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Case Study - Ohio State University

ATHEN E-Journal Issue #2 (2007)

Ohio State University

Ken Petri, & Indrajit Mukherjee


  1. Institution:The Ohio State University
  2. Size:
    1. Student body: 50,000+
    2. Faculty & staff: 13,000+
    3. Main Web developers: This is very difficult to determine. The Web Interest Group listserv, to which many campus developers and web masters belong and which is managed by University Relations, serves to around 200 members, but membership is on a volunteer basis. Many departments and colleges have their own web developers who work as part of college or department IT and are full-time staff members. For example, Academic Affairs and Student Affairs have their own dedicated web developers. University Relations New Media, which is responsible for Ohio State's "front door," its main web site and the "look" of key top-level web sites, employs four full-time web developers. The Fisher College of Business also employs a number of full-time developers and centralizes all of its web communications. But, in general, web development is highly decentralized. In terms of content creation, it is very typical for faculty and office associates to author web pages. Most of these individuals have little or no formal training. Usage of content management systems at the college and department level is sparse.
  3. How would you rate your institutional context with respect to Web development?
    1. Highly centralized
    2. Moderately centralized
    3. Moderately decentralized
    4. Highly decentralized - (if there were a "highly, highly decentralized" I'd select that option)
  4. What is your institutional policy around accessible Web content (if any)? If you use guidelines instead of policy to assist in Web accessibility go ahead and note this.
    1. Please describe your policy or guideline. Specifically describe (or point to)
      1. the standard you use: Our Web Accessibility Policy has been in effect since June, 2004. It contains both specific policy and our Minimum Web Accessibility Guidelines (
      2. if monitoring against the standard occurs: The Web Accessibility Center (WAC) performs per-request accessibility reports. These are performed only when a web site manager or other responsible party asks for the evaluation. On average, the WAC performs eight site evaluations per quarter. The WAC also offers consulting on web accessibility and has worked on a number of occasions to facilitate the hiring of developers.
      3. if consequences (good or bad) for accessible design are tied to policy: The university is currently revising annual reporting. Web accessibility compliance assessment will be integrated into annual reports at the Dean and Vice Presidential level in the next revision.
      4. if procurement of accessible technologies is tied to policy: Within university purchasing documentation, there is only the very broad "in compliance with all federal and state laws" statement. The Office of the Provost is working with Business Affairs and Legal Affairs to change this. An explicit policy with boiler plate language that covers purchases of E and IT as well as contract services and real property is under development. Currently, there are recommendations within the Web Accessibility Policy applying to "Software Applications and Operating Systems": "When licensing or purchasing operating systems and software consider the impact your choices will have on the resources and effort necessary to provide accessible Web based services and information in accordance with OSU policy and applicable state and federal regulations."
  5. How does your institution provide the training and support necessary for accessible design from your faculty and staff?
    1. Please describe your training and professional development activities (your model of training, technical assistance, & professional development so to speak): The Web Accessibility Center offers workshops, both self-advertised and advertised in conjunction with other campus organizations. It also manages a listserv with around 160 members. Newsletters that describe techniques and discuss design rationales go out once or twice a quarter. The WAC also publishes tutorials and lists resources on its web site. See "b," below, for some elaboration regarding workshop training. Most of our workshops offer hands-on training. We try to use labs that have computers set up with the software we will be demonstrating. For technical assistance, the WAC often consults with campus developers and on a few occasions has consulted with third-party developers working with campus organizations to ensure they understand compliance, recommend best practices, etc.
    2. Are there differences in what is provided to Web professionals versus other faculty and staff? If so what?: In general, the Web Accessibility Center hosts workshops that target different groups. Some workshops target content creation, and these tend to be attended by faculty, teaching assistants, lecturers, and office associates responsible for populating web pages or posting documents (Word/PDF/PowerPoint) to the web. The WAC gives workshops that target creation of web pages using popular IDE's (FrontPage, Dreamweaver). These tend to teach basic styling and proper use of HTML structures but do not cover advanced styling or scripting. In the summer the WAC is offering a workshop on video and audio captioning that we hope will attract both professional and staff/faculty content providers. And in the fall, the WAC will offer workshops in advanced CSS techniques and will convene discussion on techniques involving unobtrusive JavaScript and DHTML.
    3. How are these training and or technical assistance activities staffed and funded? The Web Accessibility Center has partnered with Technology Enhanced Learning and Research (TELR) at OSU, which, as one of its functions, trains faculty and other teachers in using our LMS (Desire2Learn). With TELR we offer workshops on the creation of accessible content within the LMS (PowerPoint, Word, PDF, and the use of the built-in web-authoring editor). The WAC has also given workshops hosted and advertised through the OSU Medical Center's Knowledge NOW program. The WAC will continue these relationships and hopes to begin working within departments to offer workshops to staff and faculty. (The WAC takes every opportunity to present on accessible design at locally hosted or OSU-affiliated workshops and conferences.) Workshops are staffed by WAC personnel--either Ken Petri, the Center's Director, Joe Wheaton, the WAC's faculty liaison, or its Graduate Administrative Associate. When we have workshops on policy, we typically involve Scott Lissner, the campus ADA Coordinator. WAC activities, materials, and staff are funded by the OSU Office for Disability Services and the OSU ADA Coordinator's Office.
    4. Are there any incentives for those that participate or any consequences for those who refuse? I think the skills learned at our workshops are generally desirable. Also, we tend to point out at workshops that accessibility is required by university policy. However currently we have nothing in place to incentivize participation, outside of occasionally giving away accessibility software as door prizes. We believe that one way to create incentive would be to approach individual departments and colleges and work with them to create workshops for faculty and staff that we would then present. Working with department administration we feel is critical in reaching and motivating a diverse and highly decentralized university population.
    5. Is there any follow-up to the activities to assure skill implementation? No, other than workshop materials are made available online.
  6. What do you see as the successes and limitations of your model (or set of activities)? Our main avenue for training is workshops. In the past, we have had diverse and high attendance. This has slipped significantly over the last year. Some of this is do to advertising. Hitting the same audience with similar workshops, it makes sense that in some regard we are "preaching to the choir" and attendance would drop off. The hands-on nature of workshops and the range of topics are a strong suit. So, it's not so much the model itself as how we promote it that needs to change to ensure a wider scope of participation. I am hoping that targeting departments and moving into "on demand" delivery of workshops on topics of the department's or unit's choosing will give us better penetration. We are also in the process of re-designing our web site. I'm hoping that by the time this article goes to press, we will have a new design up, but that is perhaps a bit ambitious. We need to weed through stale material, revise out-of-date tutorials, trim, come up with an improved navigation and architecture, offer more services (such as RSS feeds), and we have a plethora of other enhancements in mind. Overall, I want the new design to be cleaner and easier to navigate, with a home page that allows for a quicker survey of offerings, while still serving news and announcements. My hope is that these enhancements will assist with dissemination. We also provide web site accessibility reports and perform consultations with developers. This is a nice service to provide, but it has a number of problems. It doesn't scale easily; individual reports take a long time to complete. Related to this, the scope is narrow; we help out a single unit at a time. Reports involve manual checks with assistive software and other analysis that requires somewhat specialized training and can only be partially automated. Tools like Illinois's Functional Accessibility Evaluator and WebAIM's WAVE help a lot, as do more traditional parsers, such as Bobby/WebXACT and TAW. But there is no substitute for manual evaluation. The report service also may have a deleterious side effect, in that the reports offer "fixes." Fixes are presented within the context of an explanation of the problem, but, still, a fix can be implemented without a clear understanding of the problem. Additionally, we don't catalog all places where problems occur. Instead, we use a key example within the site. It is possible that a designer could fix a problem in one place without realizing where else it occurs. We certainly will keep on doing evaluations, but last year we held a workshop that taught accessibility evaluation techniques. It is always better to identify and "own" the problem oneself than have it pointed out by a 3rd party.
  7. How would you rate, from one (lowest) to ten (highest) your institutions' training and professional development in three areas (scope, focus, results)? There are three ratings below with anchors that will define places along the continuum from 1 to 10 to help you determine each rating.
Rating continuum (10= high; 1-low) Rating #1: Scope Training and development gets to . . . Rating #2: Focus Training and development focus is. . . Rating #3: Results Training and development results are that . . .
10 All the folks that need them Accessible design skills for all of the participants All of the campus Web content is accessible
7 Most of the folks that need them Accessible design skills for most of the participants Most of the campus Web content is accessible
5 About half of the folks that need them A mix of awareness of accessible design with a couple of skills needed for accessible design About half of the campus Web content is accessible
3 Some of the folks that need them Awareness of accessible design is the focus, however, participants may learn a new skill Some of the campus Web content is accessible
1 A few of the folks that need them Awareness of accessible design is the sole focus, A few elements of campus Web content is accessible

Rating of Scope: 5 Comments: Everyone who posts content to the web or authors web pages needs these skills. Any staff, faculty, GA with appointment and even undergraduates by request can come to our workshops at no charge. Even so, 50% seems high, but I'll stick with it.

Rating of Focus: 9 Comments: We certainly want to raise awareness and understanding"”the university has a web accessibility policy and our Office for Disability Services serves 1200 students per quarter, so it would be remiss not to raise awareness and discuss the impact of accessible design (for people with and without disabilities). But most of our workshops focus on developing skills.

Rating of Results: 5 Comments: This is impossible to evaluate currently. Certainly top-level pages authored by University Relations and pages and systems maintained by the Registrar and many key student-facing systems are accessible. Most colleges also do a good job with accessibility. But our current LMS and many of the library databases have known and relatively severe access problems. Our webmail system also has accessibility problems. The university hosts thousands of sites and many departments and colleges have their own IT staff who set up and/or maintain sites. Within departments, there may be labs and/or faculty who set up their own web sites, as well. At one point, the university investigated an automated accessibility-reporting tool. Expense and, frankly, the inefficacy of such tools prevented a purchase.

  1. If you could add to or take anything away from your model (or set of activities) what would it be and why? We can never do too much, I think. The workshop model, supported by a strong web site and listservs for dissemination of additional information I believe is a good model. We are also considering offering workshops that advertise to the broader business community (and remain free to OSU employees and students). Software development and usability research are avenues we would like to explore more, both to raise awareness and to produce tools and actionable information. I think involving campus developers and researchers in development projects and research studies that revolve around accessibility would enhance the profile of accessibility on our campus and would help train people on issues in accessible design. In the future, I am sure we will need to modify the way we do web site reports. As I pointed out above, the service will not scale well.
  2. What advice do you have for anyone who is just starting to plan for Web accessibility training and professional development at their institution? Take a dual-pronged approach to gain support: work at both the grassroots and administrative levels. It is crucial to have a grassroots effort involving the base of users with disabilities. Having dealt frequently with university (and other) service providers tends to make users with disabilities politically savvy. They know how to articulate their concerns, but they may not know how to talk tech. Accessibility specialists can give them language that can help them communicate more effectively with administration to push for improvements to their educational environment. Also, test the waters with campus developers. Presentations at campus web interest group meetings can help generate support. When talking to developers, it is essential to present accessibility in terms of universal usability rather than specialized techniques for accommodation. Though it is changing rapidly, even today many developers consider accessibility as a feature rather than a basic design parameter that almost always enhances usability. Demonstrating the advantages of accessible design for cross-platform usability, design flexibility, and Search Engine Optimization will hit home with developers. In addition to working at a grassroots level, get buy-in from administration. We are very fortunate here at OSU to have a full-time ADA Coordinator and an extremely well established, respected, and heavily used Office for Disability Services. The College of Education and the Nisonger Center seek grants and conduct research on issues of access and accommodation. We have a nascent cross-disciplinary Disability Studies minor and graduate specialization. Diversity is also a primary mission at OSU. But even if the ground is not so well seeded at your institution, it is crucial to have administrative support early on in the process. It can take a lot of effort to get accessibility training established. The WAC was initially funded by a grant and staffed by a Graduate Administrative Associate, with faculty oversight. It took years to come into its own and only very recently was it staffed full-time. Finally, in regards to workshop or other forms of delivery, if there are already established venues for presenting information, use them. The WAC's faculty liaison teaches a course in accessible web design, and the WAC tries to work collaboratively with a number of campus units. Seek out and collaborate with campus units that provide training in content creation or technologies. Collaboration can lend your efforts credibility and may help in reaching a wider audience.