In March 2021, the web & digital strategy team conducted an audit of all inaccessible documents on UNLV web pages. The audit flagged over 1,000 documents for inaccessibility on the Business Affairs and Human Resources pages alone. This staggering number highlighted the need to overhaul the unit's practices surrounding digital content creation.
By the summer of 2021, a plan was put in place to address the inaccessible documents and also to make sure that all future documents met federal and NSHE guidelines.
The Business Affairs communication team partnered with the Office of Accessibility Resources to develop and launch the Business Affairs Accessibility Ambassador program. This program changes how content is posted on Business Affairs’ digital channels and elevates expectations for equitable access to information.
Jerra Strong, web accessibility specialist, Kate Shapiro, Business Affairs communications specialist, and Rex Suba, director of the Office of Accessibility Resources, spearheaded the accessibility strategy.
“We wanted to create a program that would give people the tools to make accessibility the starting point of content creation,” said Strong. “This would foster longevity and target the knowledge departments needed to be successful.”
He knew that the only way to make a change was to make sure that individual departments had someone advocating for and willing to teach others about accessible document practices. All 14 of the current ambassadors are volunteers who signed up to take on this extra responsibility in exchange for training and professional development.
Documents are flagged as inaccessible for several reasons. The most common is that the content is not easily readable by assistive technology, such as screen readers. This could mean that images lack descriptive text, forms do not have clear structural tags, PDF files don’t have proper keyboard interaction, or closed captioning and transcripts are not provided for files with audio. Remediating or changing document formatting for accessibility involves editing both content and layout.
When the program began, Strong, Shapiro, and Suba focused on providing a comprehensive overview of PDFs, Word documents, Excel files, and PowerPoint presentations.
“The ambassadors all went through the Foundations of Accessibility training offered by the Office of Accessibility Resources, so they knew why accessibility was important, but they still had questions about how to implement these practices,” said Shapiro.
Business Affairs is committed to being the “office of how” and developed additional training to support that mission. The curriculum was developed through input from the ambassadors about the accessibility topics they wanted to learn about to make the meetings relevant to their roles. Their responses helped shape the bi-monthly meeting agendas.
Strong, Shapiro, and Suba also wanted to build a reference library that participants could access when they had questions about accessibility procedures or needed a refresher on how to address certain problems. They created a WebCampus course that provided the ambassadors with the tools they needed to succeed. The course includes modules with job aids, examples of accessible document formatting, and videos for different file types.
“Each meeting included a workshop with step-by-step instructions on some of the most common reasons documents are flagged for inaccessibility,” said Shapiro. “The ambassadors were encouraged to ask questions and sessions were recorded so that those who couldn’t attend would be able to log into WebCampus and watch past sessions when they didn't have scheduling conflicts.”
Kahaunani Hernandez, a senior accountant in General Accounting, appreciates the approach and pace of the meetings. “Jerra took his time and made accessibility easy to understand,” said Hernandez. “Anyone who comes to these workshops with an open mind will learn that accessibility techniques don’t have to be daunting.”
After six months of training, each of the accessibility ambassadors passed a quiz that earned them an “Accessibility Professional” badge. The badge can be posted to their LinkedIn profiles to confirm their expertise and commitment to equity.
The group has progressed to addressing specific documents in Business Affairs and Human Resources that need to be remediated. Participants are encouraged to submit their department's non-confidential files so the ambassador team can discuss formatting and content changes and exchange best practices. This resulted in a collaborative environment that encourages participation from everyone while providing important hands-on experience.
Strong hopes the program will continue to grow and maybe someday every unit on campus will have accessibility professionals among their ranks. “Whenever anyone asks how they can tackle their own accessibility culture, I point to Business Affairs and Human Resources as the example they should follow,” he said.
A benefit to the university
The number of inaccessible documents on the Business Affairs and Human Resources sites has decreased from over 1,000 to fewer than 150 with plans to make it zero by the end of this calendar year. Their web accessibility score rose across the board by an average of 3.7% to 91.5%. For reference, the higher education industry benchmark is 83.5%. This is in large part due to the work of departmental accessibility ambassadors.
To anyone intimidated by the process of learning how to implement accessibility practices, Jean Vock, senior vice president/CFO, said, “The Accessibility Ambassadors are learning a complex skill while helping UNLV build a diverse and inclusive culture — a Top Tier 2.0 goal. Their work will serve the needs of students, faculty, and staff for years to come.”
While these numbers are worthy of celebration, Shapiro notes that it’s the intangible results that she is most proud of. “I see and hear the public-facing communications in Business Affairs and Human Resources becoming more user-focused,” she said. “Looking at web page content with fresh eyes has also meant that outdated content and confusing language have been edited to make it more customer-friendly.”
For Strong, the biggest success has been living up to a practice of equity that has life-changing potential. “My biggest worry is that someone will have problems navigating the university website and as a result decide that maybe they don’t belong here,” he said. He believes access to information is beneficial to all and one of the best ways to create a culture of equity and inclusion.