The Secrets Behind UW’s Successful Accessibility Initiative
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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