Bridging the Accessibility Gap: Improving Communication and Collaboration with Faculty

When it comes to accessibility at your institution, how confident are you that administration, faculty, and disability services are all on the same page?

Utah Valley University’s (UVU) Accessibility Services Department is working to promote universal access for all students by tying accessibility for students with disabilities to the university’s Inclusion Initiative action plan.

Based on a campus-wide faculty survey at UVU, this session will strategize ways to get buy-in from the top down by getting familiar with institutional and departmental goals, clearly demonstrating the close connection between accessibility and fulfillment of those goals, and understanding it’s not always what we say but how we say it that matters most.

This presentation will cover:

  • How to alleviate faculty concerns regarding accessible curriculum
  • How to tie accessibility to institutional and departmental goals
  • What to say and how to say it to get buy-in from the top down

Presenters

Laura Loree
Accessibility Services Counselor | Utah Valley University

Patrick Loftus (Moderator)
Marketing Assistant | 3Play Media


Webinar Q&A: Bridging the Accessibility Gap

Bridging the gap between faculty, administration, and the disability services office can be a challenge, especially at a large institution. At Utah Valley University (UVU), the Accessibility Services Department is working to close that gap through an Inclusion Initiative action plan to build stronger connections around campus.

In this snippet from the Q&A portion of the webinar, Laure Loree, Accessibility Services Counselor at UVU, provides insight into the best practices for building effective relationships between the disability office, faculty, students, and the administration.

What was your strategy for obtaining buy-in from leadership?

LAURA LOREE: I’d love to say that there was this really well-planned-out strategic way that we got to him [leadership], but actually, he had done a workshop on inclusion during a week in the summer. We do a summer university, where the faculty and the staff can go. And we have a day of personal development workshops and a day of professional development workshops.

And he did one on the inclusion plan, and I had attended it, and I was asking him some questions about what the inclusion plan had to say about students with disabilities. And that piggy-backed into him catching me after the workshop and asking me some questions about how well we were doing in terms of including our students with disabilities. And that piggy-backed into him giving me a 20-minute shot to plead my case.

You’re not just serving students with disabilities when you do these things. You’re serving all students, lots of different populations across our campus.

And so I went in with just a bullet point talking list sheet that he had a copy of, and I talked about including students with disabilities and inclusion and how creating accessible websites and captioning videos and all the different things that we advocate for our students with disabilities, how they helped other student populations as well, that it wasn’t just about disability.

The typical response when you ask for services for students with a disability is, they’re worried about the cost versus the percentage of the student population they’re serving. And so I wanted to make sure they understood that you’re not just serving students with disabilities when you do these things. You’re serving all students, lots of different populations across our campus.

That piggy-backed into a meeting between the inclusion specialist, our associate vice president of student life, my director, and myself in which we decided to establish our campus-wide access committee. And we have made sure that all key players in accessibility across campus are involved.

We have tried to make sure, in as many cases as possible, that we’re dealing with directors and VPs and people who really have the authority to move forward the things we’re talking about in that committee, and that they’re not just going to stop at the door when people go back to their departments and colleges.

And that has been very enlightening. About the time that we actually started meeting as a committee, the University of Miami letters came out, which definitely got the attention of the VPs co-chairing the committee. And we’ve used that as a talking point and an educational point so that all the key players across campus start to understand exactly what’s going to be expected of us as we move forward on the accessibility piece.

What’s your policy on third-party video content that a professor might show in class like a YouTube video that might not be compliant or uncaptioned?

LAURA LOREE: Our policies on captioning are in transition. Our web people have managed to acquire some budget funds. And they are now saying anything that goes onto our public-facing web page or anything that’s currently on there by the end of this web audit will have to be captioned. And they are doing that through Captura.

My understanding right now is we’re still doing a lot of ad hoc captioning in the classroom for those third party. We are working on training. We have some people who are captioning the ad hoc.

Anything that goes onto our public-facing web page or anything that’s currently on there by the end of this web audit will have to be captioned.

That said, you all know that there’s probably been a number or more [of third-party videos] that have started to be used that we weren’t notified about, but we’re working on educating on that. We have those catalogued, and they are going through when they have downtime and captioning those as we can, trying to get them moving forward. They’re kind of prioritized. I’m not sure what system they use.

We all know it can get a little expensive, and so they’re trying to find the funding to make sure that we can start to contract some of that out as well. But we do have some people on our campus who are working towards getting those done in the meantime as well.

Can you discuss the relationship between the online learning teams and your office?

LAURA LOREE: The online learning teams that’s a piece that we’re really building that collaboration. That’s coming through that campus-wide access committee and through the work group that’s working on those trainings. There is a good deal of collaboration between the gentleman in our office who is in charge of all of our captioning and one of the key players over there in instructional design that are working together on the captioning piece.

And that’s now expanding as we look at making sure that whatever documents get loaded are accessible, that we’re making sure that the way we design the platforms for online courses, are done in a way that’s accessible, that alt tags are meaningful and useful, that color contrast is accessible as well.

We’re working together through those two vehicles. And my usual experience with UVU as those connections start to happen is that it becomes an ongoing collaboration that expands beyond those committees as well.

With instructors, when we talk about that, we try to explain the student has a functional limitation that creates this circumstance or that circumstance. We try to explain to them why we’ve approved that accommodation for the student without giving away diagnoses. And then we make sure they understand that we understand too that there’s limits, so we need you to tell us where your concerns are. And we try to collaborate with them around the specific concerns.

My usual experience with UVU as those connections start to happen is that it becomes an ongoing collaboration that expands beyond those committees as well.

And sometimes what we come down to is the student has to make some tough decisions sometimes, and sometimes we’re able to work with an instructor who says, well, if it’s this, I can work with that. The really tough ones are our participation-based classes, guest lecture series, physical education classes. We do have an exercise science, and we have dance programs, performing arts programs that are strongly participation-based. And those get really tricky. We just take each individual case, each individual situation, and try to do the best we can to mitigate and to minimize.

How do you encourage proud or silent students with disabilities who might not approach your department to speak with your department?

LAURA LOREE: We have a lot of instructors who are really good about, if they see a student struggling, they’ll make some referrals that will include our tutoring labs and our learning strategists and Accessibility Services, and encourage them to contact us. They’ll kind of disclose that there’s maybe something going on, and they’ll send them right down to our office, so we can have a conversation with them.

In terms of the student who maybe has already identified themselves to us and is a little bit proud or a little bit self-conscious about asking for help, I tend to approach it in terms of, you know what? My job is one where I don’t always get immediate gratification.

So if you need something specific, and I can solve that, let me feel good about my job. Don’t feel bad about asking for help. And that has worked with some of them by spinning it and saying, do me a favor. Let me know what you need.