Letter to the President: A Promising Practice in Promoting Technology Accessibility
Postsecondary education institutions play key roles in assuring a future world where information technology (IT) is accessible to people with disabilities. Not only must they provide accessible IT environments for their students and employees, but they can also produce a future workforce of accessibility-aware scientists and engineers. To date, postsecondary institutions have generally fallen short in both of these areas, though many individual students, faculty, and staff have taken valiant steps toward addressing their institution's systemic accessibility problems. In order for accessibility efforts to be giant steps of an entire academic institution, rather than small steps of a few individuals, that institution's administration must support and even lead the effort.
In September of 2000, presidents from twenty-five research universities in the United States expressed their support for systemic change by signing an open letter to President Clinton agreeing to take a number of important steps to expand research and education on the accessibility of information and communications technologies. By signing the letter, the presidents committed their institutions to work to
- Make "universal design" and accessibility part of the education that we provide to computer scientists and engineers at all levels—undergraduate, graduate and continuing education;
- Ensure that our websites and online resources are accessible to people with disabilities;
- Look for ways to increase support for research to improve the state-of-the-art in this area by seeking federal, state, private sector and foundation funding—and providing internal "seed funding" to new or existing faculty that wish to pursue this as a research topic;
- Contribute to efforts by the federal government to develop a comprehensive research agenda in this area;
- Help train experts who can serve as a national resource on this issue by participating in standards-setting efforts that incorporate accessibility, evaluating the accessibility of IT products and services, and providing technical assistance to companies seeking to enhance the accessibility of their products and services;
- Develop a strategy for increasing participation of people with disabilities in their computer science and engineering programs; and
- Encourage our faculty who are developing cutting-edge applications of IT to consider accessibility concerns.
The entire text of the letter is available online: An Open Letter on Accessibility from Research University Presidents.
During this same time frame, two similar letters to President Clinton were also circulated and signed. In the first, CEOs of high-tech companies pledged their support in creating and marketing accessible products and services. In the second, U.S. corporate executives pledged to increase the employment opportunities for people with disabilities, specifically by promoting the recruitment, hiring, and promotion of candidates and employees with disabilities.
It is difficult to measure what impact these pledges have had and will ultimately have on the accessibility of information technology at these and other educational institutions. However, this pledge of commitment offered by twenty-five postsecondary presidents is a positive symbol of hope and progress.
For additional information about the higher education institutions and IT you may also wish to view the video IT Accessibility: What Campus Leaders Have to Say in which university presidents, chief information officers, and other information technology (IT) leaders discuss the importance of IT accessibility on college campuses.