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Assistive Technology Lab Coordinator
CU-Boulder, 107 UCB
Boulder, Co 80309
Director, Assistive Technology Resource Center
Colorado State University
305 Occupational Therapy Building
Ft. Collins, CO 80523
Introduction - background about CU-Boulder
The Increasing role of the Web in Delivering Information
Starting around 1996, there was a significant increase in the use of the Web as a platform for accessing campus information systems at the University of Colorado-Boulder (UCB). This included the posting of class material and student transaction systems such as registration, grade lookup and book lists. In addition, the library catalog and other library resources such as Prospector and various searchable databases were also moving to the Web. As the Web become more prominent as a medium for delivering academic and administrative information, there was a corresponding effort to raise awareness of the need for accessible Web design. Most of the outreach in this area was conducted by Web Communications, the central department on campus responsible for developing the UCB homepage and other Web sites.
In early 1998, a program to provide Assistive Technology services to students was begun on campus and housed at Disability Services. The Assistive Technology Lab (AT Lab) , in the process of providing AT services to students, also gradually acquired the role of ensuring access to information and information systems; that is, ensuring that Web sites and information systems were accessible to Assistive Technology such as screen readers for visually impaired users.
In this role, a significant amount of outreach, training and campus-wide planning was conducted by the AT Lab and Web Communications starting around mid 1998 to promote accessible Web design on campus.
Though these activities were effective in raising awareness and increasing accessibility, the implementation of Section 508, and the associated Access Board Web guidelines, were a catalyst for accelerating the campus effort to make campus Web pages accessible. This paper will review the activities that the campus had undertaken to promote Web Accessibility prior to implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and how the campus response changed and built on these existing strategies in response to Section 508 and the Access Board Guidelines.
Gathering Student Input and Conducting Strategic Planning
Several strategies were implemented in 1998 following the formation of the AT Lab to promote and increase information access for students with disabilities throughout campus. To gather feedback and input from users of Assistive Technology, an Assistive Technology Advisory Committee was formed in late 1998, consisting of students with disabilities, faculty, representatives from Disability Services, Web Communications and ITS, the campus computer services department. As a result of this committee, a number of decisions and policies were implemented to increase access to AT services and information resources. This included providing greater assistance in the scanning of documents for students with print disabilities; increasing availability of "live" readers; physical configuration of the Assistive Technology Lab to improve its effectiveness as a work area; and increasing the locations of adaptive technology on campus. Furthermore, a significant amount of information was gathered on Web pages and information systems at UCB that were problematic or inaccessible for AT users. The departments responsible for these identified systems were then contacted and requested to correct the problem systems. This process met with a varying amount of success, depending on the complexity of the system and the expertise of the department Web programmers.
Response to 508
One resource promoted by some members of the AT Advisory Committee, the development of a Web Accessibility Guidelines page, had met with some resistance due to a concern that a backlash would ensue from faculty and staff along with an innundation of requests for technical support. However, as awareness of the future implementation of 508 grew in 2000, the campus IT council and the Associate Vice-Chancellor for Academic and Campus Technology gave their support to the creation of a Web Access and 508 resource page. This occurred even though there was and still is a debate over whether the jurisdiction of 508 extends to public universities. UCB decided to respond proactively and developed a 508 Web information page.
A campus-wide e-memo emphasized the importance of designing 508-compliant Web pages and directed the campus to the 508 resource page which includes the 16 Access-Board Web guidelines and points visitors to other resources such as Bobby, Wave (Web accessibility validators), the Web Access Initiative and the Access-Board Web sites.
Presentations & Outreach to Campus
Following the development of the campus 508 page, outreach to campus on accessible Web design was accelerated. Library, ITS, & Web Communications personnel were already members of the campus AT Advisory Committee and thus had heard directly from students with disabilities on the problems incurred when Web pages are not accessible. The committee had also invited Web designers and other IS professionals to meetings where students who use screen reader technology demonstrated the problems of accessing pages that are not designed according to accessibility guidelines. The live demonstration of AT technology such as JAWS by actual users of the technology seems to have a revelatory effect on Web-designers: once aware of the problem, they are usually highly motivated to make pages fully accessible.
As a result, the accessibility of Web systems such as Chinook, the online library catalog, has improved over the last few years by adding needed alt tags (text tags added to graphic elements) and other text to aid navigation by screen reader users.
A pilot project "access fund" was also started in 2000 to encourage and supplement the funding of projects that improve access to electronic information systems on campus. Systems improved under this fund include Web registration and (PLUS), the Web-based student look-up and transaction system.
The Assistive Technology Lab conducts a number of training sessions for campus staff on Web accessibility. About four classes in accessible Web design, both hands-on and lectures, are offered per semester. Furthermore, the AT-Lab conducts guest lectures on Web access to Web design classes at the Leeds Business School and to the Technology in Arts and Media (TAM) program. These presentations in the classroom are usually done by a technologist in tandem with a student or guest speaker who is visually impaired and uses screen reader technology. As above, this approach seems the most effective in raising the consciousness of students on these issues.
Another activity that has helped to raise awareness of library, technology and classroom access is the annual conference on Assistive Technology and Accessible Media presented by Disability Services each November. This conference, which began in 1998, brings in speakers from around the country who are experts on Assistive Technology, Web access, distance learning, learning disabilities, and other technology and disability issues. This event is heavily promoted to campus as an opportunity to attend workshops by specialists who are experts in the field of technology and disability.
Recently, the Boulder Campus developed a comprehensive five-year Information Technology Strategic Plan in which Assistive Technology was addressed. Some of the plans to increase electronic information access on campus include integrating Assistive Technology more closely into the campus information technology structure. For example, the campus will test the use of "keyserver" technology, which would allow users to run adaptive equipment from any of the main labs on campus, including the library. The "keyserver" keeps track of software use to ensure that use does not exceed licensing. Any student with a pair of headphones could then use voice output software such as JAWS or WYNN on any machine.
Also in development is a campus Web Access Policy. Though Web access guidelines and resources exist and are promoted to encourage accessible Web design, this is accomplished through outreach and training. There is no campus enforcement policy, however, requiring accessible Web design or on actions to be taken when Web sites do not correct inaccessibility.
CU has had the resources and the support of the administration, including the Chancellor, Associate VC for Technology, VC of Student Affairs, Associate VC of Diversity and Equity and other groups on campus in increasing accessibility on campus. Without this support, the changes described above would not have been made or at least not made within the same timeframe. CU-Boulder plans to continue to improve access, addressing remaining problems, and addressing the new issues that arise with the implementation of new technology.
Resources at CU-Boulder
CU Boulder Web Access Info & 508 Guidelines
Assistive Technology and Accessible Media Conference
Disability Services at University Libraries
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