2006 Conference General Sessions




Hadi Bargi Rangin
University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign; Disability Resources and Educational Services
1207 S Oak St.
Champaign IL 61820
Day Phone: 217 244-0518
Fax: 217 333-0248
Email: hadi@uiuc.edu

Presenter #2
Robert Dumas
Six Kimball Lane
Lynnfield MA 01940

Day Phone: 781-309-1000
Fax: 781-309-1001
Email: Robert.Dumas@webct.com


Presenter #3

Philip Kragnes
University of Minnesota
Computer Accommodations Program

200 Oak Street SE, Suite 180

Minneapolis MN 55455

Day Phone: 612-626-0365

Fax: 612-625-5572

E-mail: pmk@umn.edu

Presenter #4
David Schwarte
Purdue University

Computing Center

128 Memorial Mall Dr., Room 111

West Lafayette IN 47907

Day Phone: 765-494-4387

Fax: 765-494-0566

E-mail: schwarte@purdue.edu

Accessibility of third-party information technology resources at universities and other organizations is ongoing problem for students, staff, and faculty. Typically people with disabilities or support staff who are experiencing accessibility problems feel isolated and do not know who to contact with their accessibility issues. This panel session discusses the development of a consortium model used to create a community of users and service providers to organize and discuss accessibility issues of the WebCT learning management tool. The panel will discuss their perspectives on the effectiveness of the model to improve the accessibility of the WebCT and how this model maybe used to improve the accessibility of other information technologies.

One of the biggest problems facing universities, colleges and other organizations interested in accessibility is third party applications. Most of these applications have multiple accessibility problems, but usually the companies have no organized means to collect and fix the accessibility problems. Technical support and sales staff usually have little or no knowledge of accessibility or who in the company (if anyone) is responsible for accessibility. Users and disability support staff are often frustrated by their inability to find the right person with in companies and to know what will happen with their accessibility problem if it is recorded as a technical support issue. Some companies do test their products for accessibility. They often use accessibility consultants rather than actual users of their products with disabilities to verify the accessibility features. The use of consultants may provide information on major accessibility problems, but often the detailed accessibility issues are overlooked and these details are often critical for making the product usable by people with disabilities.

This panel discussion brings together the members of the original group that developed a consortium to provide feedback to WebCT on the accessibility of their course management system. WebCT is used widely in higher education to provide a way for instructors to manage course materials like lectures, assignments, discussions, project management, quizzing and grading. The participants will provide their perspectives on how this consortium is improving the accessibility of WebCT and how this model might be effective in improving the accessibility of other information technology resources.

The consortium started with three Big-Ten schools: University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, Purdue University and the University of Minnesota. All three schools are using WebCT and have identified accessibility problems. The group consists of both disability support staff and members of the educational technologies groups on each campus. The group produced a whitepaper[1] that was sent to representatives of WebCT and Robert Dumas was identified as the person at WebCT dealing with accessibility issues. The group held bi-weekly teleconferences to develop and discuss the whitepaper and after Robert Dumas was identified from WebCT to discuss the issues identified in the white paper with WebCT.

The first step the group did was to develop a white paper that consisted of user scenarios of WebCT for various disabilities and detailed accessibility issues that are organized into functional accessibility groupings:

1. Initialization of Browser
2. Navigation and Orientation
3. Styling and Preferences
4. Automation
5. Editing features
6. Discussion Tool and WhiteBoard


The purpose of the whitepaper was to provide information on specific accessibility problems found while using WebCT with actual course materials. The problems were then replicated by WebCT for identification of the technical issues for repair. The whitepaper also became the agenda for teleconference discussions on helping WebCT understand the problems and brainstorming on accessibility solutions.

Test Server
One of the results of the discussions is that WebCT setup a test server so that accessibility problems could be verified and that as accessibility fixes became available people within the group could test them. This is one of the critical issues for the group to continue work is to identify accessibility problems, track the resolution of the problems and determine if the problems have been resolved.  

Goals of the Group
The goals of the group are greater than just reporting accessibility problems to WebCT. WebCT is continually improving their products and the current process of waiting for the production version of the product to be deployed and then tested will result in people with disabilities always being behind other users in their ability to use this product. The group therefore has asked that they be involved with beta testing the product, in which the test server could be used. This will provide WebCT with information about accessibility during the development stage. It is hoped with further collaboration that we can go beyond beta testing and integrate accessibility requirements into their internal design and quality assurance documents, to improve the accessibility of the products before they even become part of beta testing.   

The group has grown to over 40 members as more people using WebCT or interested in its accessibility features have joined the discussion.  

[1] WebCT Accessibility Whitepaper, http://cita.rehab.uiuc.edu/projects/compass/

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