2014 Accessing Higher Ground Conference

by Serena Reavis

Accessing Higher Ground Conference - view of Westminster, Colorado

The Accessing Higher Ground: Accessible Media, Web, and Technology Conference (http://accessinghigherground.org/) is held annually in Westminster, Colorado, located between Boulder and Denver and overlooking the Rocky Mountains. The 17th annual conference was held November 17-21, 2014, and focused on legal, technical, and policy issues related to accessibility at higher education campuses across the nation. I attended this year’s conference with a colleague from Wake Technical Community College, Amy Netzel, the accessibility specialist in the eLearning Support Department. NC State’s University IT Accessibility Coordinator Greg Kraus was also in attendance.

At Tuesday’s pre-conference, I attended a day-long workshop on mobile accessibility led by Kathy Walhbin, the CEO and cofounder of Interactive Accessibility (http://www.interactiveaccessibility.com/). One of her most interesting facts was that 1 in 5 people using computers and mobile devices have a disability. Often, people with disabilities are considered to be a small minority; however, if we consider that 20% of users have a disability, quite a number of people are impacted by mobile accessibility features, and in fact, accessibility features enhance usability for all users. Most excitingly, both Android and iOS devices have quite a number of built-in accessibility features, including VoiceOver, Magnification, and even Switch Access (http://www.ablenetinc.com/Assistive-Technology/Switches). I think these options support the BYOD movement and have the potential to make non-proprietary services, like PollEverywhere (http://www.polleverywhere.com/), an effective solution for accessible engagement in the classroom.

On Wednesday morning I attended Greg Kraus’s presentation on NC State’s captioning implementation, “Paying for and Implementing Captioning, both Proactively and Reactively,” in which he highlighted NC State’s current captioning grant. Through the grant, faculty members can request funds for captioning classroom resources, such as lecture videos, for a current accommodation request or for proactive captioning. More information about the grant is provided on NC State’s Accessibility webpage (http://accessibility.ncsu.edu/multimedia/grant.html).

On Wednesday afternoon, Amy Netzel and I presented our session, “Meeting Everyone’s Needs: Redesigning an Online Introduction to Accessibility Course for Faculty.” During our session, we discussed the process of redesigning an online course created to teach faculty how to make their course materials accessible. We focused on our shifting perspective of faculty roles in accessibility based on levels of knowledge and the changes we made to the course based on that shift. The changes including eliminating the legal focus of the course materials, reducing the amount of information covered in the introductory class, removing overly technical language, incorporating principles of Universal Design for Learning, and revising the assessment to more directly measure the application of concepts. After these revisions, participants of the course reported that they retained more information and could apply it more readily to their classes. Overall, we think that more conversations will need to focus on the roles of faculty, administrators, instructional technologists, and other campus members’ roles in ensuring accessibility on campus.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended was “20,000 Pages and Counting: Improving Accessibility of Files Delivered by LMS” by Krista Greear, assistive technology/alternative media program manager at the University of Washington. In this session, Greear provided an overview of a data mining project, which she directed, that focused on understanding the accessibility of files used on the campus learning management system. Because the majority of materials posted on the learning management systems, like Moodle, are links to text-based files, those files are often a main concern for students with disabilities. During the project, she found that about 70% of documents posted on the learning management system were PDFs, and only 75% of those PDFs have structure, which is a necessary element of PDF accessibility. Her research demonstrates that more work is needed to ensure accessibility across campuses. More information about her, or any of the sessions, can be found on the conference’s website.

Overall, the conference provided a great opportunity to consider the impact of accessibility on our campus and to consider the opportunities that our college offers all students, especially those with disabilities.