2003 Conference Proceedings

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BEYOND WEB ACCESSIBILITY: TECHNOLOGY ACCESSIBILITY POLICIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Presenters
Terry Thompson
AccessIT
Box 355670
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195
Voice 206/221-4168
TTY 206-685-3648
Email: tft@u.washington.edu

Sheryl Burgstahler
AccessIT
Box 355670
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195
Email: sherylb@cac.washington.edu

Ron Stewart
Oregon State University
109 Kidder Hall
Corvalis, OR 97331
(541) 737-7307
Email: ron.stewart@orst.edu

A growing number of institutions of higher education have developed Web accessibility policies, guidelines, and/or standards. Some use well-recognized standards and guidelines, such as those produced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) or the federal Access Board in response to Section 508, while others have developed their own standards. The University of Washington has posted a collection of over 40 postsecondary accessible design statements and standards [1].

Web accessibility, however, is only one piece of the accessibility puzzle in higher education. A tremendous variety of electronic and information technology (E&IT) is utilized in today's postsecondary education environment, including information kiosks, computing labs, computer-assisted classrooms, and classrooms enhanced with other technologies such as interactive whiteboards, handheld wireless computers, display projectors, and countless other technologies. Often these technologies present access barriers to otherwise qualified students, faculty and/or staff.

Often the affected individual with a disability is unaware of the barrier until faced with a crucial access problem. For example, a student may learn on the first day of class that the class will include extensive in-class use of handheld computers that are inaccessible due to this student's disability; or, the university registrar's office might deploy a major software upgrade, and several employees with disabilities are no longer able to perform the tasks they performed successfully prior to the upgrade.

Many access problems could be prevented, or at least minimized, if campus-wide proactive measures were established. These include effective strategic partnerships, institutional policy, and support and training. They require that the institution consider the wide range of characteristics, including disabilities, that potential students and instructors might have as purchasing and development decisions are made for E&IT. When the wide range of characteristics of potential students and instructors is considered in the design and purchase of E&IT resources, they are accessible to a broad audience; just as when architects consider a wide range of characteristics of potential visitors, they design buildings that can be used by everyone, including visitors who use wheelchairs and those who are blind. Designing inclusive environments that are accessible to everyone, with and without disabilities, minimizes the need for individual accommodations.

Strategic partnerships, possibly documented with codicils and service level agreements, can be developed between those who make IT planning decisions and those who are responsible for accessibility (e.g., assistive technology specialists, disability service providers). Such partnerships can ensure that accessibility of E&IT is evaluated prior to purchase and/or deployment.

But, how can an institution begin the process of developing its policies, procedures, and guidelines/standards for assuring the development and purchase of accessible E&IT? Areas for consideration include:

Some states have implemented E&IT accessibility policies, including Minnesota [2], NewYork [3], North Carolina [4], and Texas[5]. Also, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) maintains an international list of policies which includes U.S. state policies [6]. In some cases, state policies may cover state educational entities. [Note: Debbie plans to work this week on updating this information via Knowledge Base article 150]

One educational entity that is making progress in its internal E&IT accessibility policies is Oregon State University. The Technology Access Program, a cooperative effort of OSU's Department of Information Services and the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities, has developed Purchasing Guidelines for Hardware, Purchasing Guidelines for Software, and a draft set of Web Page Development Guidelines [7]. The presenters will report on strategies used, effectiveness, and lessons learned.

This presentation will provide an overview of the technology access challenges, beyond Web accessibility, in higher education. It will also explore strategies for addressing these challenges, including possible strategies for strategic partnerships with relevant groups, and policy development and implementation strategies. Experiences will be shared from one institution that has made progress in this arena. There will be time for the audience to discuss their questions, concerns, experiences and perspectives.

References

[1] The University of Washington (2002). Accessible Design Statements and Standards. [Online]. Available: http://www.washington.edu/computing/accessible/resources.html 

[2] Office of Revisor of Statutes, State of Minnesota (2001). Minnesota Statutes 2001, 16C.145 Nonvisual technology access standards. [Online]. Available: http://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/stats/16C/145.html 

[3] New York State Office for Technology (1996). Technology Policy 96-13. Accessibility to Technology. [Online]. Available: http://www.irm.state.ny.us/policy/96-13.htm 

[4] State of North Carolina (2000). Final Report of the IRMC Accessibility Work Group. [Online]. Available: http://irmc.state.nc.us/access/finalrpt.htm 

[5] State of Texas (1999). Technology Access Clause. [Online]. Available: http://www.dir.state.tx.us/standards/technology-access.htm 

[6] World Wide Web Consortium (2002). Policies Relating to Web accessibility. [Online]. Available: http://www.w3.org/WAI/Policy/ 

[7] Oregon State University Technology Access Program (2002). Policies of the Technology Access Program. [Online]. Available: http://oregonstate.edu/dept/tap/policies.htm 


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