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Teleconference with EDUCAUSE Executive Staff Minutes

Teleconference with EDUCAUSE Executive Staff
Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006
One hour


Terry Thompson 
Senior Computer Specialist 
University of Washington 

Ron Stewart 
President, ATHEN 
Former Director, Technology Access Program Information Services 
Oregon State University 

Laurie Vasquez 
Assistive Technology Specialist 
Santa Barbara City College 
Santa Barbara, Ca.

Jon Gunderson, Ph.D. 
Director of IT Accessibility Services 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

Norm Coombs, Ph.D. 
Professor Emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology 
CEO, EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) 

Saroj Primlani 
Coordinator of University IT Accessibility 
North Carolina State University 

Howard Kramer 
AT Conference Coordinator 
University of Colorado at Boulder 

Mary Cheng 
Director, Accessible Technology Initiatives 
California State University 

Cynthia Golden 
Vice President 

Cynthia has been an association member for the past 5 years. Responsibilities fall under the umbrella of professional development (management and leadership development programs).  Work with program committees for our face to face conference.  Committees are responsible for content. As part of Executive team we make decisions about strategic importance and work as a team to set the direction for Educause and work with the Board.

Mark Luker 
Vice President 

In charge of advanced networking program and public policy and government relations programs. Membership goes back to the early days of Educom.

Catherine Yang 
Director, Information Technology and Strategy 
Oversees operations of IT strategies, keeping a pulse on what is going on in Higher Ed. Monitors trends and content that come out of our programs and function.

Tracy Mitrano
Director of IT Policy and of Computer Policy and Law Programs 
Ithaca, NY 

Summary of meeting

Terry Thompson provided a brief overview of the current state of IT accessibility. Campuses are faced with a growing problem related to accessibility.  The number of students with disabilities is increasing and educational technology is increasing which doesn’t always allow students with disabilities to participate.  Our campus positions are challenged with ensuring that our technology is accessible and we are charged by law to do so via the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by making sure that our programs and services are accessible.  More of those programs and services are delivered exclusively through the delivery of educational technology. 

Two challenges we seem to face:

  1. The face of accessibility is changing because technology plays such a growing role in how education is delivered that the responsibility of accessibility has shifted away from the disability services groups toward the information technology groups.  Some are more equipped than others to address those issues. The role we play is getting our groups on board to understand accessibility so they can develop accessible web resources, deploy accessible hardware and software and make decisions related to accessibility at the procurement level to ask the right questions from vendors and so forth.

  2. Huge task to educate IT groups. How to go about supporting IT groups in ensuring accessibility.  A piece is that IT groups work with vendors.  All of us see Educause as the leader in Higher Education.  We initiated this conversation because we wanted to explore roles that Educause might play and help elevate the level of the accessibility discussion within the Higher Ed. IT group.

Cynthia Golden stated that Educause is anxious to have input from our group in terms of addressing ways to reach Educause constituents.  They have multiple channels to work through. In the past there have been articles submitted to their library, through publications, and various presentations at conferences but now is the time to step back and talk about adopting best approaches.

Many participants discussed issues from their campus viewpoints.  Jon Gunderson remarked on the need for a strategy to incorporate more people in the CIO office with the responsibility of accessibility.  What they have seen are a few universities who have allocated part of a staff or more, related to IT accessibility.  Problematic as this means people are pulled off their regular jobs to address issues that require more tracking and follow-through.

Service managers have to take responsibility for accessibility rather than delegate to the access person who has minimal control over larger IT developed initiatives.  What makes sense?  Evaluation needs to be part of the process.  It helps when we build consortiums or do advocacy because it is not a couple of lonely voices out there but a formation of a partnership that creates results. Getting CIOs willing to commit resources.  Provosts can support CIOs in recognizing that it is an important issue. 

Saroj pointed out that Educause has access to CIOs and has relationships with vendors.  Educause can provide a forum where we can elevate the conversation to engage and focus membership on issues in order to pay attention and address the accessibility of products from the CIO and vendor point of view.  We as access specialists can play a part in helping Educause educate.

Tracy asked if a constituent group within Educause would be an appropriate vehicle for pulling together the many pieces that have been existing on campuses concerning the programming issues. Would that be helpful?

Cynthia remarked that it would be.  Currently, one structure that exists is the forum for public discussion. Educause could improve listservs, some of which are very active. Another structure is to meet at Educause through more formalized face to face meetings.  There are many constituent groups who provide advice on programming to Educause and this is something they could just do.  

Tracy mentioned a listserv incorporated into one like ITCL.  Cynthia responded that as part of a constituent group we could set up our own.  Mark suggested providing a good name so it can be recognizable to everyone.  

Laurie suggested an inclusive name would be helpful. We are looking to elevate the conversation. However, there are many viewpoints from a local level.  For example, on the District Technology committee we are trying to choose a course management system.  We ask ourselves, which is more 508 compliant?  We also are implementing a new student portal, an enterprise system; and ITUNES University is knocking on our doors.  All these tools are available to our campuses.  Having a listserv that includes vendors who bring products to our campuses is helpful.  Somehow they need to become part of the conversation.

Cynthia noted that this would be a marketing or publicity kind of forum in order to let people know that it’s there.  More brainstorming is required.

Norm said to consider some way to prevent this from becoming another ghetto with our own listserv, with our own people talking to each other.  It runs across so many other areas, policy, and software purchases for example, that impact everybody.  We need some way to not just have our own group in a corner somewhere but to crossbreed to make others aware of their shared responsibility and to involve them.  

Tracy shared her experience working with web designers and people in our field.  As an observer of technology she could see how exciting it would be to promote this area of technology.  She asked how we would de-ghettoize ourselves.  How could we make other technologists excited about the technology?  What suggestions or strategies do we use?

Jon suggested packaging web accessibility with web standards.  70% of what we want for web accessibility is the same stuff web standards people are preaching.  We have been separating content from presentation such as, CSS, device independent, better accessibility for everyone including people with disabilities.  We have testimonials from web developers on, "Why haven't we been doing this before."  They see with incorporation of accessibility they have easier web pages to maintain, it is easier to create new ones with CSS templates.  Push the idea of being proactive vs. reactive.

Saroj brought forth working with vendors.  When the tool or environment is not accessible, it won't help the students.  How do you find a way for cost benefits for the vendors?  They need to have that in mind to address these issues when they are designing their product.  Could there be a forum where vendors could receive kudos, or some way to acknowledge what they have done.  They think they need a benefit in order to address these issues.  

Technology is being integrated onto campuses and moving at such a fast pace I am constantly behind and just trying keep up.  Not just what is new and what is accessible.  I am looking to Educause to bring the conversation together and bring it out of the ghetto.

Terry stated that vendors were loud and clear at the Educause roundtable that they would find it beneficial to have a forum as a next step.  Robert Dumas from WebCT/Blackboard attended the roundtable.  There is a 30 campus WebCT web accessibility groups.  Blackboard accessibility groups too.  They were outspoken in saying, "This is what we need, we want to be accessible but we don't have the expertise on staff."  We can try to build to the 508 standards but that alone won't make for an accessible usable product.  To have a consortium where vendors can access feedback and tap into a service like this is beneficial.  If this were to be an Educause facilitated or promoted type of service it could be a win win situation. 

Howard offered another suggestion re: the question of getting technologists, web designers and IT people together.  He found on an individual level if we could build in demonstrations and empathy (Business school, web design class) have someone who is blind and use a screen reader, which has a dramatic effect on people who are designing.  Educause could have demonstration at the national and regional conferences with session tracks on accessibility.

Norm pointed out it would be interesting if Educause encouraged the vendors to have a little symbol at their booth highlighting concern with accessibility. It would be a way to dialogue with vendors on the subject and to find out the company was doing in this area.

Jon suggested a type of supported collaboration umbrella for people who could have some type of icon showing they are collaborating with others interested in accessibility, in order to improve products.  People assume they are accessible until they are told they are not inaccessible.  Many of these companies never hear they are inaccessible or are unaware of a process to hear they are inaccessible.  WebCT to this day still claims 508 conformance and we still find places they are not. They have however done a tremendous amount of work. 

Cynthia, Mark and Kathryn, were asked about their thoughts re: ideas presented by the group.  Such as, a vendor consortium setup to provide accessibility feedback or encouraging vendors to promote their accessibility at the conference?

Cynthia responded in terms of the vendors, these were all good ideas and they do have access to them.  Out of this meeting she suggested carrying feedback to the vendors.  Every year Educause hosts a corporate forum before the annual conference.  There is awareness raising for the corporate members on different types of topics and they have an executive meeting.  There will be a meeting in the next week to discuss appropriate topics for the forum. One avenue for awareness training.  We could ask about the best way to further and promote this idea of access at the vendor shows.  Regarding the feedback forum, it is certainly worth a discussion.  She would like to raise that at the executive meeting.  

Laurie gave another example of what happens at the local level.   Many of our IT folks sit on our instructional technology committee and vice versa.  Faculty may sit at the District technology level representing all faculty in different divisions who are choosing educational technology as a way of delivering instruction to students.  On our campuses we are seeing more and more issues around student success and student learning outcomes because of accreditation.  One of the challenges from an educational technology point of view is that faculty ask for the latest technology because they are teaching distance education, developing web-based instructional pages or using a platform specific computer lab.  

There is a link between IT, classroom technology and faculty choices affecting the cost of campus purchases.  I find myself as Chair of the Instructional Technology committee wearing both hats because sometimes faculty want what they want, they don’t understand the cost issues and the lack of accessibility of  tools being chosen.  There are implications for how those tools and technologies can be supported on campus.  There is a constant awareness, training, and demonstration process that occurs around this issue on all our campuses.  

Mary agreed there is a difference between general IT and academic technology.  Academic technology is different because there is not the Federal stick as when IT sells to the Federal government.   There are a number of states adopting 508.  For the CSU implementation what can we do to share knowledge?  Can we leverage each other’s knowledge?  Can there be a project or a joint project like a website or database that can house the academic technology tool and the accessibility implications and maybe have a spot for vendors to update their latest information. Could this be a project for ATHEN and Educause to inform faculty and purchasers of a purchasing process and the adoptability process?

Tracy asked if Sakai is looking at this issue as an open source project.

Jon mentioned that Mike Elledge at Michigan State University is the Sakai accessibility expert.  It is basically a repair process, people develop modules and then to try to find people to do testing on them.  The repair process is problematic.  What they we have been working on with WebCT is to try and get a design process, so there are some standards.  People talk about Section 508 like somebody did something to improve accessibility.  It is pretty well known that the most common way to represent 508 accessibility compliance is to complete the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).  It is a general list of requirements and most vendors say they comply with every item on this list.
They don't say how they comply they just do.  Most purchasing agents say great they comply.  Then someone with a disability tries to use it and it doesn't.  
There is ongoing work to develop specific best practices with WebCT.  Testable items we expect vendors to use in order to make their product more accessible. 

For example: Use of headings. Critical to improve navigation of websites.  There are practices that are critical to section 508 for accessibility.  If Educause wanted to provide a service and a database it would add, "What does it mean to be an accessible application."  What are the features we can test?  We have been developing tools at the U of I to look for a set of best practices that we have been working on as part of our collaboration. So we can go in and automatically test for these pieces which gives us an indication as to how widely WebCT and other companies have implemented 508 requirements or WCAG.

Norm:  supported whar Jon was saying regarding best practices, it is a way to broaden accessibility discussions to make things better for everyone.   Re: the web some faculty want more real estate where his concern is navigation.  It is difficult to tab 30 times to get to essential information.   It might be accessible but poor practice with too many doors to go through as opposed to direct access.  Best practice is a way to improve features so that it suits an academic setting.  Unnecessary for students to tab all over, we want them to stay in the classroom.

To summarize, Cynthia mentioned she would bring these items before the executive committee.

Cynthia suggested a couple of points to take away and come back at a future time.  First, within Educause it is probably time to have a more formalized group.  We talked about it as a constituent group.  Not only a group to consider these kinds of issues but a group we in Educause can get ideas from in order to bounce ideas and get advice from.  When we want to encourage people to submit proposals to the annual conference, there are specific topic areas on this year’s submissions.  When we want presentations from the community for both the annual and regional conferences, having a constituent group really provides a forum.  
Second, there are dissemination channels that a constituent group can help with through a webinar, held twice a month called Educause “live.”  We can have topics on that.  Those things are archived.  We also have Blogs, articles and opportunities in publications.  
Third, these topics can be brought up in the Executive team meeting, on the best ways to use the our corporate forum, to deal with all the vendor aspects.  We can get some good feedback.  These are three areas we would like to focus on based on the input from the group. 

Saroj asked if it was possible for us to facilitate a discussion between us and the vendors only.  So we can understand their issues as well in order to have a better conversation?

Cynthia  stated she is trying to figure out what the best mechanism is to do so?  The corporate forum already exists and would just use this as a topic or a separate session.  

Terry asked how do we stay in the loop and maintain the communication we've started today.

Cynthia suggested we maintain our working group for now and she would take away some action items.  She can make recommendations in Educause workgroups and see what is possible.  They can then come back to our group and ask for volunteers to help move things forward.

Cynthia  was appreciative of our conversation and the time everyone gave to recognize that this is an important issue. They have contacts and forums to be able to get the word out.  One of things that she mentioned was pursuing their very active CIO constituent group and listserv.  It is populated by CIOs in management and leadership responsibilities in IT.  At the annual conference they put together a 2-3 hour session on different topics. They might be interested in adding this topic to this list of things to address.  There are lots of opportunities and our joint phone call just raised awareness on the different issues to carry forward.  She will come back to this group to share ideas gleaned from the CIOs.

Mark also mentioned that CIO’s and others may be amenable to demonstrations as well as others.

Catherine also suggested using Connect as a platform for expanding visibility of the issue and where there are a large number of learning technologists reading that channel.  It can add a dimension and be integrated into E-Live to raise awareness.

Tracy asked if there are people in the field that Teddy Diggs could contact to do some writing on the issue to also get the word out to generate conversation.  Teddy is the editor and publisher of Educause review a bi-monthly magazine.

She will use the e-mail group that we have established today and get back to us with updates with a few weeks.