Thought Leader Interview: Digital Accessibility's Moral Imperative

Inside Higher Ed | January 10, 2018 - In latest conversation with digital learning leaders, University of Phoenix's Kelly Hermann and Michigan State's Kate Sonka discuss the regulatory environment, morality versus legality, and the biggest obstacle: time.

As technology increasingly wends its way into college-level learning -- roughly a third of all students are now taking at least one course online, and more professors are embedding digital materials into their classroom work, too -- the issue of digital accessibility of instructional materials grows more important.

The topic was turbocharged early last year when the University of California, Berkeley, decided to restrict access to free online content months after the U.S. Justice Department found that the university had failed to make thousands of videos and other freely available content accessible.

It has been widely assumed that higher education's focus on digital accessibility -- which, like many things, is influenced in part by external pressures like lawsuits and the federal regulatory environment -- might fade if the Trump administration took a more laissez-faire approach than its predecessor, as has happened on numerous other campus matters.

Offering their views on those and other issues are Kelly Hermann, vice president for accessibility strategy at the University of Phoenix, and Kate Sonka, assistant director for academic technology at Michigan State University. Their interview with Doug Lederman, editor of Inside Higher Ed, was one of several conducted at the Online Learning Consortium's Accelerate conference in Orlando, Fla., in November.

The interviews were sponsored by OLC and “Inside Digital Learning” and conducted via the Shindig video platform.

A partial, edited transcript of the conversation with Hermann and Sonka appears below.

IDL: Before we start, just give me a little sense of what you're primarily looking for out of, and what you've seen so far, at OLC Accelerate and what the meeting means, what draws you here and what you get from it.

Hermann: I love the fact that as I look through the schedule, there's so many strands and topics and sessions on accessibility. I haven't attended the conference for the last couple years, and you know, to see multiple options in many of the sessions has been fantastic.

But I think for me it's about staying on top of what's new and coming in online education and distance ed because that's all the stuff that we're going to have to accommodate in the near future.

SOURCE: Inside Higher Ed