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Case Study - University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill

ATHEN E-Journal Issue #2 (2007)

University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill

Jason Morningstar


UNC-Chapel Hill is a research-one institution with 16,764 undergraduate students, of whom 8,175 postgraduates, and 2,337 professional students. This student body is supported by 3,208 faculty and 7,828 full and part-time staff.

Main Web developers

There are several dozen web developers working across campus in various capacities. Responsibilities range from simple editing and updating to full-fledged development activities.

How would you rate your institutional context with respect to Web development?

Moderately decentralized. This University has many departments and programs that have some in-house web development capability, as well as competing centralized units that do work for a variety of in-house clients. Many units also outsource to vendors. Our centralized IT group is building a web services unit that intends to compete for many of these outsourced contracts eventually. By centralizing these efforts, we hope to offer both greater efficiency and a more methodical, team- and standards-oriented approach to development.

What is your institutional policy around accessible Web content (if any)?

UNC-Chapel Hill does not have a formal electronic content accessibility policy. The University does fund an accessibility coordinator position, however, who has formulated a series of guidelines for web development and procurement. These guidelines are based on Section 508 and version one of the WCAG. No systematic monitoring mechanism is in place; reviews are on a request or complaint basis. Since there is no policy, the focus is on education and the promulgation of best practices.

Please describe your training and professional development activities.

The accessibility coordinator at UNC-Chapel Hill offers a continuing series of one-hour classes on accessibility topics. Currently a series of six regular classes, with periodic special topics, are offered. Classes in web authoring have been vetted and include accessibility components on a low level. The accessibility coordinator maintains a web site with resources and guidelines, as well as a weekly podcast on related topics. All training is open to the entire University community, although the primary audience has proven to be technical staff. These initiatives are a component of the accessibility coordinator's job, and as such are funded with the position. There are no incentives or consequences related to participation, although it is considered a professional development opportunity. Attendees in formal training are asked to evaluate the courses, but there is no systematic follow-up to ensure skill implementation. Contacts from classes frequently lead to more in-depth consultations, however, and in this capacity many projects are tracked informally. Formal and informal consultation is another key component of the accessibility coordinator's responsibility, and in this capacity there is much more interaction with faculty.

What do you see as the successes and limitations of your model (or set of activities)?

The model in place at UNC-Chapel Hill is reasonably successful at communicating best practices and useful information to developers. It is not an effective model for ensuring accessible design across campus, since there is no formal policy and, as such, no mechanism to drive compliance.

How would you rate, from one (lowest) to ten (highest) your institutions' training and professional development in three areas (scope, focus, results)?

Rating of Scope: 5 Comments: It's difficult to assess, since participation is voluntary. There may be groups that we're not even aware of who don't participate, and we won't hear about their work until a complaint surfaces.

Rating of Focus: 7 Comments: The classes are designed to provide useful skills. Consultation supports this as well.

Rating of Results: 7 Comments: Most developers at UNC-Chapel Hill are at least aware of accessibility issues and design accordingly. The accessibility coordinator position is a vocal advocate and well-known resource in this area.

If you could add to or take anything away from your model (or set of activities) what would it be and why?

The University would benefit from the adoption of an electronic content accessibility policy with articulated enforcement measures. Without such a policy in place, there are limits to influencing the culture of development at UNC-Chapel Hill. There is always room for more outreach and education. I'd like to see accessibility components in the curriculum of design-oriented classes in places like the School of Journalism and School of Information and Library Science - I'm frequently called in as a guest lecturer, but more could be done.

What advice do you have for anyone who is just starting to plan for Web accessibility training and professional development at their institution?

Assess the current state of affairs and find champions among the technical and policy-making communities. Liaise closely with your Disability Services colleagues. Network with other peers in similar institutions in your region. Make sure that you understand the limitations placed on developers and set realistic goals - emphasize the practical advantages of adopting web standards and best practices in your training. Be an evangelist, communicate positive enthusiasm, and include students, faculty and staff with disabilities in your training.