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An Institutional Endeavor for Online Accessibility

#Twitter: 
#accessibilitysfa
Presenter(s)
Janet Kamps (Stephen F. Austin State University, USA)
Session Information
October 16, 2015 - 9:30am
Track: 
Student Services and Learner Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
All
Session Type: 
Information Session
Location: 
Southern Hemisphere III
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Session: 
Concurrent Session 9
Virtual Session
Abstract

Advantage Accessibility - This presentation describes actions taken by Stephen F. Austin State University to provide cohesive support for students and faculty with accessibility needs.

Extended Abstract

SFASU champions accessibility in the learning environment for students and faculty with accessibility needs. SFASU will share proactive steps that the Center for Teaching & Learning has implemented for enhancing the culture of addressing and managing accessibility matters. Attendees will learn how SFASU increased integrated accessibility support for the university's online students and faculty. Attendees can take handouts back to their own institution as resources in their quest to improve online accessibility support.
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The Challenge - Providing Cohesive Administrative and Front-line Support for Students with Disabilities

Given the current legal landscape for the online learning environment, the days of setting up a stand-alone "Disability Services" office are gone. Support for students and faculty with accessibility needs must be integrated into university operational processes rather than remain isolated instances of support. Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU), a regional university in East Texas, is serious about supporting students with disabilities. The university's Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL) has long provided professional development in which faculty learn how to make online course materials accessible. The CTL at SFASU promotes innovation, scholarship, and high-impact practices that lead to student success, including the success of students with accessibility needs. The CTL also provides oversight and support for distance education. In addition, SFASU has the Office of Disability Services (ODS), which is committed to providing equal opportunities to academically qualified students with disabilities. In the past, cooperation between the two offices consisted primarily of an occasional phone call, with a meeting for any particularly complex accessibility issues. With a convergence of several factors, the CTL and ODS realized that an opportunity existed to greatly improve support for students and faculty with accessibility needs. This presentation will inform attendees of the elements involved in going beyond "business as usual" for support of accessibility matters. Attendees will also hear of SFA's formal response to the convergence of these factors.

A. Start with an accessible Learning Management System

The university's contract with the learning management system company was nearing the end-of-service date, and the CTL began searching for a replacement. The CTL collaborated with a faculty member and students who had varying degrees of visual impairments to evaluate various potential LMSs. One LMS was deemed superior to the rest in terms of matching what the university needed, and the faculty and student reviews noted that the new LMS was accessible. With the implementation of the chosen LMS, our Faculty and Student Support office proactively created accessible student tutorials for the new system.

B. Recognize the overlap between the rapid growth of online technologies and accessibility needs

The CTL took note of increased inquiries from faculty regarding new applications and mobile technologies that could be used to enhance online learning. To complement the current accessibility coaching taking place in our LMS training and our Online Instructor Certification program, the CTL included accessibility professional development for faculty focused on developing maximum proficiencies in the design of online materials. As part of our endeavor for accessibility, the CTL developed a process by which third party instructional products and services are evaluated using a matrix to ensure compliance with United States federal law (Section 508) and Texas State Administrative Code.

C. Create cohesive support from the CTL and ODS

The Center for Teaching & Learning and the Office for Disability Services realized that there was a great opportunity to formally work together in order to better support students with accessibility needs. With written input from a graduate student with visual impairment, the two offices worked together to create what is now known as the Guiding Document. This document is reviewed at each of the official monthly meetings, and reminds the two offices of procedures to be followed and actions to be taken. Procedures include monthly meetings, review of current accessibility matters, and evaluating potential software purchases for accessibility. Actions include specific training and professional development sessions, briefings for executive administration, and increasing the number of computers with JAWS (screen reader) available in public areas of campus.

D. Create a staffing structure to collaboratively support increased assistance to students and faculty with accessibility needs

Given budget constraints, adding personnel was not a possibility. The two offices looked at the Guiding Document when it was finished and realized that no new employees were needed. The monthly meetings only required an hour of time from the Coordinator for Distance Education, the Director of Disability Services, and the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Support Services. Regarding technology support for students and faculty, the existing team of the Support Specialist and her four student workers reconfigured their responsibilities to better meet the needs of students and faculty with accessibility needs. One of the four student workers had already begun to specialize in providing support for accessibility matters for both student and faculty help requests. In time, another student worker was hired with the additional responsibility of providing support for accessibility needs. The two student workers work together and with the Coordinator of Distance Education on projects benefitting students and faculty with accessibility needs.

Now in its second year of enhanced support for students and faculty with accessibility needs, SFASU continues to strengthen institutional support. Looking into the very near future, SFASU will likely have a need at the institutional level for a full-time employee who assists in evaluating third-party products and services for accessibility. With the experience of the CTL and ODS, the university is poised to move smoothly into integrated support for online students and faculty with accessibility needs.

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Attendees are encouraged to ask questions and answer questions from the presenter. Attendees will leave with a copy of the structure of the Guiding Document and also a copy of the matrix used to evaluate third party digital products. The materials will also be available on the conference website.

Lead Presenter

Janet Kamps
Distance Education Coordinator
Stephen f. Austin State University

Janet Kamps joined The Center for Teaching & Learning at Stephen F. Austin State University in September 2010. As Coordinator, Janet oversees online faculty development and development of online courses and programs. She coordinates internal and external data regarding distance education programs as well as State Authorization. With a background in teaching and departmental leadership, Janet pioneered Instructional Design at Blinn College and held administrative roles in Distance Education and Instructional Technology in the Health Science Center at Texas A&M University. Professional interests include oversight of online professional development, faculty and student accessibility, education policy, and all things distance education.

Contact information:
(936) 468-1818
kampsjl@sfasu.edu