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Looking ahead to AHEAD: 5 themes to watch at the conference

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Taking place this week, the annual AHEAD conference brings together disability professionals in higher education to make valuable connections and gain new insights. This year’s 41st edition in Albuquerque, New Mexico promises to present different perspectives on many relevant topics, and of course, give attendees the chance to catch up with colleagues and build new relationships.

The Verbit team can be found showcasing their platform at booth #305 in the Exhibit Hall, alongside other innovative technologies solving industry challenges. Attendees will have an opportunity to see Verbit’s education-tailored solution in action, and learn how transcription and captioning makes audiovisual course content accessible to all students.

All conference-goers are invited to Verbit’s Lunch and Learn Session Wednesday July 18th at 12:45 PM, to discover how Brigham Young University-Idaho leveraged the platform to help students succeed academically. Coordinator of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Valerie Strum, will discuss the challenges that remain, and positive steps schools can take to achieve a campus environment that supports all students, regardless of ability or disability.

Here are 5 themes to keep an eye out for at this year’s event:

1. Students with Disabilities in the Health Sciences

As changes come to the way courses are taught, the necessary accommodations transform as well. Virtual materials and in-class activities must be designed with diversity and accessibility in mind. But, creating and implementing lasting changes requires strong working relationships between the school’s disability office and the health science program. AHEAD will offer participants an opportunity to develop strategies for building bridges to anticipate and overcome barriers.

2. Autism awareness

The number of students with autism attending college has consistently grown in recent years, presenting new challenges on how best to support these students. Practical strategies are needed to institute an open-door admission policy, plan for adapted programming, and establish a social support network for those on the autism spectrum. Attendees will engage in enriching talks about neurodiversity, providing resources and developing tools to educate and broaden social acceptance on campus.

3. Leadership

For disability service providers focused on access, it can be difficult to balance top priorities while managing the day-to-day concerns involved in running a department. AHEAD will offer strategies on how to mobilize others to work towards the goal of achieving an inclusive campus. Participants will hone their skills in building alliances with other campus entities, articulating key requirements, and influencing change at all levels of organizational hierarchy.

4. The ADA Coordinator role

The ADA and Rehabilitation Act are both long-standing legal precedents, and the latest decisions related to these laws have major implications for campus life. AHEAD will feature sessions specifically targeted to those who carry this title and bear responsibilities for access and compliance. Content will be focused on identifying best practices and developing resources and skills for proactive planning to minimize surprises and enhance efficiency.

5. Social justice

Disability is typically thought of as being primarily compliance-based in higher education. Shifting this mindset to viewing disability as a matter of social justice is particularly helpful in understanding and overcoming bias and discrimination. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore disability within this larger framework and develop specific action items to build awareness in all areas of campus life.

This year’s AHEAD conference is sure to offer helpful and engaging content, and inspire curiosity and creativity for those committed to equity and inclusion in higher education. See you in Albuquerque!

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The 7 Keys to Online Accessibility

Welcome back to our blog series on increasing campus accessibility. Part one focused on the importance of inclusive academics, specifically through universal design. In this section, we will explore the key role of online accessibility in ensuring an equitable learning environment for all students.

Most universities have shifted to an online paradigm, offering lecture recordings along with a variety of content on web-based platforms designed to enrich the learning experience. However, with these exciting opportunities come additional challenges to make sure that all students are on an equal playing field.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires all federal institutions to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. While this law applies to public universities, there are no such regulations for private institutions, leaving the onus on them to comply with best practices, such as those outlined in the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative.

Here are seven key considerations to make sure your online content follows those recommendations:

 

1. Compatibility with Assistive Technology: These kinds of programs make all functionality available from a keyboard, for those who are unable to use a mouse. Individuals with disabilities can use assistive technologies that mimic the keyboard, such as speech input to “read” a webpage and access the content within.

 

2. Refreshable Braille displays: Braille displays actually let blind or visually impaired users read text content, while screen readers let users hear the text on the screen. Braille displays are appropriate for deaf-blind computer users as well.

 

3. Alt text for images: The best way to identify images for those who are visually impaired is by including an alt text descriptor, which is a short written description of the image. This allows people using screen reader programs to browse visual web content and understand what the images on screen represent.

 

4. Transcription software: Providing a text transcript makes audio information accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing as well as to students who prefer to learn by reading and those who are not native speakers of the language of instruction. Having a text-based document to clarify audiovisual materials increases student engagement and boosts comprehension, resulting in better grades and higher levels of success.

 

5. Captions: Captions are especially important when people need to see what’s happening in the video and simultaneously get the audio information in text. Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act require universities to provide closed captioning for video content, including recorded lectures and online courses. The benefits extend to all students, not just those with hearing impairments. In fact, a study conducted at San Francisco State University found that students who used captioned video achieved a full GPA point increase over students who did not.

Inclusivity in Action: Brigham Young University-Idaho prioritizes students with disabilities, particularly those who are deaf or hearing impaired. They have a specific office dedicated to these students that coordinates transcription and caption services for audiovisual course materials.

 

6. Descriptive Link Text: Links should provide enough information so that they are clear even when they are read out of context. It’s best to use text that explains the link destination instead of a more general “click here”, for those who may be using assistive technologies to read the page.

 

7. Notify Users: Including a statement about the specific measures that have been taken to make a website accessible informs visitors that this is a top priority. It’s also helpful to provide contact information so people can get in touch with suggestions or concerns.

One of the best ways for colleges to ensure that everyone is on board is by implementing a clear web accessibility policy. All students require access to the massive amount of information that universities make available online. Having a well-defined policy is critical to ensuring consistent, organized, and universally accessible electronic resources. It can also serve as measuring stick for institutions to gauge where they are at, and where they want to be in terms of their website accessibility.

Inclusivity in Action: The University of Wisconsin-Madison has crafted a thorough web accessibility policy. It states that all new web pages and other resources provided by the university must be in line with accessibility standards, and reasonable efforts must be taken to ensure that legacy web pages and resources are also in compliance.

 

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes access to information and communications technologies, including the web, as a basic human right. Implementing these accommodations ensures fair and equitable access to the wealth of information that is available online and extends these benefits to everyone.

Now that we’ve covered online accessibility as a major component of overall campus inclusivity, we will move on to another key aspect: physical accessibility. Stay tuned for part three of the blog series, coming soon!

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