EDUCAUSE research zeros in on Accessibility

Recently, the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research released a 2018 Students and Technology Report that zeros in on the need to improve awareness and support for accessibility issues in higher education.

Most noteworthy in this report is that students who have disabilities are often dissatisfied with their experiences at their institutions around general awareness of the importance of accessibility.

“The institutional provision of accessible web content and technologies is not then merely an issue of ethics or morality but one of legal liability.

Institutions that fail to properly accommodate the needs of their students may find themselves confronted with lawsuits, complaints, and settlements.

However, one of the major problems facing colleges and universities is that institutions may SIMPLY NOT BE AWARE of students’ needs.

EDUCAUSE 2018 Students and Technology Report on Accessibility

Blackboard Ally was adopted at GVSU to INCREASE AWARENESS of the importance of accessibility and ADA compliance, to BUILD the CAPACITY of faculty in creating accessible content, and to offer greater INSIGHT at the institutional level.

Looking more closely at the survey results, 58% of students with disabilities have responded that their institution’s awareness of their need for accessible technologies was “poor”. [See Chart Below]

Reviewing the data overall, EDUCAUSE suggests that IT accessibility is an issue for many college students with both physical and learning disabilities.

Also of note is that many students who have diagnosed disabilities do not reveal or register with the university’s disability support resources office for fear that they may be stigmatized or penalized.

To better support creating awareness and to provide better support to all students, EDUCAUSE recommends the following:

  • “Be a collaborative partner in testing and implementing assistive/accessible technologies and the principles of universal design for learning.”
    • At GVSU, the eLearning team works with the Disability Support Resources Office and supports the use of universal design for learning as well as the adoption of Blackboard Ally to encourage faculty to begin with accessibility in mind and to monitor the level of accessibility of their course content.
  • “Provide professional development to IT staff via accessibility workshops, conferences, and training; develop campus IT accessibility policies related to the development, procurement, and implementation of products…”
  • “Revise informational and course materials targeted to this population to emphasize accessibility, which focuses on inclusion and universal learning,11 to help destigmatize student learning barriers.”
  • “Offer training for faculty on implementing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines13 and other universal/inclusive instructional practices. Educate faculty on the inequitable impacts and potential legal implications that bans on in-class use of personal devices can have on students with disabilities.”
  • “And stop us if you’ve heard this one before:  STOP BANNING LAPTOPS.”

STOP BANNING LAPTOPS

“After a difficult freshman year, Lucas realizes he needs help. In high school he was diagnosed with a condition that affects his fine-motor skills, and he received therapy and accommodations that helped him succeed. When he started college, he decided not to register with the campus Office of Disability Services, but the demands of college proved challenging, and he struggled to keep up. Writing in longhand for extended periods is painful and results in illegible class notes.

Using his laptop works best for him, but half of his instructors last year didn’t allow laptops in class.

The Office of Disability Services requires proof of his condition that must be no more than three years old, so Lucas visits his doctor for an updated exam, earns money to cover the medical fees to fill out his accommodation forms (which aren’t covered by his insurance), and registers.

He receives an accommodation to use his laptop in class and notifies all his instructors before classes begin. On the first day of his Intro to Economics course, the professor reviews the course policies, which include a ban on personal tech devices in class.

As the student next to him packs her laptop away, she says,

“Didn’t you hear her? We can’t use our computers in class.”

Even though he has an accommodation, Lucas doesn’t want to talk about his disability with a stranger. He closes his laptop screen and takes out a pen and paper.”

EDUCAUSE 2018 Students and Technology Report on Accessibility


Further, since 2014, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative has surveyed the teaching and learning community to uncover the top themes and challenges facing higher education. Accessibility and universal design has been in the top 10 as a key strategic issue in higher education, and in fact, last year was ranked as #2. This area of concern continues to bubble up and with it challenges such as:  faculty buy in, funding, time for training, expertise, and dedicated staff become areas of focus.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative 2018 Key Issues in Teaching and LearningAccessibility and UDL continue to be important key issues and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team supports these initiatives through faculty professional development and shared resources along with collaborative services with the Disability Support Resources department.

Blackboard Ally was adopted and put into production at GVSU in the summer of 2018 to: generate awareness, build capacity, and increase institutional oversight of accessibility.

In addition, Panopto was implemented to provide video caption capability for faculty who are using instructional video content in their teaching.

Both Ally and Panopto support the principles of inclusive education through accessibility and UDL.

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