Most of us understand that university programs and services must be accessible to people with disabilities. We are accustomed to relying on the Disability Resource Center to assist with student-access issues, Human Resources to assist with employment accommodations and our own individual units to provide access as needed for events and activities that are open to the general public.
We need to apply that same level of commitment to web-based and other technologies.
Recent legal actions taken against other campuses remind us that we need to ensure access to the rapidly increasing use of technology in the classroom and beyond. The U.S. Department of Education has addressed this issue in a letter that we disseminated to the university community in June.
Although the recent legal action dealt with individual incidents at specific universities, the message for all of higher education is clear: Students, staff, faculty, administrators and visitors must be afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions and enjoy the same services as people without disabilities.
The use of technology without regard to accessibility may unwittingly hinder access for some people and may be construed as discriminatory regardless of intention. If accessibility is not considered when creating or directing students to a PDF, for example, the process of converting to an accessible format can be a time-consuming and formidable experience. And there may be no “quick fixes” if the instructor is asked to retrofit. Please review the information the Disability Resource Center provides. If you have questions, contact the Disability Resource Center for clarification.
The Department of Education’s intent is not to discourage institutions’ use of emerging technologies but rather to ensure the accessibility of such technologies before incorporating them into class requirements and other programs and services. All university staff, faculty and administrators must collaborate to ensure that access is achieved.
The Disability Resource Center will offer a series of sessions on access to technology and how to promote an equitable campus environment. The first is scheduled for Friday, March 30. Join the DRC for “From the White House to the Court House: Making the Case for Accessible Math.”
Shirley C. Willihnganz
Executive Vice President and University Provost