This webinar features four accessibility specialists who discuss critical issues facing higher ed and share effective practices and available resources for creating accessible institutional infrastructures that support student and faculty success in online education.
Director | Pennsylvania State University Office for Disability Services
California Community Colleges High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU)
CEO | Equal Access to Software & Information (EASI)
Executive Director | Jernigan Institute, National Federation of the Blind
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.
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.
3PLAY MEDIA: Which accessibility laws and technical standards do you look to when developing an accessibility policy?
GAEIR DIETRICH: That’s a really good question. What I’ve been talking about a lot with my campuses is this intersection of access and accommodations.
Let me define my terms. When I’m talking about access, I’m talking about infrastructure. I’m talking about the general, overall access to electronic and information technology, a la Section 508.
I recognize that most states and most colleges do not have to conform to Section 508, because it is federal law. Only about a dozen states have actually taken on the procurement part of it. Most states have not. So it’s not necessarily a legal mandate.
On the other hand, accommodation is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Also, Title 2 and Title 3 of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) depending on if you’re private or public. Those are very specific in requiring you to meet the individual needs of the individual students. I’m referring to that as accommodation.
In terms of web standards, I usually recommend that people go with W3C, because even though the Section 508 standards are slightly different, one of the big things that it’s intended to do is to bring the web standards in alignment with the international web standards. So that’s where we point them.
3PLAY MEDIA: When colleges and universities are developing an accessibility policy, does it always make sense to have one overarching accessibility policy? Or are there cases where individual campuses need to have their own?
GAEIR DIETRICH: I think whenever you’re looking at the question of policy; you have to look to campus culture. You can have the best policy in the world, but if nobody’s following it and taking it down to the level of implementation, it doesn’t do you any good. So you need to have a policy that works, so that you can actually develop procedures around and assign individual job tasks. So all of that really depends a lot on campus culture and how the campus is structured.
I think it’s good to have a general overall policy, because you’re going to get more traction on actually creating accessibility, especially if you have buy-in from top administration. We’ve had a lot of feedback from people who try to work bottom-up, and it doesn’t really tend to work very well. After that, there may need to be some individual variations depending on the particular school or division.
3PLAY MEDIA: Are there some institutions that universities across the country should be looking to as the model for implementing their own video accessibility strategies?
GAEIR DIETRICH: I would definitely highlight the Cal States. The California State Universities have done a lot of work from the chancellor’s office level with their technology initiative. I think that they have a lot that they could offer for people to learn from. Penn State is another really good one to learn from. They did have the OCR (Office of Civil Rights) complaint that was pretty broad and sweeping in the changes they needed to make. They’ve made a lot of those, starting at the highest level.
3PLAY MEDIA: How does budget enter the equation with respect to accessibility? How do campuses prioritize initiatives with budget in mind?
GAEIR DIETRICH: When people first start looking at this issue, they tend to get into a rather digital mindset. It’s all or nothing, it’s either turned on or it’s turned off, like a light switch. They don’t see how it’s a continuum. Providing a base level and adding on individual accommodations is a lot less expensive…. because with accommodations, essentially it’s a one-off. It’s just like having a custom-built pair of shoes, as opposed to being able to buy the shoes off the rack.
Under Section 508, whenever you’re purchasing any sort of technology, you need to make sure that it is accessible. In the early days, a lot of people were actually building specific computers so that you could put JAWS or another screen reader onto them. That was very expensive and very time-consuming. So make sure your basic infrastructure is as accessible as it can be. Put into place some analysis of what you’re buying, and why.
The US Patent and Trade Office, who’s the poster child for the federal government in Section 508, found that, in the first year that they fully implemented the Section 508 buying strategies, they actually saved over a million dollars.
Providing as much of an accessible infrastructure as you can, and then fulfilling individual student needs with accommodation as necessary is really the best way to lower your costs. Budget is important. Even more important is having the accessibility knowledge, strategy, and policy.
3PLAY MEDIA: There’s a lot of talk about reactive versus proactive captioning. What’s your view on that?
GAEIR DIETRICH: The first strategy: ask, is there something available that’s already captioned? Consider that there might be five different videos on a particular topic and we could look at the one that’s already captioned. We could just purchase that one, since they’re not really that different.
But what you’re asking is, should we have it captioned ahead of time, or should we wait for a request? I tell my campuses to do a usage analysis.
If it’s something used in a core class that everybody has to take, like English 1A or US History, for instance, or if it’s mandatory, that is a case where a lot of people are going to see it. So caption it proactively.
If you have something that has very low usage or isn’t mandatory or hasn’t been checked out from the library in five years, wait until somebody requests it and then have it captioned.
3PLAY MEDIA: As you know, captioning has a lot of benefits beyond accessibility. It makes video searchable, more navigable and usable, and helps with comprehension. Do you feel that people are becoming aware of those benefits? Is that helping to get more content captioned?
GAEIR DIETRICH: I think your first point is what’s going to drive it. Searchability. Anybody who’s ever sat down with a collection of tapes knows how daunting it is to try and figure out what each is.. You have to open every one. You have to watch at least part of it. Instead, if you’ve got the text, you can just quickly search videos.
But whenever I’m doing presentations, I do push that it helps everyone to learn. There have been studies done that have shown that for all of us, when you’re in a situation where you’re learning new vocabulary, it really helps to be able to see it and hear it at the same time.
Say you’re sitting there in your very first anthropology class, and you hear about Australopithecus, and you’re like, what? Whereas, if you can see it at the same time, it’s just going to make it a whole lot easier for you to comprehend it.
3PLAY MEDIA: What have been some of the main objections to captioning content?
GAEIR DIETRICH: Well, surprisingly, there’s been more than I would have expected. Some people have said, I don’t want to have captions, because I think they’re distracting. To which we say, well, you only have to turn them on if there’s a request for them. You need to have them, but you don’t have to turn them on. That’s the wonderful thing about closed captions, you can turn them on and off. For other people, it’s mostly the expense or the time involved.
3PLAY MEDIA: Is it better to provide captions on a centralized basis or on a department-by-department basis?
GAEIR DIETRICH: I definitely think you get economies of scale by doing it on a centralized basis. Imagine you have people all across the country who are captioning the same videos. There would be a lot of savings if we could share the transcript and the timestamped file.
Those buying captions get to have that economy of scale, because the most expensive things are creating the captions and then doing the timestamping. After that, it’s really pretty simple.
So it really does make a lot of sense to push for larger and larger consortia of very different sorts working together to solve this captioning issue.
Also, it’s not that expensive for the content producers to add captions in the first place. It doesn’t cost them a whole lot more than it costs us to add captions. They can add another nickel per video, and it would just be better all the way around if that were to happen. Unfortunately, I have not seen any real push for that at a national level.
3PLAY MEDIA: Great point. Well, this has been really helpful. Thank you so much, Gaeir.
GAEIR DIETRICH: You’re very welcome.
Video accessibility in higher education is a confusing issue for many. This is compounded by the use of sophisticated equipment in the classroom and society’s rapid adoption of new technologies. While students and faculty excitedly embrace technology to communicate and learn at a faster rate, many do not realize that disabled individuals are fighting to keep pace. This problem can be as deep and far-reaching as the university, making accessible learning structures positively overwhelming. How can universities rise to the challenge so learning communities continue to thrive?
Below is a summary of our interview.
3PLAY MEDIA: As a follow up to the webinar, at Penn State, which laws and standards do you look to when you’re developing the accessibility policy?
BILL WELSH: It really depends on which part of the policy you’re talking about. The overarching laws, versus the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Amendment Act of 2008 (ADAAA), provide for equal access, equal opportunity and reasonable accommodations. Standards are totally different. Do you mean the standard for technology?
3PLAY MEDIA: So for example, are you referencing WCAG 2.0, Section 508 and 504?
BILL WELSH: Well, it all kind of goes together and it’s all kind of gray. But let me try to make it a little bit less gray.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is also the precursor to the ADA. It indicates that we must provide equal access for those that receive federal funding. The ADA and ADAAA use the same definition definition as 504 of who is covered as having a disability. That would be the person with a physical or emotional impairment limiting their life activity. Then the ADA changed the definition to be a little bit broader, in 2008. We try to stay away from the legal issues and of look more towards doing the right thing.
3PLAY MEDIA: A lot of states have mirrored legislation similar to federal legislation. Does that enter into the equation at all?
BILL WELSH: It does. Well, it depends on which law is more stringent, so it can depend on the state. For example, California has 508 standards mirroring the federal laws but every city might be a bit different. We all have to follow the federal guidelines, especially institutions of higher education.
508 is great for some technologies, but the standards haven’t changed to meet technology standards. I think on the federal level 508 is going to more closely match the WCAG guidelines in the future.
WCAG is just the standard, and 508 is a law. Again, you can follow every standard you possibly can. That doesn’t mean it’s usable by a person with a disability and accessible.
3PLAY MEDIA: You mentioned in the webinar you have formed an accessibility consortium with the Big 10. Could you tell us a little bit more in terms of what you guys are doing with accessibility strategy?
BILL WELSH: The group we’re members of is the CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) and it includes the Big 10 institutions plus the University of Illinois, Chicago. We’ve been meeting collectively on assistive technology and adaptive technology on a grassroots level for the last seven or eight years. From that group formed another group called the Information Technology Accessibility Group, or ITAG. Their charge is to look at: how can we collectively make changes to accessibility technology and policy procedures at all of our institutions? Share resources, best practices, and trainings.
For example, how do we all handle captioning at our institutions? What models are working? How can we collectively use our information to get captioning on a larger scale at a lower cost and still do it in a way that’s easy for faculty and our web developers.
3PLAY MEDIA: Fantastic. So what are your thoughts to captioning reactively versus proactively?
BILL WELSH: It’s a nightmare. Just from the disability’s standpoint, when a student enters a course and the media, multimedia and DVDs are not captioned, oftentimes we don’t know. Of course we know what classes our students who are deaf or hearing impaired are scheduled for, but they might change a class, just like any other student and then where does that leave us? A student shouldn’t have to worry about that.
It also becomes a problem on our online courses because we have people from all over the world taking our online courses. We have over 10,000 students enrolled. We’ve decided to tackle a lot of these standards online first. If you could make the standards work in a small environment we can then broaden those requirements elsewhere.
So we’re trying to make sure our media is captioned. Because that is where a lot of our students who are hearing impaired are going.
3PLAY MEDIA: How do you prioritize different disability initiatives?
BILL WELSH: I think each institution is very different. I can only speak at Penn State. We’re seeing a lot of our departments and colleges doing things more proactively and budgeting for captioned media within their own college. Plus there’s that piece I mentioned today. Most research shows people without disabilities use the captioning. So why not go ahead and caption it if you can afford it? But again, you can, you have to prioritize what things you’re going to caption first. If it’s a 1912 movie nobody’s going to view, there’s no reason to caption unless somebody requests it. But if it’s something that’s going to be shown and broadcast across the university, definitely it has to be captioned.
3PLAY MEDIA: Do you feel faculty and administrators are becoming more aware of the benefits of captioning beyond accessibility? Improved searchability? Search engine optimization? Usability?
BILL WELSH: Yeah, we cover it in our trainings. Accessibility for some disabilities, like color blindness, clears up issues a lot of people might have. Visual issues that is. Some things may work better on a mobile app. Sites that can enlarge on a small screen; those are things that help everybody.
My opinion on disability is: if everybody can use it, why not do it? It’s just like the door operators we see at grocery stores. 20 years ago, it was not the norm. Now we just take it for granted.
3PLAY MEDIA: Are there any institutions you look to as a model when implementing accessibility strategies?
BILL WELSH: We’ve looked and benchmarked at lots of different institutions. Cal State, because they’ve been doing this a long time, is a leader. I think George Mason University is a leader in some of the things.
What I have found though, even with Penn State, there are gaps. There are things I think we could do much better but part of the problem is we’re constantly chasing our tail with technology. Just when you think you have it, something changes and then, you don’t.
That’s just the basis of technology. I think the important thing is institutions have mechanisms and people responsible in place to figure out how to fix those.
3PLAY MEDIA: Couldn’t have said it better. Well Bill, I think that wraps up things for us. I wanted to thank you again for your time. I think that people reading this will get value out of it.
BILL WELSH: Well thank you, I appreciate it. Thank you to 3Play Media for co-sponsoring the webinar. I think it was really helpful to a lot of people based upon the response.