The Long Road from Reactive to Proactive: Developing an Accessibility Strategy
Implementing accessibility policies in higher education is no easy task. For many, it is easy to get caught in a cycle of reactive accommodation where larger accessibility policies are never implemented. Korey Singleton, the Assistive Technology Initiative Manager at George Mason University, walks you through their two-year process of moving from reactive solutions to proactive accessibility policies.
Implementing accessibility policies in higher
education is no easy task. For many, it is easy to get caught in a cycle of reactive accommodation where larger accessibility policies are never implemented. So how do you transition from reactive policies to proactive policies?
Korey Singleton, the Assistive Technology Initiative Manager at George Mason University, will walk you through their two-year process of moving from reactive solutions to proactive accessibility policies. His own experience with how difficult it can be to shift campus climate and administrative support towards proactive accessibility is incredibly useful for other universities struggling with the same thing. His detailed presentation will provide insight into how George Mason has overcome these challenges and developed a proactive approach to accessibility. Topics covered include:
- Collaborative strategies for campus-wide IT accessibility
- Strategies for getting faculty to use and create accessible material
- George Mason’s accessibility policies & recent updates
- Workflow, collaboration, and policy recommendations
- Resources for accessibility training and testing
- Analysis of completed accessible media requests by fiscal year
Assistive Technology Initiative Manager | George Mason University
Marketing Manager | 3Play Media
Webinar Q&A: Web Accessibility in Higher Education
Below is an abridged transcript of the audience questions and Korey’s responses.
Does George Mason University have an escalation or exception process for the final decision to go or not go with a piece of accessible technology, based on other business needs?
- KOREY SINGLETON: Yes. We do have a template that we work off of.
We’ve been on a panel where we’ve had a complete change in student email. We had to decide: do you go with Google or Microsoft Office? And we fought for Microsoft Office because it was more accessible. It was the same for faculty and staff, when they went to make a change to the email system.
So yeah, those battles we will fight. If we’re talking about a database in an office where you have 5-10 staff members who access it, none of whom have a disability, then you’ve got to pick your battles. We will still provide a risk analysis and recommendations, but it really is your decision how to proceed.
My office cannot determine what’s best for your business need. But we’ve told you what’s wrong and you decide what to do about it.
More about the George Mason captioning process. Could you talk a little bit about how much of your recorded video you’re transcribing or if new online courses are required to have transcripts and captions prior to their launch?
- KOREY SINGLETON: We partner with the Distance Education office. They have specific times during the year when they are reviewing new courses for a number of things, accessibility being one of them. Before those courses can go live, they need to ensure their content is accessible.
When the pilot goes out, if the videos aren’t captioned, the DE Office identifies those issues and then points them to our office. From there, we work with them to get their stuff captioned.
As far as our captioning process as a whole, we’ve set it up so that faculty and staff can make the request. For compliance, most of it comes through the Office of Distance Education. We also receive a lot of requests from faculty working with instructional designers who suggested captioning.
We receive a number of requests through the Office of Disability Services. We partner with the deaf and hard of hearing services coordinator to identify changes to make content more accessible. It’s a bit larger than just captioning.
At the beginning or prior to the beginning of each semester, the Office of Disability Servies sends out emails to inform faculty if they have a blind, low vision, deaf or hard of hearing student in their course. That begins the conversation about getting a video captioned.
Our accommodations numbers have grown, as that’s been pushed more and more out of the Office of Disability Services. The same is true for document accessibility.
First, we were looking at blind and low vision, but we learned quickly that the low vision students really don’t come to us. For the most part, if they can magnify it, they’ll magnify it on their own, work through whatever issue. They really only come to us if there’s a really significant issue.
Our blind students are the ones who experience the most challenges. It may be three students. It may be five students. But you’re looking at roughly anywhere from 12 to 20 faculty members who may need help with documents. And so for that, we support them with document accessibility.
As far as captioning, students will point out things sometimes. But the students don’t always want to rock the boat, because they don’t want to get on the bad side of a faculty member who’s in the process of determining their grades going forward.
Why did you face copyright issues with YouTube but not with Kaltura?
- KOREY SINGLETON: It’s a lot easier. Issues still exist around Kaltura. But the library is able to adjust the guidelines.
The other thing is Kaltura is a closed system. It’s not open to anybody other than the faculty member and the students who are going to be using it in that particular course. So you can really close things down. It’s not open to the public.
One copyright issue is that we were getting requests for library content that wasn’t captioned. It could be an old resource,or it was just never captioned. So we took that library resource and posted it on YouTube, in some cases, very early on.
Even though our channel was unlisted so that it wasn’t seen to anybody other than the person who had access to that link, YouTube would flag it for copyright violation. That blocked a lot of our content. And it was legitimate. We had a film and video studies course or something like that where they used a lot of video clips. It was a faculty member who was lecturing in the video, but he used a lot of the clips from different movies.
And all those videos, even though they were developed by GMU-TV, great videos, they were flagged on YouTube as copyrighted, so we couldn’t host is on our channel. For a while, we couldn’t stream his content because we didn’t have Kaltura at that time. We only had YouTube or Vimeo — and that was prior to Vimeo even offering the ability to add captions or subtitles.
Copyright is less of a challenge now because we have a closed system and you can control who sees the content.
Are you offering any incentives to faculty to make their sites accessible?
- KOREY SINGLETON: The incentive, at this time, is to make things easier.
One of things we learned early on is that nobody has it out for individuals with disabilities. They’re not trying to deny access purposefully. But you can’t put in place processes that make it difficult for faculty members to do things.
If I’m here to teach history, I am here to teach history. If I’m here to do research and teaching is kind of a side thing, then that’s what I’m here to do. I don’t want to learn how to remediate a Word document. I don’t want to learn how to caption a video. (And I’m saying that generally.) That’s kind of the attitude that we would get.
I understand that attitude because it’s asking them to do something above and beyond what they’re used to. So how do we put in place processes that make it easy for you to do things?
We wrote a proposal. The university backed it, gave us some money, and said, OK, we’ll centralize captioning out of your office. We put in place a web-based process that said, all you have to do is fill out a form and give us a link to your videos. We’ll take care of it for you. And people bought in because it was easy for them to do.
We’re trying to figure out a way to do that, on a broad scale, with documents, because I think if you do that, people will buy in. We’re finding that the faculty members, certainly the faculty members who have a blind student in their course and are really overwhelmed when that first day of class starts, especially if their documents aren’t accessible, they’ll buy into that. They’ll show up.
How do you prioritize courses for accessibility?
- KOREY SINGLETON: Priority is for students who have a documented hearing impairment in the course and need videos captioned. We’ll do those first.
After that, it pretty much falls to compliance for Distance Education courses, because there is a specific timeline that they follow. And then there’s compliance for face-to-face courses, but that’s less than 1% of everything we’ve done. Those folks just don’t show up for compliance purposes. So we need to figure out better strategies to reach those people.
After that we addressed compliance for websites. One of the other strategies that we have going forward is to put language on university websites that basically says, if you need this content captioned, contact our office. It’s very difficult for us to find everything that needs remediation. Content changes all the time. So it helps to get notified what captions are needed.
We put in place guidelines, e.g., if a video is captioned, you need to use that video for at least a year. We’ll give you a copy of the text file, but it has to be used in a GMU website or in a classroom. We can also take that content and use it for courses that they may be teaching other places.
Importantly, we identified that the ownership of captioned video is with Mason. We paid for the hard work of captioning it, so we want to keep that content at Mason.
In short, priority is for accommodation, then DE compliance, then face-to-face classes, and then websites.
How did you get your provost and other key higher up players to agree to endorse your process?
- KOREY SINGLETON: Our office used to be called the Office of Equity and Diversity Services. When the director came in, he had a background in dealing with compliance for the NCAA, so they ended up giving compliance duties to our office.
Another thing we piggybacked off of is a scenario like this:
You would go in into classrooms and say, “I need you to caption your videos” or “I need you to make your document accessible.” And the faculty member says, “well, how many students does that affect?”
From there, we steer the discussion away from immediate accommodation to thinking down the road about accessibility and just about being more inclusive.
When we changed the conversation to compliance, our VP at the time was very supportive of that. He wasn’t comfortable, necessarily, speaking about accessibility with the folks on the exec counsel. He would pull me into the meeting with the provost or the deans and directors to help guide the conversation.
That was extremely helpful. It went a long way.
So if you have a higher up who’s supportive of what you do and they have a role on those committees that make broad-reaching decisions, those are the people who really advance the discussion.