking. But we have that power now to say if we know that a class is using particular materials or tools that are inaccessible, those either have to be remediated for us to continue working and continue moving forward with those or we have the option to say, we can’t. We have to step back because we know that these aren’t accessible.

And that’s always hopefully going to be the last straw or the last resort. But there’s not a sanction necessarily. Because this is a civil rights complaint, there’s not necessarily a sanction to produce anything that’s not accessible.

We’ve had a lot of just really, really surprisingly good initiative from people wanting to move forward and wanting to really do the right thing with all of this.

Do you use third-party vendors to audit your materials, products, and services against accessibility standards?

MICHAEL COLE: We do not. Like I mentioned, I know that we have spoken to some other institutions that went that route. We have chosen to do everything, at least at this point, internally. So our audit is run entirely by us, within this department. Like I said, I think that there are pluses and minuses to using external auditors. And again, like I said, I think that probably helps to build an inventory for the university. But as of right now, we are doing all of our auditing internally.

I would like to hear more about video captioning. So many universities have tons of videos out on YouTube with poor or no captioning. Who is managing this for Wichita State?

MICHAEL COLE: Again, that kind of falls into our inventory problem, which is that the university is such a big organism, it’s kind of like there’s this head and then there are all these different moving pieces. It’s so hard to know what everybody’s doing all at once. So we don’t really know, especially at this point, what all kind of video is out there. We have video that’s hosted through Panopto, which is really easy for us to go through. But then, of course, we have instructors who are creating videos for their classes and hosting them themselves through YouTube. And those are so far unaffiliated that we don’t really have any mechanism for tracking those down.

Ideally, there would be some way for us to catalog what videos every instructor is using every semester, and then we can kind of work through those and see if they have the captions and whether or not captions need to be provided for them. Right now — and I think a lot of other institutions are in the same boat — we’re kind of having to focus on what we can do going forward. So, for all video content created now and in the future, making sure that that’s all fully accessible before we stop and look back at the backlog. But I do know that that’s something we have talked a lot about that is a concern of ours, is making sure that all of that material gets looked at as well, hopefully.

What kind of partnership do you have with other departments that handle public-facing, non-educational portions of your website? And how is accessibility enforced sitewide?

MICHAEL COLE: We have a good relationship with all of those different departments. We have a marketing department, but a lot of our smaller organizations within the university have their own marketing teams. So for instance, like our student union has its own marketing. There’s just marketing that resides within those departments everywhere.

One of the really interesting things about this audit process has been that our response from department chairs and the people in control of that content has been really, really positive. So, we have actually worked with a lot of those marketers on saying, if you have this — maybe it’s a menu that goes out via email to the students — but it’s just an image that says, this week here are our specials, and it’s just images and pictures of words. We can go talk to them about saying, also create just a really simple text alternative that can be accessed by a screen reader.

We’ve had a lot of really good feedback.

We’ve had a lot of just really, really surprisingly good initiative from people wanting to move forward and wanting to really do the right thing with all of this.

I’m in a new position where I’m tasked to making our workshops and webinars fully accessible. Where can I find a list of best practices?

a world map with text: Download the White Paper, WCAG 2.0: Bringing Video Accessibility into the 21st Century
MICHAEL COLE: I would definitely say that the first thing that you could do — and this is across the board whether it relates to webinars or not — is fully familiarize yourself with WCAG standards. And again, there’s three levels of those, A, AA, AAA. I know that WCAG 2.1 is going to roll out sometime soon, so those standards will change a little bit. But I mean, that really is going to be your bible for all sorts of digital accessibility. And it covers everything from what kind of captions need to be there, whether it’s prerecorded or whether it’s live. I would just really familiarize yourself with that and get comfortable with being able to look at a tool and say, I can immediately tell that these are the options or these are the items that need to be looked at, whether that’s keyboard navigation, alternative description for certain items, captioning, that kind of thing.

How do you address software required for coursework that is not fully accessible?

MICHAEL COLE: Well that’s something that we’re still looking at. Our hope is that we know from a very first step, we will reach out to those publishers and say, this is the position that we’re in. We need anything that we get from you to be fully accessible, and hope that they take that to heart and hope that they work on that. But there’s only so much you can do with hope, especially with something like an OCR complaint.

So for items that are absolutely required, that there’s just no way around, there’s no alternative, they have to be there, then we start getting into an issue of, do we provide technical standards for those that say, students or learners in this course must be sighted or must be able to do this or must be able to do that. We’re not at that point yet of giving courses or departments certain technical standards, but those are discussions that are happening.

That, I think, always wants to be our last resort. If we can make something accessible, then we want to make it accessible. But again, with those third parties, it’s not in our hands necessarily.


Watch the full presentation below, Constantly Improving: Creating an Accessible Campus:

 

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