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Case Study - University of Texas at Austin

ATHEN E-Journal Issue #2 (2007)

University of Texas at Austin

Kay Lewis


  1. Institution: The University of Texas at Austin
  2. Size:
    1. Student body:
    2. Faculty & staff:
    3. Main Web developers:
  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

The University of Texas at Austin is a large university with more than 50,000 students and approximately 13,500 faculty and staff. The design and development of Web sites is performed by a variety of job titles on campus ranging from Web developers, Web designers, systems administrators, faculty and students. Based on the number of people who are authorized to upload information to the university Web servers, the campus has over 1000 people developing Web content. This number likely does not include many of the student developers.

The university for the most part is highly decentralized. However over the past several years' movement toward centralizing the university's technology services has been made. In 2001, a chief information officer was hired to help create a more "unified information technology services organization."

  1. 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:
      2. if monitoring against the standard occurs:
      3. if consequences (good or bad) for accessible design are tied to policy:
      4. if procurement of accessible technologies is tied to policy:

In 1999, a Task Force on Accessible Electronic Information was appointed (Thompson, Burgstahler & Comden, 2004). The work of this group provided the basis for what were to become guidelines for the creation of accessible electronic information. Work on the university's guidelines continued in 2002 as the legislature in the state of Texas began addressing accessibility of technology. Through collaborative efforts and input from members representing multiple offices on campus, such as the Accessibility Institute (formerly the Institute for Technology and Learning), Information Technology Services, Equal Opportunity Services and College of Liberal Arts, an accessibility policy was adopted in 2005.

The policy that can be found at states that "all official University information published on University Web sites shall be accessible to all users." Web pages that are "built, updated or revised after the effective date of this policy must comply with Section 508" of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The policy recognizes Section 508 as a minimum standard for accessibility and encourages going "beyond the minimum whenever possible." Web accessibility coordinators have been appointed for the purpose of monitoring compliance with the policy as well as training Web publishers on accessible Web development. Feedback about accessibility also is provided via a tool from WatchFire called WebXM. WebXM allows Information Technology Services to scan identified Web sites for accessibility issues as well as other issues related to quality and security. Designated individuals responsible for Web sites can then access the results and use the feedback to modify their site(s). WebXM is referred to indirectly in the policy as one of the resources to assist with accessibility planning and testing.

The policy Web page makes a point of offering resources and support for accessible Web development. Links are offered to resources on accessible Web design, to information on disabilities, and to the Accessibility Institute, a research unit on campus that offers accessibility services.

This Web accessibility policy does not tie any positive or negative consequences to compliance with the policy and does not directly mention the procurement of accessible technologies.

  1. 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):
    2. Are there differences in what is provided to Web professionals versus other faculty and staff? If so what?:
    3. How are these training and or technical assistance activities staffed and funded?
    4. Are there any incentives for those that participate or any consequences for those who refuse? .
    5. Is there any follow-up to the activities to assure skill implementation?

Training and support for accessible design includes a number of different activities and approaches but is not an organized model of training per se. Initially, it seemed that learning about accessibility was a self-motivated activity from individual advocates who tried it with the projects on which they were currently working. They often either knew someone with a disability or were one of the first people to take a class on Web accessibility. As news about the Web accessibility guidelines spread around campus, more organized classes were requested and offered through the Accessibility Institute. These classes addressed topics such as accessibility guidelines, relevant legislation, general information about disabilities, and hands-on activities with a screen reader. For developers, it included samples of HTML techniques and discussions of implementing specific accessibility features, such as alt text and marking up forms and tables. The Accessibility Institute was also available for reviews and consultations about sites as needed, and for some projects conducted user testing that included assistive technology users. Developers were invited to observe these testing sessions. The observations and insights from these testing sessions were often very informative and provided information that developers could use in future development projects.

Another method of training and advocating for accessibility involved working with Knowbility, a local non-profit organization that promotes accessibility. Knowbility organizes the Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) that was adapted to specifically include university Web developers. As part of this competition to build accessible Web sites, developers have the opportunity to receive training and consultation about their sites. Developers report that they appreciate the training and feedback about their site, and will enter the contest again the following year.

Other accessibility incentives were offered such as requiring those who wanted to be a linked "spotlight" item on the University home page to meet Section 508 criteria and eventually any page that wanted to directly link from the home page was required to meet the guidelines. The accessibility policy also links to a list of Web resources related to accessibility .

More recently, accessibility information and training have been incorporated into the typical training offered to Web developers. For example, training on how to use the new tool, WebXM, is offered regularly. Part of the training about using this tool includes information about accessibility. In many departments new developers are required to attend training sessions when they start work. One Web developer reported to me that she was introduced to accessibility during the training required for newly hired Web developers. Web developers on campus also have opportunities for regular meetings for discussion and training about technology issues on campus. At times, accessibility issues are discussed in those meetings.

However these approaches to training do not necessarily include the faculty and staff who are not primarily responsible for Web development. Faculty members have entered sites into the AIR competitions but typically at a less frequent rate than Web developers. Faculty members do not typically enroll in the accessibility training workshops. In our case, training sessions offered to non-Web developers need to take into account that some people may not have much experience with HTML, are not responsible for reviewing WebXM reports, and may rely on technology support staff or a content management system such as Blackboard to assist with Web development. Based on conversations with Web developers, content providers, and Web designers, the typical assumption seems to be that Web developers are solely responsible for the accessibility of a site.

Much of the funding for the training, tools and technical assistance comes from the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology and from the Provost Office. Individual staff members from different offices on campus also either volunteer their time or are allowed to use some of their work time to help organize training, share information, or attend training. I am unaware of any direct incentives or penalties associated with attending training; however, encouragement is offered. Recently, Information Technology Services has started guiding Web developers by suggesting a monthly issue to specifically focus on improving. The selected issues vary and include accessibility. An email is sent to the campus Web developer list that identifies the monthly issue that is measured by WebXM. Toward the end of the month and email is sent that reports the percentage of improvements in the issue for each department. This approach seems to not only encourage improvements to the Web sites but breaks up retrofitting into a more manageable size.

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

The successes of these set of activities include offering training from a variety of different directions "“ as a class on campus, as part of a competition (AIR), though various Web resources, and finally integrated into the new employee training on campus. The use of WebXM has provides an easier way to get accessibility feedback and is being used by Information Technology Services as a guide to help developers systematically address issues of concern. The general office and public pages seem to have made great strides toward accessibility.

However these activities do not seem to reach sites that are developed for instructional purposes as easily. On our campus, instructional content can be built by non-professional developers, changes frequently, and is often intended to be interactive with a specific instructional objective. For the instructional sites, accessibility may need to be approached differently. The Accessibility Institute recently started consulting with some of the instructional technology departments that help faculty and instructors create class Web sites to help identify areas of concern, encourage the development of accessible educational sites and help raise awareness of accessibility for content providers.

  1. 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: 6 Comments: the information and training seems to be getting to many of the developers who need the information but might not be reaching those who are not considered to be primarily Web developers.

Rating of Focus: 7 Comments: The training focus is on awareness of accessible design but also on accessible design skills for most everyone that participates in Web design and development.

Rating of Results: 4 Comments: This may be an underestimate because our office mostly sees the sites that are still working on accessibility.

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

I'm not sure I would take anything away because I think accessibility needs to be approached from many different directions in order for it to make sense to the variety of people associated with Web development. I might like to somehow add a component that offered accessibility training that would more regularly reach the individuals and groups that are involved in the development of instructional technology resources. Our campus is moving toward putting more and more information relevant to instructional content online, and our next step should be to identify approaches that would support incorporating accessibility into instructional resource development.

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

Advice I would offer to those starting to plan for Web accessibility training is to:

  • Start with the people who are already interested in accessibility.
  • Include hands-on activities in training where possible.
  • Offer different methods for learning about accessibility (online resources, classes, competitions).
  • Include observations or interactions with assistive technology users when possible. People need a chance to understand the benefits of accessibility from the user perspective.
  • Move toward the goal of incorporating accessibility training and practices into typical training and development processes where possible.
  • Remember that buy-in takes time.


Thompson, T., Burgstahler, S., & Comden, D. (2004). The University of Texas at Austin: A Promising Practice in Web Accessibility. Retrieved 6/22/06 from