Staff Raise Accessibility and Privacy Concerns Over New ctcLink Program

Clementine Allen // The Watchdog.

Bellevue College is currently transitioning to a new program called ctcLink that will change the way college students, staff and faculty do business such as class registration and timesheets. All 34 State Board Career and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) in Washington are either currently using ctcLink or are in the process of implementing ctcLink.

However, some staff members at BC have raised accessibility and privacy concerns about the new technology. Employees working in HR or a disability office at any school in the SBCTC system can see the disability and accommodation information for any BC student or employee. At this time, new information cannot be viewed by other offices, but the original information is still there for other offices to view. In addition, screen reader users are unable to sign up for classes on the desktop platform, though they can use an app that has a back-end web page that is screen-reader accessible. The weekly timesheet page is also not screen-reader accessible, meaning employees that use a screen reader must submit their timesheet from the daily view.

Marisa Hackett, Director of Bellevue College’s Disability Resource Center (DRC), says that she knew there was the potential for inaccessibility with ctcLink for about a decade. A council called the Disability Support Services Council (DSSC) intended for disability support professionals had “notes from 2011 …about people asking, ‘Will it be screen-reader accessible?’ and that information should have gotten to the state board at that time.” In addition, the DSSC asked for a disability support professional to be a representative on the ctcLink committee, but that never happened. In August 2015, ctcLink went live at Tacoma CC, Spokane CC, and Spokane Falls CC. Those who needed screen-readers weren’t able to register for classes and someone else had to assist them. These community colleges submitted tickets for ctcLink to turn screen reader mode on and accessibility testing to be engaged. In 2017, the DSSC wrote a letter to the Washington State Student Services Commission about the accessibility concerns and requested screen-reader mode to be turned on. The screen-reader mode did get turned on, but ctcLink was still inaccessible to those who use screen-readers. In 2019, Clark College, another college that uses ctcLink, found the program to be inaccessible and submitted tickets for these issues to be resolved.

Oracle, the company that owns ctcLink, is working to fix the accessibility and privacy concerns but hasn’t been the best at fixing issues concerning those with disabilities in the past. According to Hackett, PeopleSoft, the program ctcLink is built from being “known nationally for being not accessible.”

If the accessibility and privacy concerns are not fixed by Bellevue College’s live date (Nov. 8), Bellevue College is at risk of lawsuits and complaints from the Office for Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Even though workarounds such as the daily view and mobile version are in place, the workarounds are not equal access.

At this point, according to Rodger Harrison, Vice President of IT services, Bellevue College can do a couple of things. Option one is to go live three months later, in deployment group six (BC is currently in deployment group five). Harrison is concerned with this option because deployment group six is the last group to deploy and many of the state board employees are contract employees. Some of the employees currently working on ctcLink with the state may leave before BC adopts the platform, leaving the school with fewer resources to work out any issues that arise. If BC chooses to not continue with ctcLink, then BC is stuck with the current system, the HP legacy system. This system was implemented approximately 35 years ago, making it extremely outdated. On top of that, the state board is closing the HP legacy system down, meaning that BC would have to take the program over, which would be very costly. It would then be even more difficult to transition away from the HP legacy system. If Bellevue College was to consider other options, BC would “really have to dive into them each further financially and understand what the possibilities are.” In addition, Bellevue College is currently in the data validation phase, which is quite far into the ctcLink implementation process. However, AJ Duxbury, Assistant Director of the DRC, thinks that Bellevue College “could take a stand and put our money where our mouth is, and push the state board to say, we’re continuing HP until this is accessible. This is a barrier, but it’s not an end-all, be-all. I think there are other options, that certainly would be difficult. That is equity work.”

The BC administration wants to continue with the implementation of ctcLink because BC has already paid for the program and will be required to pay for ctcLink no matter what. Not continuing with ctcLink, or delaying the implementation of ctcLink, would cause the college to spend more money than if they continued with implementing ctcLink.

If the implementation of ctcLink continues, there are a few things that Duxbury and Hackett would like to see. Duxbury would like to see a committee formed that is “looking at what are going to be the employee barriers and changes in job duties that need to happen proactively and working with HR and potentially the faculty and classified unions to adjust that proactively.” She would also like to see a committee formed “looking at the barriers for students connecting with the other colleges, particularly Clark, paying certain colleagues for their expertise to come in and train on how to support a student who’s experiencing these barriers.” Duxbury would also like to see an accessibility committee come back to Bellevue College. Adding on, Duxbury wants “BC, as well as the state board, [to] be compliant with policy 188 that says that our tech has to be accessible. And if there is no accessible option, there is a plan in place to get it to be accessible.” Hackett would like to see the state board and other public colleges across the state put pressure on Oracle to make their product more accessible. According to Hackett, one of Hackett’s colleagues who understands computer coding estimated “that the rate that they’re going, it would take 10 years to fix everything.”

Harrison emphasized that “we really need to find out how we can address all the concerns and move to a place where all of our users can independently use the software.”