Faculty Bridge the Digital Divide - Using Universal Access

Concurrent Session 3

Brief Abstract

An emerging framework to remove barriers to innovation by providing the faculty support services needed to embrace universal design and accessibility of instructional materials.


Cheryl is the Director of the Accessible Technology Initiative (ATI) for the California State University (CSU) System. She oversees the ATI implementation across the CSU 23 campus system. Cheryl has been involved with the ATI since the beginning in 2007, first at the campus level, then at the systemwide level. Under her leadership the system has made significant progress towards implementing ATI process improvement in the areas of web accessibility, accessible procurement, and accessible instructional materials. She is currently managing several projects that are moving the initiative forward they include implementation of an ATI reporting process to measure the systemwide progress towards the ATI goals; creation of synergy projects resulting in systemwide shared services that are delivering cost savings; and a high level of cross-campus collaboration through the ATI Communities of Practice. Cheryl established and leads the CSU Accessible Technology Network (CSU ATN) which brings together accessibility experts across the CSU System to work collectively on accessibility projects that benefit the entire system. In addition, she manages the Accessible Instructional Materials Hub (AIMHub) project, an alternative media exchange service jointly developed by the CSU and CCC.

Extended Abstract

An emerging framework to remove barriers to innovation by providing the faculty support services needed to embrace universal design and accessibility of instructional materials.   
Extended Abstract
      Providing access to all people is a key component of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  UDL provides a framework to embrace multiple means of engagement, representation, action, and expression with a goal of inclusion regardless of individual characteristics and therefore includes people with disabilities (CAST, 2015).  Students with disabilities interact with learning objects using assistive technology (e.g. screen magnifiers, text to speech, and screen readers). The ability to listen to text while reading or composing is an important tool for individual learners.  These modes of interacting with text provide multiple means to access content and can provide an enhanced learning experience just as interactive multimedia games are thought to provide. Using products that are built to be accessible allow for alternative means of interacting with the materials.
      UDL benefits all students and is a popular framework used by faculty as they create instructional materials. An additional component to consider is the legal obligation of educational institutions to provide meaningful timely equal access to individuals with disabilities.  Learning objects created using the UDL framework will work well with assistive technology if accessibility standards are integrated into the electronic content or software application.  When these obligations are not met, the result is a widening of the digital divide for individuals with disabilities when compared to their non-disabled peers. 
      Educators need products that enhance student learning and are responsive to a number of environments. Technology based on designing for all users with the integration of accessibility standards provides a more flexible product for all types of device users including those with disabilities.  Collaborating with vendors to improve the functionality of their products for all users and engaging faculty to create and adopt accessible learning objects is essential to closing the digital divide rather than suggest that new technologies not be embraced.
      Understanding the faculty support and services needed to embrace universal design/accessibility has been a challenge for the CSU.  We are exploring new ways to better serve the faculty in their efforts to create universally designed, accessible instructional materials.  One of the CSU efforts included a collaborative multi-campus working group that shared ideas and strategies for raising the level of accessibility for a set of online courses that offer enrollment across all 23 CSU campuses. From this effort, a conceptual framework, Universal Access (UA), is being developed to assist in communicating clearly with faculty and to connect them with the available support services and funding sources to create accessible instructional materials. 
      Executive support is a key element to bring about cultural change and must be enlisted to drive a successful accessibility/UDL effort forward. Within this project, executive support was enlisted at the outset and maintained throughout.  Once the executive support was secured the communication and outreach to the faculty was accomplished in a variety of ways.   The initial communication to faculty included alerting them to the importance of providing all students with an opportunity to access the learning objects within each course and the plans to provide support to the faculty to create accessible materials.    
      Faculty worked with the campus representatives and clearly identified the need for more staff support resources to help with the creation of accessible materials and the acquisition of captioning for multi-media.   Working with executive leadership campus staff were able to make use of current grant funding to support the work necessary to convert instructional materials before posting them to the online environment.  In addition to identifying the supports needed, it became apparent that faculty were not aware of what support and services were currently available to them.  It was noted, that improved communication regarding accessing resources was needed. 
      The UA framework implementation involved a review of course materials conducted by engaged staff from a variety of departments.  The results of the review were shared with the faculty along with a plan for removing any existing barriers. The plan included sharing known solutions to problems such as utilizing textbook descriptions for visual materials as well as new solutions such as the crowdsourcing of alternative text descriptions. Staff support was provided to assist faculty with any difficulties in removing barriers including captioning.  The use of the framework resulted in more accessible online courses.
      This UA framework builds on the idea that providing more accessible materials helps all students.  Everyone can benefit from digital text which their mobile devices can then read aloud and captioning provided in videos has been shown to enhance comprehension as shown in the study conducted by San Francisco State University in 2007.
      The CSU is known as a national leader in the area of accessibility providing pathways to further equal access to all services and programs within the CSU.  The CSU is working to improve the accessibility of instructional materials in many different areas.  Projects that complement the UA framework are accessibility efforts in Open Educational Resources, Faculty Awareness Training, Online Instructional Materials Guide, Faculty/Staff WYSIWYG Tools for document creation and furthering the accessibility of enterprise level tools.  OER accessibility efforts include crowdsourcing accessibility related metadata for instructional materials in Merlot and a project reviewing the accessibility of OER textbooks using E-Publication/HTML Standards is currently underway.   Accessibility evaluation of educational enterprise level tools used throughout the CSU and the response from Vendor’s to improve their products creates improved tools for all of higher education.  
      Further development of the UA framework combined with other Academic and Student Affair CSU projects help to reduce the digital divide experienced by students and bring about cultural change to support the integration of accessibility into the procurement and preparation of instructional materials.  
Demonstrate a framework for evaluating and removing accessibility barriers that will help close the digital divide.
Discover actions executive level administrators can take to bring about cultural change and support the integration of accessibility into the procurement and preparation of instructional materials processes.
Empower faculty with access to services and support mechanisms to create universally designed accessible learning objects.