Creating a Culture of Accessibility

By Lauren Foote

In response to a compliance review initiated by the United States Department of Education received in December 2014, Youngstown State University is making documents, lectures and websites more accessible for students with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that any student with a disability has the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability.

By Dec. 30, 2015, the university will make its Electronic Information Technology completely accessible to individuals with disabilities — particularly students with visual, hearing or manual impairments or who otherwise require the use of assistive technology to access the EIT.

This includes attachments to emails, files posted on Blackboard, files posted on college, departmental or personal websites and any other website a student needs for their course work.

Ken Schindler, the associate vice president and chief technology officer at YSU, said the university is not quite there yet.

“More work still needs to get done in terms of education content on Blackboard, PDFs, Word documents and other resources that are part of a course,” Schindler said.

Assistive technology, such as JAWS or Apple Accessibility, has to be able to read content for it to be considered accessible. So all the articles, documents, PDFs, videos, images and PowerPoints have to be readable by these programs.

Screen reader technology is available for students who are blind or have dyslexia. The screen reader reads out to the student what is on the screen. If the document has images that have no context to them or no obvious headers to follow, the screen reader cannot follow it.

Rosalyn Donaldson, the technology training coordinator for YSU’s Office of Human Resources, said YSU’s websites were not compatible with assistive technology.

“For a website to be compatible, it has to have alternative text with images. The descriptions have to be there,” Donaldson said. “Images require alternative text. Headings help the screen reader navigate through the website.”

Faculty and staff are being trained to make all technological and academic content accessible for students with disabilities. Workshops are being offered throughout the next few months to train and educate the YSU community.

Human Resources had a series of courses and workshops available since summer 2015, and there is a self-paced training course on Blackboard.

Employees are learning about the new requirements set by the Board of Education through accessibility overview workshops. Educators or students can find more information on the training and development website.

Graduate teaching assistants were given the option to either attend the workshops offered on campus or access an online version to learn the ADA guidelines.

Alex Harless, a second year graduate student, said the options are helpful.

“Online training was good,” Harless said. “We want to be better educators. The university is giving us the resources that we need to do that. However, I think I also want to attend an actual workshop, to answer questions the online version could not give me.”

Salome Heyward and Associates will be auditing the university in October. They will determine whether or not YSU followed the requirements set out in the resolution agreement.

Schindler said they will look at YSU’s websites and Blackboard to establish a baseline. In one year, they will look at how much improvement has been made.

“This is the first big, third party audit that we have ever had for disability,” Schindler said.

Donaldson said this is a product of a culture of change.

”We need to learn to make communication accessible to everyone,” Donaldson said. “This is just the first step in making accessible information the status quo.”