The Digital Accessibility Task Force held the first of two informational question-and-answer sessions on May 11.
The session was aimed at educating people about the challenges that the Task Force faces in improving digital accessibility for students with disabilities.
The event was led by Mary Kay Wegner, the change management director at Bellevue College. Wegner talked about how BC has a reputation for supporting students with disabilities, which means that they draw many disabled students to the school. However, as Wegner repeated several times, “there is always room for improvement.”
At the information session, Wegner identified four key areas that the Task Force was focusing on: websites, software procurement, course materials and video captioning. The overall goal of the Task Force is to fully comply with the national standards on digital accessibility, which require that “any individual can access and acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions and enjoy the same services with substantially the equivalent ease of use that the device, technology, material or service offers non-disabled students.”
Wegner said that making websites more accessible might be the easiest problem of the four to deal with, as they’ve had the most history working with websites and the biggest issue is that “the law hasn’t given very clear guidelines” as to what websites are supposed to do.
Wegner hopes that a “refreshed” version of the law, set to come out this year, will be clearer.
Software procurement is difficult to address as not all of Bellevue College’s software purchases come through IT.
“It would be nice if IT was a ‘chokepoint’ to check and test all software, but that would slow things down to a halt,” Wegner said. In addition, the law makes it the responsibility of the people buying and implementing the software – in this case, BC – to make sure it meets accessibility guidelines.
Textbooks are an issue because many companies “just look at you with a blank face” when you asking about the accessibility of their materials, Wegner said.
Video captioning, providing closed captions at the bottom of the screen for all video materials produced and used by BC, has perhaps the clearest yet most expensive way forward. There are companies that will add closed captioning to a college’s video materials, but that would be a big financial undertaking for a college with thousands of hours of video material.
Despite these challenges, Wegner believes that solutions must be found and changes will take place to make sure that BC technology is accessible for all. She said that the Task Force is prepared to make some suggestions to BC President Dave Rule and his cabinet, but that is not the end of the challenges. “Even when we get the president’s cabinet’s blessing with some of these recommendations we have to bring it out to the masses and say, ‘here are some of our ideas and what they mean to you,’” Wegner said.
The next information session will be on May 26 at 3:00 p.m. in the Continental Room, C120, adjacent to the cafeteria.