The Secrets Behind UW’s Successful Accessibility Initiative

October 11, 2017 BY SOFIA ENAMORADO
Updated: March 16, 2021

Since 1984, the University of Washington’s (UW’S) accessibility task force has been working closely with departments and their faculty to educate and incorporate tools to facilitate classroom accessibility. UW’s vision is to “educate a diverse student body” that values “excellence, collaboration, innovation, and respect.”

The university takes a proactive approach to accessibility, encouraging content creators to make their content accessible before a request comes in.

UW is a video producing machine. Departments from all over use video to communicate, lecture, and entertain. With over 57 UW channels on Youtube, over 58,000 videos on Panopto, as well as videos in other mediums, the university has made a stringent effort to educate content creators on how to make this content accessible from the get-go.

Why is UW so passionate about accessibility?

Well, it begins with by the simple fact that it’s the right thing to do. As a public university, they have a responsibility to ensure their content can be accessed by the masses.

To shape their accessibility policy, UW relies on federal laws, DOJ and OCR resolutions, and the annual EDUCAUSE IT report to ensure no essential elements of accessibility are overlooked.

As a result, when it comes to shaping an accessibility-focused culture on campus, UW has become an emblem for other universities.

Why did UW decided to be proactive with captioning?

UW’s approach to accessibility is simple: be proactive.

So naturally, when it comes to captioning content, UW encourages content creators to caption anything they create for the benefit of making it accessible right now.

UW also recognizes that captioned content is not just a benefit for deaf or hard of hearing students, it’s a benefit for all students.

Captions benefit many people like...people who are deaf or hard of hearing, people who aren't proficient in the spoken language of the video, people who benefit from multi-modal communication, people with limited internet bandwidth, people the go, people with limited time.

It’s hard to truly know who is viewing your content, where they are viewing your content, or why they are viewing your content. Yet, it’s important to design your content so that it can be universally accessed.

At the core of their efforts, UW believes that the benefits that captions bring for others outweigh the initial investment you need to make to create more accessible content.

Whose responsible for making content accessible at UW?

At UW accessibility starts with the content creator.

Video owners and producers are encouraged to make their content accessible before they release it to the public. To facilitate this process, UW has two offices in place that are in charge of captioning and describing content: the Disability Resource for Students and the Disability Services Office.

Both of these offices provide similar services to students and staff. They are expected to provide funding and support for captioning and audio description as an accommodation when requested.

Separate to these two offices is the Accessible Technology Services (ATS) office, which offers an internal grant for high impact videos, as well as training and support for faculty and staff.

how UW's ATS helps create a more accessible campus. Support, offer online and in-person one to one support for people with questions on how to caption in various areas like Facebook or Panapto. Training offer group training that focus on accessibility in all areas, not just captioning. grant, offer captioning grant for faculty and staff to receive money to caption high impact videos for free.

How is UW funding captioning?

UW’s internal grant offers faculty and staff money for captioning high impact videos.

High impact videos are classified as highly visible, highly used, and transferable (i.e. used in multiple classes).

The application is simple. Content creators answer a couple questions via a survey and then wait for the ATS to accept or decline the request. If accepted, the typical turnaround is between 1-2 weeks.

Via UW IT, ATS was able to allocate $60,000 for the grant, which has lasted them well over a year.

UW's Captioning Grant $60,000 allocated to provide free captioning for uni staff. to apply content creators must answer a simple survey about their video. high impact videos are prioritized. if the request is accepted the video will be returned within 1-2 weeks. once the process is complete, ATS offers the requester guidance and training for captioning future videos. where does the funding for the grant come from? initially from UW's IT, but ATS is planning to reach out to Provost Office to see if this can become a permanent resource.
In 2016, the University Marketing and Communications Group received money from the grant to creatively caption their #BestofUW 2016 video. Since the video is a high-profile, public facing video, it was granted funding for captioning through the grant.

How is UW adding description?

As with captioning videos, UW tries to be proactive with their audio description efforts.

UW prioritizes high impact content for description. Examples of such content include marketing videos, viral videos, and sports videos.

UW describes video two ways through outsourcing and DIY.

To decide on the best method, the content creator must answer two questions:

  • Does this video need audio description?
  • How much audio description does this video need?

So if it’s a lecture video, and the instructor has done a good job of describing what he is drawing on the board, the video wouldn’t need description. But if it’s a marketing video with only music and pictures, then the video would need to be described so that the consumer can know what is happening in the video along with the music.

In general, videos that require a lot of audio description are outsourced to a professional, those that are simpler to describe are DIY’d.

Do IT yourself audio description. Create a timed text file, You can use any captioning tool like or the NCAM Caption and Description Editing Tool. Save as a WebVTT file, WebVTT allows for description and metadata information to be included within the frames. This information is not displayed to the viewer. Add it to an HTML5 web page. Use the track tag for description, specifying the kind. Play the video on the Able Player. Most video players don't support audio description or secondary tracks. The Able Player is a free, open source, HTML 5 media player that does.

Since most video players don’t support audio description tracks, UW has created a video platform that does called the Able Player. The Able Player supports HTML elements that allow you to assemble your captions into an interactive transcript, post separate audio tracks for audio description, and use YouTube videos.

So whether you outsource your content or DIY it, the Able Player is a great tool to help share the most accessible content!

Reaching full compliance is a process

UW’s accessibility initiative didn’t happen overnight. It was a process that took a lot of research, drafting, testing, and feedback.

Every school is different, but the most important thing is to find a solution that fits your needs and then slowly implementing solutions that will lead towards full compliance.

Ultimately, UW came up with a strategy that works for them, but that they are also constantly reviewing and reassessing as new technologies and policies emerge.

Watch the webinar, ‘Video Accessibility at the University of Washington,’ below to learn other secrets of UW’s success in accessibility.


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