Enjoy an educational and entertaining conversation on accessibility in education between Bryan Gould, Scott Ready, and Darcy Hardy.
Event sponsored by the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, Monsido, Verbit, Barnes Creative Studios, AccessibilityWorks, Clusiv, and QualityLogic.
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Class is in Session: The ABCs of Accessibility
Transcript for Class is in Session: The ABCs of Accessibility
Hi, my name is Bryan Gould, and I'm the Director of the National Center for Accessible Media at GBH. And our two panelists are Scott Ready and Darcy Hardy. I'm going to ask you two to introduce yourselves to the audience. Scott, why don't you start?
Sure, I'd be glad to. Hi, everybody. I'm Scott Ready. I’m the Vice President of Accessibility and Inclusion at Verbit. And to give you just a brief background, I've been in education for over 25 years and accessibility for over 30. Worked with and in corporate areas of LMS and providing access through captioning and also was in education in higher ed and providing or working with receiving an interpreter training program as a faculty member and department chair, as well as the Director of Online Education. Education actually is deep within my roots. My parents are both teachers at the Missouri School for the Deaf. My parents were both deaf. And interestingly enough, my brother, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, my sister, all have been educators with the deaf in and throughout the years.
So that's a brief touch on my background there.
Thanks. And it is so good to see you, Scott. I am currently Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Anthology, formerly Blackboard., before the merger. I also serve as the Director of our Center for Advancing Learning, which is a noncommercial activity that is focused on policy and legislative issues that face higher education. Before I came to Blackboard in 2014, I spent about 30 years in public higher education with a very strong focus on distance learning and then, obviously online learning.
Excuse me. That was until 2010. I had the honor of serving in the Obama administration as an IPA with the Department of Labor and the Department of Education. And I retired. Ha ha ha. At the end of 2013 and came on board at Blackboard in 2014. My focus is really about how to best offer online and hybrid education in the best ways from a strategic and academic leadership level.
Wonderful. I'm so glad to meet you both and I'll just give you a little background about myself and our organization. So the National Center for Accessible Media, GBH, and NCAM, as it's otherwise known, is rooted in Boston's public television and radio station, WGBH. And our commitment to accessibility goes back a half century when GBH invented Broadcast Captioning. It also invented audio description for broadcast television.
And 30 years ago or so, this group, the National Center for Accessible Media, was created having solved the accessibility issues basically for the home television set, and NCAM was tasked with moving beyond that. Where's technology going? Where are we going to find content and eventually what we would call digital content or online content? And the answer is, of course, we're going to find it everywhere.
We just didn't know where it all was going to show up in the early nineties. And we started. For two decades, we were a federally funded research and R&D, research and development, center. And over the last ten years we've really pivoted to becoming consultants in this space, working directly with industry and companies and organizations across the board. Education, entertainment, health care, high tech, retail, and everyone in between.
I started back in the mid-nineties writing audio description scripts for our group called Descriptive Video Service, and most of my tenure here at GBH has been focused on making images and moving images accessible for people who have trouble seeing them, people who are blind and visually impaired. And including work in education, in guidelines for making STEM images, charts and graphs and other complex images accessible and even moving into the the assessment space, ensuring that, you know, essentially answering the question, can image description be a viable accommodation? Letting the learner show that they have the knowledge without giving away the answer.
And so that's where my work has been before I took the helm here, focusing on larger issues. So I have a list of questions. I think that we’ll go ahead and get started, and I'll address one each 1 to 1 of us, and then we can just have a conversation after somebody gives an initial response. And the first one goes to you, Scott.
And it's actually three questions.
But they're all combined. Who's responsible for accessibility in education? Does it vary based on school type? And then just be specific, who owns accessibility in in education?
Well, I'll answer the last question first. The simple answer is that everyone, everyone's responsible. And... but let's take a look at it from a historical perspective and then also from a cultural perspective. If we look at it from a historical perspective within education, the the stakeholders within education would typically point to disability services, would point to special education if you're an in the K-12 environment, would say that they are the ones that are responsible for accommodations. They are the ones that are responsible for making sure that everyone has access. Well, as we have grown, as we have developed, as we have seen, that is not the answer. There is absolutely no way that disability services or student services for accommodations can ensure that all students have, all learners have access.
So as the institution changes culturally, and accessibility and inclusion is infused throughout the culture of the institution, the driving mantra is that everyone is responsible for accommodations, are responsible for making sure that their materials are accessible. If you're creating a PowerPoint, you're the owner of that PowerPoint, you need to make that PowerPoint accessible. If you're the owner of that PDF, whatever it is, then you are responsible for making sure that that content is accessible.
So that's really the simple answer is everyone.
Now I'll jump in and add to that, Scott, because I agree completely with you as you already know. When I talk to schools and having been, you know, a former academic, recovering academic, as we call it, sometimes. And just FYI, I was in West Texas this weekend. It's very dusty. So I'm still trying to get rid of the scratchy throat.
But, you know, in education, you know, when we talk about online specifically, often use the term “it's an all state.” You know, everybody on the floor, everybody's going to engage. And I think accessibility is the same way. And when we work with schools and we work on strategic planning around their digital teaching and learning, accessibility is one of the the high points in the strategy because like Scott said, it's everyone.
It's not just the faculty. You know, in my view, if you really want to be just accessible, you know, inclusivity too, but accessible, that means from admissions to graduation, all services, anything that a hearing or sight person would be able to use themselves should be available in an accessible way. So if a student is trying to find out about registration or about admissions or... it's not just the ADA officers responsibility. The program needs to be accessible.
So I totally agree with Scott that it's it's everyone. It's an all state.
And I'll certainly make the three for agreement here because it, it, when it's cultural within the organization that's when it works the best because you have to have buy-in on all levels. Of mission buy-in, you have to provide money to make things accessible. Practitioners, educators all the way up and down the line. The tech, you know, the tech staff need to know what to do.
And so when it's become part of your DEI and I will add A to that, when that has become part of your culture accessibility, then that's when it works the best. So it is everyone. And that brings us to our next question. Darcy, I'll start with you. Some people equate accommodations with special treatment. What would you tell those people and what's a better way of thinking about it?
And we'll keep it family friendly for the answers.
[Laughs]. You know, it's such a good statement. And again, you know, I'm coming from the distance learning, online learning digital world and I've dealt with this since I've been in distance and online learning. I remember when I started in my career in the late eighties, I was working in correspondence study at the University of Texas at Austin, and, you know, it was definitely a case by case.
And I remember we had a student who was blind that was living somewhere and needed to take the course. Well, back then with correspondence courses, it was a study booklet that you would get, you know, hard copy that would be mailed to you. So the accommodation was made at the time to send it off to somewhere in Michigan, have it put into Braille.
You know, it was like six boxes came back at the time with all this paper, you know, because Braille took up so much room and that's how it was done. It was still done that way in online learning of a case by case. You know, the whole idea of accommodations with special treatment is like annoying to me.
There shouldn't have to be special treatment. The accommodations should be in place from the beginning. So if, if you're developing content, it doesn't matter if you know if there's someone with a disability that's going to be in your course, it should be done from the beginning, rather than having to be retroactive and fixed in portions. So a better way of thinking about it is it's not special treatment at all.
It's just the way it should be for all people, regardless of a disability of any sort. I mean, I don't know. Scott, your thoughts?
Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly that making the environment an equitable environment for all individuals. It's not special treatment. It's making it equitable. If that means that I need something captioned because I have a cognitive processing disorder then that captioning is giving me an equitable way of accessing that information. And it's not, it's not special treatment. We're not giving answers to the test.
We're not giving additional clues. And Bryan, I love when you talk about being able to provide audio description without giving the answer to the question. And that, that is what is being provided is equitable experience.
And can I add one more thing about that? Because, Scott, you taught me in the years we worked together about how, you know, some of the accommodations that are made or the byproducts of that are for people without disabilities. And, you know, we watched...
We were big Ted Lasso fans. The closed captioning in Ted Lasso is critical for us because there's such a strong British accent that you miss so many things.
So while that's great for people who have a hearing disability, it's great for hearing people, too. So those by byproduct uses or whatever you might call it, are so important that it's not about special treatment. Like you said, it's about equity and the fallout of that is it's better for everyone. Right?
As a longtime employee at WGBH, the broadcaster of Masterpiece Theater and Mystery, we agree wholeheartedly. So many of those accents are hard to understand without captions. And universal design is good design.
There’s always benefits. The next question falls to me. If reasonable accommodations are a right, why do so many students and their advocates have to fight so hard for them?
And I'll answer only briefly, because our experience, my experience isn't really in the classroom or as an advocate in that way, but more on the tech side. But I could say often it's, especially with low incidence disabilities, sometimes it's ignorance or just not knowing of what it takes. And, frankly sometimes just a fear of having to retool everything because in order to accommodate the student, which many times is not necessary or not the case, but but, you know, walls go up when it looks like you're going to have to change all your ways.
I think that's part of it. Scott or Darcy?
Darcy, go ahead and I'll follow up after you.
Yeah, you know, I think it's cultural. I think it's cultural in society. And I definitely think it's cultural in education because of what was said earlier of, you know, giving someone an edge, you know, or giving them some way to to find the answer is easier because of the accommodations. And that's why I think when when institutions embrace a strategy plan for their institution, a strategic plan, one of the bullets, one of the large bullet should be DEI, accessibility, accommodations. And it should be built in to the culture of the institution, not just for online learning. I mean, just in general, so that you start bending people a little bit to think more clearly about what it means to be equitable.
I'd like to also add philosophical. When an institution or organization looks at this as to how can we meet the letter of the law, as opposed to how can we provide good education? That's when the student ends up having to fight in order to get an equitable experience. Because let's be honest, okay? Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990. Rehabilitation Act, 1973. They've been in they've been in place for a long time now.
It's nothing new. But when organizations say, well I am going to require that the student has to jump through all these hoops in order to be identified as a student with a disability, and then we are only going to provide exactly the bare minimum that shows that we've met the the letter of the law... That leaves the student no other choice.
So philosophically, again, that goes back to the culture. But you're going to get me on my my soapbox here. But we have got to look at what are the other KPIs, as Darcy mentioned earlier, about improving education and improving the experience, not just granting that student a sign language interpreter or Braille or captioning, but how is that enhancing and enabling them to succeed?
Oh, Darcy, did you have...
I would agree. Agree.
Me too. And Scott, the next question is really a follow up to what you were just saying, which are what are the steps an educator should follow generally when they've been made aware of an accommodation request? And is there anything they definitely should not do?
Great question. My recommendation is that first, an educator should find out internally what are the processes? What are the processes that have been set up? You know, if I have media content that needs captioning, how do I get that captioned? If I have live class sessions on Zoom, what... how do I go about making sure that that is being provided for with an accommodation. But most importantly, have a time with the learner.
Ask the learner, how does these accommodations best work for you? Not every student that has a disability approaches the accommodation in the same way. So talk to that student. Find out from that student. That student's been the one that has been the one that has experienced it their entire life. They've been in school. They know how to use this accommodation. Ask them. Have that conversation, not just once, but all throughout the semester.
Is this working? Is this not working? Do we need to tweak? Do we need to change? Are there other accommodations that might work better? And then the thing not to do, don't brush it off. I've heard a faculty member tell students before, oh, don't worry about getting that video captioned. It's really not that important. I'll give you the important information later.
No. Even if that video is not that important, it's part of that equitable experience. Being able to be just like every other student learner in that environment.
And, you know, one thing I'll add to that is a personal experience, and I'm pretty sure I told you about this, Scott, at one point. I think it was like 1982 or 83. I was teaching at what is now Texas State University here in San Marcos, Texas. And I was back then, I had been an industrial arts major and in industrial technology.
And I was teaching a course, and my regular course was engineering design graphics. Basically beginning drafting. I taught a lot of interior designers and things like that. And this is, you know, really to age me, this is going back to where you actually had drafting board T-squares. You know, there wasn't any, you know, computer aided drafting yet. CAD. So you're drawing, I mean physically drawing. And at the beginning of the semester, I get this this young man who comes in and he's in a wheelchair and we're getting set up.
And, you know, they, I don't know if he told me. Maybe he told me. I can't remember. I remember his name is Gerald. And he had been in an accidental shooting and was shot in the head. And his motor skills for his hands were such that he could not grip a pencil to even try. Now I went to the ADA office myself and said, what do I, you know, what do I do?
Give me some ideas. And they didn't really have any. So my question went further. I will do everything I can in 1982 to try to accommodate him. But there were no computer-aided, there was nothing I, I could take it other than to talk to him through things. Which I did. But my question to the institution was who counseled this young man to go into a drawing class in 1982 where there was no... there wasn’t any other... there weren't any mechanisms.
So I kind of took it a step further of, you know, let's let's help this student if he wants to be an industrial technology or industrial arts. Let's make sure he's in courses in this day and age, this time, where he can be successful. You know, I ended up like talking him through and asking him where a line should be, and I would draw it for him. You know? And that worked fine, but it was extremely frustrating for him because he wanted to try.
And so we did. But he got more and more frustrated and I thought there is more than just the ADA Office. There's advisors, there's others who should be involved, and not to take anything away from anyone. But you know, at the time, particularly reality was he couldn't hold a pencil in any way. He had no, no, even a some kind of hand device where he could grip.
And that really impacted me. It really... it affected me because I felt like it was so unfair to him in particular to be in this situation that was getting more and more frustrating, even though I was helping as much as I could. So, you know, I agree with Scott. The educators should find out. But and I think the bigger thing is empathy.
You know, being empathetic to what the position that someone is in and doing whatever you can. But, you know, the administration also has a responsibility there to think through this with the student of what they want to do and what's what's within their reach, so to speak. So, I mean, that's an example, but I've never forgot. I've never forgotten Gerald. So.
What I love is when when educators have that experience. And then you take approaches, you take processes that are outside of the box and you start applying those to all your courses. And like you said earlier, like with said, being able to apply these principles that enable students with varying learning preferences to be able to better engage in those courses rather than it just being something that is tagged to just that one student that you might have.
Excellent. Darcy, the next question comes to you. And it's really focused on effective communication. People learn and thrive in different ways and with different styles. Many students’ disabilities can impact how they give and receive communication and information. Without knowing what works best for every individual, do you have any tips for effective communication that educators can keep in mind and apply all the time?
The first one that I would say is communicate, period. You know? That’s. There are many, many faculty in particularly, you know, thinking about online teaching and learning where we have faculty who just go M.I.A. They're not communicating at all. Regardless of anybody with a disability. And they're just, they just disappear. So the communication part. You know, I think that and again, I'm not an accessibility expert, but if I were just walking into an environment, I would think that using multiple modalities to communicate. Whether it's through a text, you know, or a chat announcement or in the discussion board, but an audio recording of that, that same message.
So just having the message, turning it into audio and make it available. Those are kind of simple. I think the other thing about communication, that's... that would be a tip. And this has to do when you are communicating maybe with text and graphics and things like that... Pay attention to the colors that you're using. Even for someone who has, maybe they're epileptic or something that, you know, you don't want to have things causing some kind of seizure or anything.
But people, and many people in general, can get a headache from, you know, people getting crazy with colors and, you know, movement and all of these kinds of things. Just if you want to do that, that's fine, but create alternatives so that not everyone has to witness this horrible color selection of contrasting and colors and things like that.
So I guess first, communicating on multiple modalities and keep an eye on the color schemes and how much activity you're putting into a message. Did I get that right?
Well, yeah. I mean, Darcy, the effective communication is a... there's a lot of factors. Right? And I completely agree. The multiple modalities are so important. And it's part of what we were talking about earlier about universal design and what I like to call unintended benefits for unintended audiences. So if you have a video and it's captioned or you have audio and you provide the transcript and you provide that ability to listen to it sped up or slowed down... Those are, that's going to help many more students than you probably anticipated.
And providing, perhaps even providing description of images in a way that's available for everyone can also be helpful because you're you're providing the information in a in a different means or different modes. And, of course, where it can expose is just what you were talking about is... Maybe you should have thought twice about either the image or the graphic scheme that you put up, because when you try to explain that to someone, oh, maybe that wasn't my best choice.
That's what we find quite often, especially in assessments when you're going through and trying to ensure that they're accessible. Maybe that it's not accessible to anybody. Maybe it's just a bad item.
Scott. Do you have follow up on that?
The only thing that I would add to that is in a learning environment where you will have learners for a period of time like a semester, I recommend doing a quick survey. Asking them, how do you prefer to be communicated to? Because typically what happens is that we communicate in the way that we prefer. I hate email.
That's my last way of communicating. Do not send me an email. Sent me a text. Send me a Slack message. Send me a WhatsApp. Send me something else other than an email and I'll be right on it and respond. If it's an email, [sighs] I'll get to it. But...
That's interesting, Scott, because last year at Anthology we conducted a survey, a global survey. We had about 2500 students globally, about 2500 academic administrators, asking about the gaps in what students expect and what academic leadership is offering. And one of the questions was about communication and it was so interesting that just like you said, the administrators were like, you know, 57% email of how they would communicate with students. With the students, it was like AI, chatbots, text, and so forth. So there was this big gap.
And the... and yet the students also said, like you said, email. They said the school sends so many emails anyway, I don't even know how to prioritize what comes in because they're coming in from all different departments instead of it being condensed. This is important. You need to pay attention. So...
Darcy, the next one is custom-made for you. So I'm going to hand this, so I'm going to toss this softball to you. What about remote and hybrid learning? Which are not going away. How can communications and materials be made inclusive and accessible from a distance?
Okay. So this is a big one. You know, back in the early 2000s, many of us that were starting, you know, we started in online. We were worried about accessibility. You know, I'm trying to think of what we would do? And then, you know, in online, it was kind of a big thing and then it kind of faded where people weren't worried about it.
And there's so many myths about, you know, as long as the websites public so it needs to be accessible but the course content doesn't need to be unless somebody acknowledges an accessibility issue and that's a myth. I mean that is not true. If they're offering the courses, they should be accessible and there's plenty of examples. University of Phoenix comes to mind.
Scott. Who had one complaint that went... went all the way up and they got fined and had to go back retroactively and fix all of their content. But, today, there's no excuse. You know? And I'm not going to go into a launch about our product, Ally. But, you know, having been in online learning since the beginning, it takes a lot to get my attention on some new piece of software or something.
When we acquired Ally, and Scott was very instrumental in promoting and pushing Ally out there, that was when I turned my head and went, this is very cool. The bottom line is when it comes to hybrid, and another... one other thing, people think if it's hybrid, it doesn't matter. Cause they’re going to be in the classroom. Like, no, no, no.
It all needs to be accessible. But it, it really... this is my soapbox. It is not the responsibility of the faculty in my mind in online learning to go in and make all these changes. Institutions should have instructional designers. And those instructional designers and those faculty should be required to work together. And the instructional designers are the ones that can ensure that something is accessible or if it's, you know, alternative model modality or whatever they need to do. Because too many times the institutions look at the faculty like they need to do all of this.
Now, very small schools and I'm a designer and the faculty have to do it. Well, then the administration needs to make it as easy as possible for them to do that. But instructional designers really, you know, whether it's universal design and cast and how are they're doing it, but it's being conscious of what it takes to make a course accessible.
All materials, you know, everything that's needed. And, I just, there's no excuse for it anymore. And again, what we said earlier, the fallout of that, of making something accessible means that, you know, a student can download the audio when they're on the metro or something and listen to it. But there are no excuses. And without instructional designers, it's very difficult for institutions to meet the requirement.
In my opinion. I don't know, Scott, when you think, but tend to think...
Wholeheartedly, agree. Wholeheartedly agree. And, and to support that even further, 60 to 80% of the students on our higher ed campuses that have a disability don't disclose that they have a disability. Because they have to jump through so many hoops. They have to go through so much. And, and some students might not realize that they have this disability, have a cognitive processing disorder.
They might not realize it. It's just they know that they have a difficult time when content is presented this way and being able to understand it. But going back to Darcy's point from the beginning, by design, making it accessible improves it for everyone. The KPIs of higher education is graduation rate. Grades. All of those are the KPIs. Retention.
By making it accessible, you're able to address those KPIs even better because then your students, especially the 60 to 80% that don't disclose, are going to be able to be successful.
Yeah, and thank you, Scott and Darcy. I couldn't agree more. It's a conversation. It needs to be the content creators, the educators, the technology platform has to enable and be accessible itself. It has to have keyboard accessibility. It has to be able to support captions and audio descriptions. It has to be able to to ensure that it isn't a barrier to students.
And then there needs to be that intermediary ensuring that the content is not only accessible, you know, sort of when it leaves the educator’s desk, but as it's put into the CMS and the LMS. That all the modifications, if any, that need to be done, are done and any warning flags are attended to as well. And that can, you know, goes back to our theme here, I think we've gotten to, which is institutional culture.
I'm sorry. But also the faculty don't necessarily, necessarily know. They don't... they know about closed captioning. They understand that and some and audio and things like that. They don't understand that the list. And again, in my opinion, they shouldn't have to. If the institution is going to offer education in an equitable way, then they need to have the instructional designers working with those faculty and the instructional designers should know rather than shifting it all on to the faculty, let the faculty share their knowledge and let the designers help them make sure it's equitable and accessible.
I agree with you. Our next question shifts us over to the legal aspects actually of accessibility. I'm going to turn to Scott and ask what laws actually apply to accessibility in education? And just as importantly, what resources are available for people to learn about their obligations toward ensuring that all students can participate and learn?
Wow, that's a big topic and a topic that could be a whole session in and of itself. And I'll do the disclosure. I am not an attorney, but [laughing] but when we look at education, I'll touch on the main points here.
And the law,
laws that apply can vary depending on the situation. What do I mean by that? So for example, Americans with Disabilities Act. It addresses equitable access to public environments both physical and digital. Okay? At a very high level and I'm talking very high here. So with that, if we have a environment, have it be a learning environment that's open to the public, which MOOCs there for a while were a hot issue when they were not made accessible.
And several prominent institutions experienced lawsuits around that. Websites, public environments such as graduations, you know, going back to what Darcy addressed, it's not just the classroom. It's everything from recruitment all the way through alumni. And so if there's anything that is open to the public, then Americans with Disabilities Act can really apply there. And again, this is at a very high level.
The other law is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 with Sections 504 and 508. And this really applies to any organization that receives federal funding. So is there a university out there that doesn't offer a Pell Grant? So any kind of federal funding that flows to or through the university, the institution, the organization, then the Rehabilitation Act applies. And this requires that the educational environment be made accessible by, for anyone with a disability.
Okay? So at a high level, those are the laws predominantly that apply. But then you also have the actual cases within Department of Justice that take place that sets the precedents. And so how are you going to look at and I'll just use captioning for example. Well, is it provided or not provided? While there's more nuances than just it being provided. Is it an ASR? An automated speech recognition only captioning where the accuracy is really poor and that does not provide equitable communication?
Or is it something that is provided, but provided so late that the learner is not able to participate in other activities around that learning environment in a proper time frame? So, and I'm referencing various lawsuits that have taken place throughout the years with these examples, but that's where the actual cases, the lawsuits that have been held in court, helped to establish the parameters around those laws to be able to execute and support them.
And I'm going to pass on that.
[Laughing.] That was as comprehensive as I think we should wade into legal territory as not lawyers. Our final round of questions are shifting us directly over to digital accessibility, specifically, and Darcy, I'll send this one over to you. We were talking about multimodal communication earlier. Are there formats or types of content that you've seen present almost automatically
big barriers to equitable learning? And if if you could come up with an example, that would be great. Or is it different for different folks?
I can just, I can speak to it generally because I don't, you know, I don't have any data on which one is worse. But in my experience, what I've seen in online and digital learning, the PDFs, you know, the faculty will just, you know, not to mention copyright. That's another area I focus on. But they'll take content and, you know, make these copies and they're like this and that and this. And, you know, and then they just put them in their courses and a screen reader can't read them. You know, they can't, can't through them.
And faculty, as we all know, and I was one. Scott’s been one. We’re big on making copies and scanning them in, you know, for content, again, for getting copy copyright, especially images, especially in the medical field. And you know, scanning something in such as PDFs is just the worst. And one of the things, and again I'm not in sales, but one of the things, and I'd say this regardless if it was our product or not, but you know Ally flags that PDF and then, Scott knows this better than I do, but then it tells the person how to fix it.
You know, this is what you can do to fix this. Because again, I don't think faculty even think about that that PDF is going to be a problem. It's tex,t so a screen reader can read it. Video obviously without closed captioning. I think we all know that one, but that's the one that jumped out at me was the the PDFs and scanning.
I would definitely agree that PDFs is the biggest offenser. The other one would be images. Being able to added alt tag. There's nothing more frustrating. And there's just so many things that are an image that people don't realize are an image. It could look like text, but it's really an image. Logos oftentimes will be a text, but actually be an image.
And so being able to add those alt texts so that it's clear as to what that image is communicating. Because it's being used for a reason, we just need to make sure that that reason is clear. Also, in addition to the PDF, something that oftentimes people forget is the simple things of using the proper types of classifications of headers, subheaders, and text.
Can you imagine using a screen reader and wanting to scan a 50 page document? But there is not one header that has been identified? It's just all text. So you... individuals with the ability to visually read a document can go from header to header and find that place that you want to read. But if I'm using a screen reader and there's no headers that's been identified, I have no ability to scan that.
How frustrating! When it takes just one little adjustment in creating that document by identifying as a header, not just making the font bigger and bolding it, but identifying the format.
Is this something that, whether it's your company, Scott, or Lori at Accessibility, or Bryan... And maybe it's out there, but some kind of primer for faculty on accessibility? I mean, I know that, you know, you can go in and consult with people and help them, but I know that they're out there for design and copyright. It seems like something that can be made available, you know, of course, for free, for faculty to just get a, you know, just a picture, a checklist, something they should be looking for.
Because, again, most these people aren't thinking about headers. So just planning that seed, if you're not already doing it at your companies.
And Ally actually does that, too.
Right. Oh, I was trying not to say Ally.
Yeah, well I will. [Laughing.]
Darcy, and trying to avoid the sales, I mean, that's a lot of what we do is consulting in helping to expose. And you know, frankly, these tools exist already on commonly-used software. All Microsoft products already exists. It's just a matter of using them. Don't use a dash. Actually use a bullet point.
They don’t know. I mean, I mean it's there. But if they don't have something that points it out. I remember when Scott and I were working together and he made, he had this list of all of the things that need to be considered. I never knew, you know, two thirds of it. And I doubt that faculty do as well. And if you could just point them to something, say here’s, at least your checklist.
Darcy, you've led us right into the next question. Some of our attendees who wish to make their content and materials more accessible may not be technical in nature. What can they do to create inclusion through accessibility, even perhaps without technical expertize? And I would actually say that even if you're techno phobic or afraid to make a mistake, it's worth dipping your toe in.
And it's where these you know, a lot of what we're talking about are not difficult, especially on online education. It's clicking the button for automatic captions. You know, that's a that's a minimum. And ensuring that you're using good design techniques, as you said, making sure that you have color contrast that's appropriate, and Scott mentioned using text as or a graphic of text which can present lots of problems.
So images are one thing. But then an image of text is a whole nother story because of course a screen reader can't read that text if it's not actually text, but also often that can't be expanded in a way that someone can still read it. It can, it can get all fuzzy and pixelated. And if someone's trying to translate this into a foreign language using Google translator or another software, you can't translate an image of text.
And so, you know, so by following those simple rules and finding them out and this information is out there, it's it really takes very little digging to discover it and applying it. You can incrementally make your materials more accessible, even if you don't have technical or think you don't have technical expertize.
Scott, I'll let you jump in on that, too.
No, I, I there are there are within just the Microsoft environments, there is an accessibility checker there. You can go to Wave and do an accessibility checker on, you know, web environments. And there's just so many opportunities out there that it will tell you and give you the instructions on how to make it accessible. So it it's just being aware of it.
And it's that cultural shift, again, that we've been talking about throughout this whole, whole session. It’s making that cultural shift and being aware of that.
And it also goes back to, you know, the cultural shift so that is just like automatic. You know, I need to check this this content. But it's it doesn't happen on an institutional campus unless there is a policy that indicates that for this all content it will go through and maybe they adopt, you know, say inside of Microsoft, whatever it is.
But if culturally and policy-wise, though, if those aren't in place, then, you know, some faculty are like, well, you know, it's a nice thing. It's giving me some guidance, but I'm not going to do it. For cultural shift to to happen around this, I'm just a firm believer that policies from the proposed level have to be in place that faculty will listen to. You know, an online learning director that says you need to use this.
The faculty might say, well, you know, that's that's very nice. Thank you. If it comes from the provost or the VP, it's a whole different story. So I think that's what schools should do.
And just to hit the same nail with a different hammer, we're talking about solutions that exist in commonly-used software, the software everyone's using. You know, we have all seen those closets in classrooms or in, you know, tech rooms that are full of dusty hardware because a school received a grant and put hardware or new software that was specifically for typically a community of people with disabilities.
And for in large part now it's off the shelf software or hardware that has accessibility features built in. It's a matter of knowing that they're there and using them. We're coming to the end of our time. We're just going to turn quickly to a specific set of guidelines, the Web Content Accessibility guidelines. And Scott, I'll throw this one over to you.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG or W-CAG, depending on what continent you're on, are the gold standard in web accessibility. Can WCAG be applied to educational materials?
I love that. Absolutely, Bryan. It can be applied to educational materials and taking a look at, you know, items like we had mentioned earlier, color contrast, the design of the materials. The flow. Is it a cognitively fluid design or not? WCAG also applies to the learning environments that are used in education. All of the applications that are being used. Are image buttons
clearly identified or not? WCAG has an entire list of items that need to be considered that completely 100% apply to the educational environment. One source that I like to use is WebAim. They have a little checklist. It's not... it's not the end all be all by any means. But it's a good checklist to use to just see if we are addressing these various areas that are identified within the WCAG Accessibility Guidelines.
00:54:06:22 - 00:54:13:15
I'm good on that one. That's another one that I know what it is, but not enough about it to have any comments.
Sure. And I'll just add that this is... WCAG is the the waters in which my organization swims every single day. We're immersed in it and applying it really to all digital assets, including in the education realm and whether or not you're looking to be conformant with every single criterion on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or using it as a marker or a, you know, really a guide, but not a strict, almost standard.
It really provides... it it provides a structure by which to see if your your software or, your website or whatever it is you're looking at is accessible. It's... and they're incredibly, and we're seeing this more and more, and it's incredibly helpful as a requirement in procurement. And we talk to organizations all the time about it's it's one thing to require WCAG conformance for software or any product that your institution is purchasing, but it's another to then be able to hold the vendors responsible by your institution needs to know whether or not that's true and whether that's requiring VPATs and reading through them and knowing what they mean.
And so it's two-sided. We we've been seeing more and more of this over the last ten years, which is really fantastic. And so that's another use for WCAG is putting it into your procurement requirements.
Thank you. And Bryan I'm glad you brought out VPAT because that is so important. And if there's any institution out there, any organization that uses any kind of software and they have not requested a VPAT, again, the organization can, the software organization can do their own VPAT. Best practice is to have a VPAT that's been done by an outside organization and consultancy so that they are looking at it from a different perspective.
And they will probably also have the testers to test the environment as a native user rather than an able body, if you will, a person doing the testing. And so, Bryan, thank you for bringing up the VPAT. I, I cannot stress that strong enough.
Excellent. And we've come to our last question. And Darcy, I'm going to turn to you. And it really brings us totally full circle in this wonderful conversation we've been having. Some barriers to accessible education are technical or physical, but can they also be rooted in attitude or mindset? Talk about this for a moment
and speak to the physical, the physiological, the psychological shifts that are necessary now, philosophical, philosophical.
We're going to edit that one out,
speak to the philosophical shifts that are necessary for achieving universal, equitable, accessible education and the benefits it affords.
Well, you know, we've said all the way through this, I think that a lot of the, a lot of the issues are a result of a philosophical view. An attitude. A mindset. And if we if we think about education in general, you know, let's go to the point of, you know, teachers who are going through teacher training, you know, in the university or the college, faculty who get their doctorates in education.
And it should be all of them if they're going to be teaching. Part of the onboarding. I mean, all of these things could be done to include why it's important from a philosophical view. Because it's not just the law. You know, as Scott said so beautifully, this is, and he used to tell me this, it's just the right thing to do.
It's the right thing to do. And as a society, we should be embracing this attitude. So, you know, if if I were back at an institution, which is unlikely at this point in my career, and if I were in a presidency or a provost position, this is one of the things that I think that any president or provost should be doing is shift the culture. Shift the culture. Set new policies. Require certain things.
But while your requirement is the law, you spread the culture that you know, philosophically, this is, this is what we do to be kind and equitable to our fellow human beings. You know, this is not about a person with a disability. This is a human who is trying to go to school. So be good to your human, your fellow humans, and do the right thing.
So do I think policy has to be part of it? Absolutely, because it's not culturally there yet. But it starts at the top. It starts at the academic leadership level, and it has to spill down from there for people to understand the shift.
You know, it's interesting, we for years and years and Darcy, you probably know when this concept was introduced, students centered instruction. And you know that's been a buzz term in education for a number of years and different institutions have tried to apply it in different ways. You know, you are no longer a number. You are, you know, you are identified as a a student, an individual here.
And the bottom line is, that's what we're saying here. We're saying let's be centered on the student’s ability to learn. And what's really fascinating is now, if I may say, post-COVID, we, I know that's a, but after returning back to campus in the hybrid environment, students have had an experience where there have been changes in the delivery of education to them.
They are coming back more vocal and with their expectations as to how that institution is going to deliver education to them. Which is fantastic because they are the ones that can enforce this student-centered instruction in a way that applies to the way that they need to learn. So it's just interesting how, okay, we're taking a concept that was introduced decades ago and we're still debating on how to do that in an effective way.
Well, I can't thank you enough. This has been a wonderful conversation. Scott Ready and Darcy Hardy, thank you so much. I'm Bryan Gould and this has been great. Thank you so much.
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