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Considering accessibility when teaching online

On March 6, the University of Washington (UW) announced that it would no longer be meeting in person due to the threat posed by COVID-19. For the remainder of Winter quarter, classes and/or exams would be conducted remotely. The UW was the first public university in the United States to take this action, but since then, colleges and universities throughout the country have moved to an online delivery model, and the UW has extended its remote learning to include all of Spring quarter.

As higher education institutions, including the UW, prepare to provide students with a fully remote educational experience, it is critical that they take the steps necessary to ensure all students have equal access, including students with disabilities.

On March 17, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education released a video message reminding educational institutions of their obligations under civil rights law to avoid discriminating against students with disabilities during this nationwide movement to online instruction. The full video is provided below.

As Kenneth L. Marcus, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, says at 1:15, “Online learning is a powerful tool for educational institutions, as long as it is accessible for everyone”.

If you’re a faculty member, instructor, teaching assistant, web designer or developer, administrator, or other stakeholder involved in some capacity in delivering UW content or services online, please take steps to ensure your online content is accessible. The Accessible Technology home page has been updated with a variety of resources that can help. If you need help, please contact UW-IT Accessible Technology Services via help@uw.edu with specific questions. Also, please consider attending an upcoming training or event or joining our growing community of IT Accessibility Liaisons.

We couldn’t do it without Liaisons!

There are various groups at the University of Washington (UW) whose primary responsibility is accessibility. Accessible Technology Services (ATS) within UW-IT is one of these groups, and our focus is on the accessibility of information technology (IT). The UW has created, procured, and/or used a massive amount of IT: Hundreds of thousands of web pages; millions of digital documents; tens of thousands of videos on YouTube and countless more on Panopto; thousands of software packages; and hundreds, if not thousands, of classroom technologies and other hardware devices. All of these technologies present possible barriers to certain groups of students, faculty, staff, and/or visitors who need to access them, including individuals with disabilities.

Although ATS staff works very hard to raise awareness, educate stakeholders, and provide accessibility solutions, we’re a small team facing a daunting challenge. Given this, a key to our success is our growing network of IT Accessibility Liaisons. The Liaisons network is comprised of staff and faculty who are out there in the trenches, not necessarily charged with accessibility in their job descriptions, but willing to do their part to try to improve IT accessibility within their scope of influence.

Continue reading “We couldn’t do it without Liaisons!”

UW Accessible Technology in 2020

Welcome to 2020! We in UW-IT Accessible Technology Services (ATS) are excited for the new year and new decade. We wrapped up 2019 with momentum:

  • On November 13, 36 people participated in the Fall meeting of the IT Accessibility Liaisons network. The meeting was a “strategies session,” focusing on implementing IT accessibility within units or departments and including accessibility in staff trainings. Representatives from various UW groups shared their experiences, promising practices, and challenges.
  • On December 6, IT accessibility specialist Hadi Rangin was joined by Mary Mulvill, UW service owner of ServiceNow, and Aaron Powell, Vice President for UW Information Technology and CIO, in traveling to San Diego for a productive meeting with ServiceNow leadership, which resulted in ServiceNow taking concrete actions to improve their products’ accessibility.
  • On December 12, 38 people gathered for the first ever UW Drupal/WordPress accessibility sprint. Web designers, developers, and/or content authors worked together to fix accessibility issues on their websites. We provided coffee and pizza, and some people stayed for the entire all-day event.

We have already continued to build on that momentum in 2020. Just as New Years celebrations were winding down, I gave a presentation on January 2 called “Web Accessibility in 2020,” presented at the year’s first Web Council meeting, which was attended by 30 people (20 in person and 10 remote). Then later that morning, ATS hosted its first IT Accessibility Office Hours, something we’ll be doing every month in 2020 except February. Please stop by HUB 238 with your IT accessibility questions the first Thursday of each month at 11:00 am.

One of our activities in the new year is this blog. We anticipate having lots of news items to share, and this blog will provide a new channel for doing that.

As I said in the January 2 Web Council meeting, please consider adding accessibility-related goals to your New Years resolutions. We in ATS are here to support you however we can in meeting those goals. Feel free to reach out via help@uw.edu and let us know how we can help.