Anyone who has gone through a self-opening door at the supermarket, watched a subtitled video on the computer, or used a sidewalk curb cut has benefited from advances in accessibility.
But is that video you posted in Web Campus universally usable for someone who has trouble hearing? Or that beautifully designed evite inviting to someone with vision issues?
“The idea of accessibility is really the idea of universal access or ‘usability,’” said Philip Voorhees, who heads UNLV’s new Office of Accessibility Resources. His mission is to provide technical assistance and training for everyone in the UNLV community who creates digital content.
“Our goal is to have all public-facing digital material and any digital material for students be fully accessible,” Voorhees said.
Voorhees’ team works with the Web and Digital Strategy unit to continually assess and remediate the university’s top websites to ensure UNLV’s online presence is in line with state and federal requirements.
Institutions around the country have been hit with lawsuits and federal complaints over the accessibility of their websites. “That’s one reason we want to make sure all our content is accessible,” said Joe Winton, director of Web and Digital Strategy. “But more importantly, we have to be accessible to serve actual people. If we start with that focus on our visitor’s needs, we’ll be covered. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.”
Getting It Right from the Start
The Office of Accessibility Resources also is working with UNLV Online Education to remediate the university’s top 30 online courses and to ensure all new online courses launched in fall 2019 meet state and federal accessibility requirements.
The Office of Accessibility Resources training provides easy-to-use tips for creating Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Canvas or website postings in an accessible format — meaning they are compatible for screen readers and can be interactive, even for people who cannot use a mouse or who have trouble typing.
The training provides a grounding in the concept, context, and application of accessibility and usability, Voorhees said.
“For us, it is really important to give people the foundations – the why – before we get into the how,” said Rex Suba, an educational technologist and instructional designer. “When people see how much it benefits users, they start to get excited about how they can improve what they are developing. It’s really eye-opening for them. Plus, they see how much time it saves to develop material that is accessible to begin with rather than having to remediate or re-do so much of their work.”
Since the fall, 130 people have taken the training and dozens more representing more than 25 units across campus have registered. The training has been extended to employees of the Nevada System of Higher Education.
Gabriel Judkins, a geoscience professor, was among the first to go through the new training because of the high enrollment in his online courses.
“The accessibility team is supportive and well-informed in both their efforts to widen the accessibility of courses at UNLV and in the challenges faced by faculty members who have existing content to improve,” Judkins said. “They have been readily available to meet with me, providing impromptu training and reviews of materials that I am producing for courses that are being updated.”
Voorhees said the Foundations of Accessibility training takes about six hours, but his team can schedule it in increments and can tailor the content for individual units.
Suba said many of the faculty he works with are surprised to learn how easy the content modifications can be but also are relieved they don’t have to learn everything in one sitting.
“We don’t let people just go off on their own without feeling really supported,” he said. “We work with them closely until they feel comfortable enough to modify their materials themselves, and even then, we make sure they know they can always call us for help.”
Outside of formal training, Voorhees’ team offers workshops and open labs to demonstrate best practices in making content accessible to everyone.
Melanie Young, a visiting lecturer in political science, first realized the importance of creating materials with accessibility in mind when some students let her know they needed help. But taking the training really drove home the difficulties students and others go through when they have trouble with vision, hearing, or dexterity.
“The team provided simulations of what people experience in a course when accessibility is not provided,” she said. “This was very useful to understanding how experiences vary widely. I found that the changes I made improved the experience, not just for those students that requested or needed it, but for all the students.”