Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pulse of Higher Education Accessibility

I found this article Patterns in Higher Education Accessibility Complaints very interesting in respect to where we are right now with providing accessible electronic and information resources (EIR), academic services, and other services across all institutions of higher education. This is not an exhaustive list, but it gets to the issues most complained about across our campuses nationally.

Two resources he mentioned about litigation with higher education were also included:
Again, none of these are exhaustive. I mentioned in a past article the National Association of the Deaf is attempting a class-action lawsuit, filing two first against Harvard and MIT on lack of appropriate closed captioning of online videos or educational materials. And more recently, the United States Department of Justice is involved in a blind student's lawsuit with Miami University (Ohio - not Florida) over inaccessible software.

This brings me to an important aspect to my duties as the EIR Accessibility Coordinator. The first list of complaints mentions issues that may need the attention of different accessibility coordinators on Tarleton's campus. For example, I do not personally handle issues related to academic courses and test taking. Students are asked to contact Center for Access and Academic Testing (CAAT) for assistance in these areas. Faculty and staff can contact Employee Services for assistance getting assistive technology in their work environment. However, my list of duties as Tarleton's EIR Accessibility Coordinator are defined by the Texas Department of Information Resources. Generally speaking, it involves checking all our electronic and information resources for compliance with accessibility standards as well as any we have yet to procure for university use and training those who create EIR content as well as resolving any issues that come up.

Procurement is a big issue because pretty much everything we buy has some EIR aspect to it and has to be upgraded and maintained in ways that keep them compliant or improve their compliance. The following electronic and information resources must be reviewed for compliance with accessibility standards:
  • Web Applications and Software (e.g., websites Tarleton uses, email, TexanSync, mobile apps)
  • Software Applications (e.g., Microsoft Office and Outlook, Adobe Creative Suite)
  • Operating Systems (e.g., Windows, Mac, Android)
  • Telecommunications (e.g., phones)
  • Videos/Multimedia (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo)
  • Self Contained (e.g., copy/fax cachines, laboratory equipment)
  • Desktop/Portable/Mobile Computers (e.g., Apple iPad, Microsoft Surface)
That is a huge list and not even a comprehensive one! That's obviously more than I can juggle along with my primary job position as Web Designer / Developer. Some of these issues are actually checked by other organizations that assist accessibility coordinators in determining accessibility. Organizations like Knowbility (where I just recently attended a conference) assist all of us in training vendors who provide these kind of EIR as part of their business. In fact, one of the vendors on the most recent lawsuit was there (another didn't tell me who they worked for) to learn how to make their products accessible.

The point I'm trying to make here is that not all software is accessible - nowhere near that. However, with everyone's assistance and open communication, we can all become more compliant and avoid these lawsuits that are starting to really pop up everywhere nowadays. People with disabilities have been aware of the laws that protect them from discrimination for a long time, but that "legal" word has not spread as it should and from their point of view, they've waited long enough for us to make certain changes to our processes, so they are no longer discriminated against.

As always, I will keep you informed of any changes to the laws and what we need to do to comply. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Open communication keeps us better prepared to handle these tough issues and determine our direction moving forward.

-Karole