As part of a recurring series, “The Accessible Classroom Redefined,” Verbit hosted a webinar this month to gather higher education decision makers for a live discussion.

This episode, Driving Inclusion with Key Partner Institutions, was led by Accessibility Evangelist Scott Ready and featured TCS Education System’s Senior Learning Experience Designer, Lord Giddie. Giddie has been successfully implementing inclusion measures and programs at TCS, and he is now working with partners to drive further inclusion efforts at additional universities.

Key takeaways from the webinar

The webinar explored how to overcome common barriers to inclusivity by showcasing TCS Education System’s phase-by-phase approach. Ready and Giddie shared:

  • Common inclusion challenges that higher education professionals share
  • How to identify the next steps forward
  • How to secure internal support and budget across silos and leadership
  • A step-by-step approach for a fully inclusive academic culture


Understanding accessibility and inclusion barriers

During the webinar, Ready discussed his view of inclusion as creating an equitable experience for all students. For example, from a captioning perspective he said “this includes English as a second language, aging veterans, multimodal and more. It encompasses a much larger, broader perspective than just the students that have self-identified as individuals with a disability.”

If more university leaders adopt this mentality, fewer will be as reactive in their approaches as they are now, he said. Currently, many higher ed leaders focus on accommodating requests when they come in, instead of designing the student experience for inclusivity in the first place. This approach results in increased financial, hiring and logistical challenges.

Another main challenge is often change management. Many university leaders struggle to get different teams and conflicting interests to work together or gain an executive champion. This teamwork needs to happen first in order to secure necessary budgets and adopt accessibility policies. It can be naive to assume these changes will happen all at once or quickly, so persistence and patience are often key.

Identify where your institution falls in the inclusion process

During the webinar, Ready shared four stages of higher education maturity. Identifying where your institution falls can help you make realistic choices about what to do next, he said.

At one end of the spectrum is the ‘emerging’ stage which is a reactive stage, in which institutions respond to accommodations by specific students who request accessible course materials. The most mature stage of ‘incorporating’ refers to universities that are going beyond the classroom to ensure inclusivity throughout the entire student experience, such as captioning sporting events and school performances.

TCS Education System as a case study to secure support and budget

When TCS Education System set out to create more inclusive academic experiences, its leaders started by researching what other institutions were doing. They then prioritized their options by identifying the changes that would make the biggest impact.

Bridge Conflicting Interests

To encourage different institutions and departments to work together across the TCS Education System, Giddie emphasized the benefits to students and the legal ramifications of leaving parts of the system out of the inclusivity strategy. Giddie also emphasized the cost savings that could be achieved when multiple stakeholders at the institution buy-in and implement solutions together.

Recruit Stakeholders

Bridging conflicting interests helped Giddie overcome the top challenge to inclusivity, securing the backing of academic leadership.

He recruited TCS instructional designers, who design the system’s online and blended courses, as well as the IT and HR departments across TCS’s partner institutions. These individuals supported the technical aspects, talent acquisition, and learning and development necessary for implementation.

Giddie said it’s critical to maintain a strong relationship with the identified stakeholders. You have to be able to elucidate the situation you’re dealing with, the details of what is needed to overcome it, the resources which are already at your disposal, and the resources which are lacking. You need to present them with a clear vision on how you plan to get to the finish line, he said.

Secure the Budget

Giddie and his team identified high-impact projects, such as courses consumed by the largest amount of students, and started there. They also looked for the return on investment on purchases.

“You have to be able to show evidence of high-impact use, to be able to say, ‘this tool will be utilized by this percentage of our users,’ and therefore, here’s how you can see a benefit in terms of student engagement and delivering outcomes,” Giddie said.

Phase-by-phase breakdown: TCS’ multi-year inclusion plan

Webinar attendees got a behind-the-scenes look at TCS’s multi-year inclusivity execution process.

Phase 1: Navigation, Structure, Accessible Design
TCS began the process with one of its fastest growing programs, the online courses of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Giddie’s team ensured courses were easy to navigate, content was easy to read, and that accessible design principles were followed, such as adding captions to videos. With 200 courses, this phase took between less than two years to complete. Since the school had many multimedia materials, Giddie identified that more resources were needed.

Phase 2: Gaining Resources for Larger Scale Transformation
Phase 2, which took an additional year, involved getting these resources, both to accommodate current content and to create many materials from scratch.

Phase 3: Ongoing Content Accessibility
TCS is currently in phase 3, which is a combination of the previous two phases, but also ensures that all content produced and delivered going forward is inclusive and meets industry standards.

Education is a crucial element of this phase, as Giddie noted the need to provide instruction to the professors and instructional designers on how to effectively create content in an inclusive way. Another piece is implementing new tools to support this mission.

“[Inclusion] is not one of those things that you just do once and then it’s done. You have to sometimes go back and fill in some of the cracks. Open communication and providing ongoing support helps manage that cultural shift,” Giddie said.

Watch the full video and join our next webinar live

You can watch the full webinar to gain further insights from Giddie and Ready on-demand here.

Verbit’s next webinar will be focused on how AI empowers personalized learning, including through the implementation of interactive video. You can RSVP here to join us on January 13 and submit your questions to be addressed live.