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Accessible Tech in 2020-21: “The glass is overflowing”

The year 2020 brought unprecedented challenges to the world, country, and our university. At the University of Washington, as classes, programs, services, meetings, trainings, and major events moved online, this change was accompanied by a dramatic increase in demand for the services provided by the IT Accessibility Team.

One of the major events we got involved with was the UW’s first-ever online commencement ceremony, which occurred on June 13. In a meeting leading up to that ceremony, Sara Griggs,
Director of Office of Ceremonies, said “Many people right now see the glass as being half empty. I see it as overflowing!”

Since that meeting, I have continued to find inspiration in the notion of an overflowing glass, and have expressed my gratitude to Sara for her inspiration. I hope others are equally inspired by reading this.

Artist's rendering of a glass half full (or half empty)
Glass Half Full, by S Nova, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Looking back at 2020

In addition to working with the Office of Ceremonies, we collaborated with a wide variety of units in 2020, including UW Medicine (working extensively to ensure COVID-related communications are accessible), Procurement Services, and the Office of the Chief Information Security Officer (on updates to accessibility-related procurement procedures), service owners and managers of roughly 30 vendor products as well as the vendors themselves, the network of over 150 IT Accessibility Liaisons, and hundreds of individuals and departments who approached us seeking help with accessibility.

Key events from 2020 are included on our IT Accessibility Progress page. Here are a few highlights:

IT Accessibility Challenge

The IT Accessibility Challenge launched in May, and from May through October participants were taught, supported, and encouraged to take any of up to 20 simple actions to improve their IT accessibility.  The initial campaign has ended, but the Challenge lives on, and anyone can Take the IT Accessibility Challenge at any time. It’s a great way to get started with accessibility.

UW Celebration of Accessibility

The UW Celebration of Accessibility was an online event that took place on October 21 and featured lightning round talks from a wide variety of stakeholders from across the university who are engaged in accessibility-related work, including the Office of the ADA Coordinator, Disability Services Office, Disability Studies program, CREATE, the D Center, UW-IT Accessible Technology Services, and several IT Accessibility Challenge participants who reported out on what they accomplished and lessons learned. A recording of the event is available, along with links to slides and resources, on the UW Celebration of Accessibility web page.

Capacity Building Awards

Each year the IT Accessibility Task Force gives out Capacity Building Awards to individuals or groups at the UW who have actively demonstrated their commitment to promoting the accessible design of IT and universal design of instruction both onsite and online. This year’s award recipients were announced at the UW Celebration of Accessibility and are profiled below.

Integrated Social Sciences

Faculty and staff in the Integrated Social Sciences unit in the College of Arts and Sciences reported significant efforts as part of the IT Accessibility Challenge 2020, engaging many members in their unit in improving the accessibility of their core courses. They also organized an accessibility training for the campus-wide Online Advising Group; worked proactively to ensure their department’s virtual graduation event was accessible; and actively promoted accessibility best practices among the organizers of decentralized graduation events throughout the university.

College of Education

The College of Education made significant proactive efforts to train faculty in the accessible/universal design of online courses as they quickly converted on-site courses to online formats. Instructors were regularly offered web-based professional development that covered topics that included tips for making their courses accessible and how to use accessibility checkers, including those used in the creation and remediating of documents and presentation slides as well as the Ally tool which is integrated within UW’s Canvas learning management system.

Looking ahead to 2021

As we launch the new year, we do so with an overflowing cup. The tremendous growth in interest in IT accessibility has us imagining all sorts of ways that we can support the UW community as it works to ensure its digital content is accessible. Specific goals and activities are documented in our IT Accessibility Plan. Below are a few highlights.

Accessible Technology Webinar Series

At 3:00pm on the last Thursday of each month, we will host a webinar on a popular topic related to IT Accessibility. The first six months have already been scheduled:

  • January 28: 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Course 
  • February 25: Video Accessibility 
  • March 25: Web Accessibility
  • April 29:  Testing with Screen Readers
  • May 27: Document Accessibility
  • June 24: Alternatives to PDF 

For additional details about the webinar series, as well as our other events and activities, visit our IT Accessibility Events page.

New website coming soon

We’re actively working to improve the organization of the current website so it’s easier to find the information you’re looking for. Stay tuned for an update early in 2021.

Zero Errors Campaign coming soon

The UW has a wide variety of accessibility checkers available for checking websites, public documents, Canvas course content, and videos. Automated accessibility checkers have some inherent limits (they can’t check everything), but they’re great tools for learning about accessibility and for finding problems you might have overlooked. In 2021, we’ll be launching a Zero Errors campaign, providing training, support, and inspiration to the UW community as we all work together to reduce or eliminate the accessibility errors identified by accessibility checkers. Stay tuned for an update.

New focus on audio description

The UW has made a lot of progress in recent years in adding captions to videos, which is essential for people who depend on text rather than sound to access audio content. However, video can also present an accessibility barrier to people who are unable to see. If video content is presented visually and is not accessible by listening to the audio, the video may require audio description. This is required by accessibility standards but is often overlooked. There is additional information on our Accessible Videos web page.  Also, there’s an excellent example on the UW News website: Their recently-published year-ending video, titled 2020 in Video, includes a link immediately beneath the video player to an audio described version. Try this:

  1. Watch the original video with your eyes closed.  What do you learn about the UW in 2020?
  2. If you have eyesight, watch the original video again with your eyes open. What do you learn about the UW in 2020 that you missed in Step 1?
  3. Follow the link to the audio-described version, and watch that with your eyes closed. Now what do you learn?

In 2021 we’ll be focusing more on this important issue, and offering trainings, support, and other opportunities for helping video owners to get started with adding audio description to their videos.

Happy New Year everyone!  All of us on the IT Accessibility Team are looking forward to helping you with your digital accessibility needs in 2021.