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The Role of Campus Leadership in Ensuring IT Accessibility

“Everyone should have an opportunity to participate in higher education.”

With those words, Michael K. Young, President of the University of Washington, opens a new video from his institution’s AccessComputing Project, IT Accessibility: What Campus Leaders Have to Say. Developed with support from the National Science Foundation, this video presents university presidents, chief information officers, and other higher education leaders who stress the importance to higher education of accessibility for persons with disabilities, and of having campus technology environments that support it.

Accessibility for persons with disabilities is a legal obligation and a commitment stemming from the mission of higher education itself. Whether in learning, research, or employment capitalizing on the value all members of the community bring to campus is central to advancing the common good. As Edward Ray, President of Oregon State University noted, “…excellence is achieved through diversity.” Technology can and should play a major role in opening higher education’s doors to contributions from persons whose talents are as diverse as the challenges they face.

In discussing how institutions can realize this objective, leaders interviewed in the video highlight the importance of universal design, the concept that accessibility is best achieved when designed into a product or service from the start. By stressing universal design in the products and services they develop or acquire to support the mission, institutions can create technology environments in which access for those with disabilities “will be automatically available” (Tracy Mitrano, Director of IT Policy, Cornell University).

The campus leaders interviewed also emphasize another important avenue for ensuring access for all to campus IT resources—institutional policy. They note that campus policy in this space first must ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, but it should go farther and encourage alignment with institutional values. For example, in considering IT procurement, they urge colleges and universities to make accessibility a priority in their purchasing decisions. In their view, this entails not just setting appropriate criteria for IT procurement, but also engaging proactively with providers to help them understand and meet the institution’s accessibility needs.

I am proud that IT Accessibility: What Campus Leaders Have to Say premiered at our recent EDUCAUSE 2012 Annual Conference, and I hope senior higher education leaders will use it to begin a dialogue on how their institutions can more effectively achieve IT accessibility. EDUCAUSE will continue working to support such conversations, and I invite you to join us in that effort.

Comments

Accessbility to emerging technologies for persons with disabilities is a vital issue for higher education though it has yet to be perceived as a priority by most CIOs and other institutional leaders.  The exceptions are at institutions that have been jarred into action by lawsuits from the National Federation of the Blind and/or the US Department of Justice.  Do we really need to be sued or coerced in order to recognize the importance of making our technology equally accessible to all of our students?  Can we not adopt a more proactive stance on this issue simply because it's the right thing to do?   So kudos to Diana and to EDUCAUSE for raising awareness about accessibility in this article, at the annual conference, and elsewhere.   --- Marty Ringle, CIO, Reed College

Accessbility to emerging technologies for persons with disabilities is a vital issue for higher education though it has yet to be perceived as a priority by most CIOs and other institutional leaders.  The exceptions are at institutions that have been jarred into action by lawsuits from the National Federation of the Blind and/or the US Department of Justice.  Do we really need to be sued or coerced in order to recognize the importance of making our technology equally accessible to all of our students?  Can we not adopt a more proactive stance on this issue simply because it's the right thing to do?   So kudos to Diana and to EDUCAUSE for raising awareness about accessibility in this article, at the annual conference, and elsewhere.   --- Marty Ringle, CIO, Reed College

Marty...I agree.  This is inherently a leadership responsibility.  We should be setting the agenda and culture to embrace this as core to what we do and not an afterthough.  We shouldn't, as you said, have to wait to be coerced or sued.  I echo your comments about Diana raising the issue.  When the vidoe was reeleased i shared it my direct reports and we discussed in a staff meeting.  I've established a position which includes accessibility as part of their job description, but it's a responsibilty of us all.  ~ Keith McIntosh, CIO, Pima Community College

I could not agree with you more.

I am currently teaching an online Master's course on healthcare, and I have become more aware of the need for accessibility than I had been in the past. I suspect that online courses may attract a disproportionate number of special needs students, as the online environment frees students from a number of the constraints of the classroom: the need for mobility, the need to be able to process information in real-time, and the need to be able to hear, see, and speak. While online learning can increase access, it is essential for us to make sure that we do not place undue burdens on students in the online environment that limit accessibility.

Providing both the means and way for students with disabilities to attain a higher education is an important topic that often gets the white-wash treatment from community, state, and national leaders.  It is good to see many educational institutions taking the initiative to make access available to all!

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