1999 Conference Proceedings

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DESIGNING FOR UNIVERSAL ACCESS: HOW TO COMMUNICATE THE CRITICAL INFORMATION TO YOUR CAMPUS

Ellen Cutler
High Tech Center Specialist
Santa Monica College
1900 Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Voice: 310-452-9267
Email: CUTLER_ELLEN@smc.edu
WWW: www.smc.edu 

Laurie Vasquez
Assistive Technology Specialist

Santa Barbara City College
721 Cliff Drive
Santa Barbara, CA 93109
Voice: (805) 965-0581 x2529
E-Mail: vasquez@sbcc.net 
WWW: www.sbcc.net 

Marcia Norris
Training Specialist/Instructor
High Tech Center Training Unit of
the California Community Colleges
21050 McClellan Road
Cupertino, CA 95014
Voice: (408) 996-4636
E-Mail: mnorris@ginko.htctu.fhda.edu 
WWW: www.htctu.fhda.edu

The purpose of this presentation is to provide professionals in educational settings with information regarding the new need to develop expertise and understanding in the just-emerging-as-necessary area: principles of universal design.

Background: Rapid Change

The explosive impact of the Internet has affected the way the world works. Online information and services can be utilized by anyone in the world having access to the internet. Access to information has never been so equitable.

However, access is not equitable for persons with disabilities who must use assistive technologies to access this new online world. A screen reader for persons who are blind cannot read pictures, but it can read a text description of the image if the page developer included it; deaf and the hard of hearing require closed captioning for multimedia; persons with learning disabilities may need a screen reader if their disability prevents them from reading efficiently. What is now needed is formal incorporation of universal design principles into instructional computing infrastructures and online and distance education courses. One of the most succinct definitions of universal design was made by Susan Brummel (1994) "Universal Design calls for the development of information systems flexible enough to accommodate the needs of the broadest range of users of computers and telecommunications equipment, regardless of age or disability."

Ironically, just as access to physical structures for persons with disabilities is now widespread, a new fundamental aspect of contemporary life is not fully accessible to persons with disabilities. This discrepancy in access is regarded by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) as violating Title II 28 C.F.R. 35.160 (a), of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) which requires public entities take steps to assure that communication with persons with disabilities is "as effective as" it is with persons who are not disabled. Currently there are a number of other forces also working to create the possibility of an equitably accessible web: a Department of Justice policy ruling which says that web access falls under the mandate of the ADA, the efforts of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which created the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), and the new 1998 revision of Section 508 to include access to information (e.g., the Web) as being equally as important as access to physical structures and settings, as well as recent letters of settlement from OCR.

Another force for change is the OCR (Department of Education) system-wide compliance review of the California Community Colleges regarding their provision of services for students with vision impairment. The effect of this compliance review is that the Chancellor's Office must now create strategies and policies to meet the expectations for current improvement and future planning as outlined in the 1998 compliance review finding regarding services for visually impaired students in the California Community Colleges.

A Fundamental Task:

Providing students with vision impairment with communication "as effective as" that for persons without disability is now a fundamental task being addressed by the California Community College system. The consummate efficiency of eliminating the shortcomings pinpointed by this compliance review will be that all persons, disabled or non-disabled, will benefit from the incorporation of universal design features into distance education, online instruction, campus web-sites, and commercially purchased software packages for instructional use.

Responding to the OCR opinion that any current monies being spent for future planning should have accessibility and universal design principles as required components for receipt of funds, the Chancellor's Office has made these elements weighted factors in applications for grant-funded monies. Additionally the High Tech Center Training Unit is now mandated to provide training for mainstream faculty, including library staff, in the basics of assistive technologies and accessible web design. Previously the Center's primary mandate was to train community college Disabled Student Programs and Services staff.

A New Expertise is Required for Educational Professionals

Understanding universal design principles is now a requisite for a responsible educational professional. An educator now must ask these questions: is commercially available software under evaluation for purchase accessible to students with disabilities; is the new campus web site being constructed according to universal design principles; is the new online class content in an accessible format?

How to Educate, Encourage and Engage Faculty and Staff: Two Solutions

Santa Barbara City College

Currently the Santa Barbara campus is in the process of developing institutional strategies to incorporate universal access into the campus infrastructure. The following is a brief list of activities which the High Tech Center Specialist found useful. Understanding basic computer access proved to be an important vehicle for creating staff awareness of larger issues involved in curricular access: e.g., web pages and online instruction. Useful activities: educating staff while serving on committees; building a collaborative consensus by networking with other; establishing known, set procedures with regard to provision of access technologies as well as for implementing computer access and web access; instructing other staff in assistive technologies and web access.

Recent activities involved working with a new Director of Educational Technology who is now able ask key questions of potential vendors regarding accessibility of software packages before purchase. As the first group of faculty prepared to teach online courses, the High Tech Center Specialist provided inservices regarding assistive technologies and principles of universal web page design.

Plans for the future include the development of more in-depth workshops and trainings in building on-line curriculum; on-going collaboration with the campus webmaster in development of campus web standards which incorporate universal design principles; and the introduction of mainstream students studying multimedia development to access technology requirements and universal design principles.

Santa Monica College

The High Tech Center Specialist is developing a two-part training in universal web access. The first part will define universal access, the barriers to achieving universal access, and solutions to overcoming the barriers. A demonstration of different assistive technologies to illustrate ways in which they cannot effectively deal with web-based ). Related to educational settings, they reinforce the ADA imperative of communication "as effective as" others for persons with disabilities.

Waddel, Cynthia. (1998) Applying the ADA to the Internet: a web accessibility standard http://www.rit.edu/~easi/law/weblaw1.htm (1998, December 11)

WebAble! (a Web directory for disability-related internet resources with a consistently current links related to web accessibility issues and resources) http://www.webable.com/ (1998, December 11)

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)(a group dedicated to developing universal design standards for the World Wide Web Consortium [W3C]) http://www.w3.org/Out-Of-Date/WAI/ (1998, December 11)


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