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Episode 10

transformed: Using Technology and Innovation to Improve Accessibility

Higher Digital has just published the next installment of its new audio interview feature, transformed. Every other week we interview experts on higher education, digital transformation, and the challenges and promise represented by both. 

This week, Higher Digital President Joe Gottlieb sat down with Amy Shaw, the Senior Director of Customer and User Experience at Higher Digital. Listen to the episode to learn about the ways that higher education institutions can transform the student experience, improve accessibility for students,  and the ways that they can use technology to do so.

Joe Gottlieb: 0:02

Welcome to tranformed, a Higher Digital podcast focused on the new why’s , the new what’s and the new how’s in higher ed. In each episode, you will experience hosts and guests pulling for the resurgence of higher ed while identifying and discussing the best practices needed to accomplish that resurgence culture, strategy and tactics planning, and execution people, process and technology. It’s all on the menu because that’s what’s required to truly transform. My name is Joe Gottlieb, president of Higher Digital. And today I’m joined by Amy Shaw, Senior Director of Customer and User Experience Consulting at Higher Digital. Welcome Amy.

Amy Shaw: 0:49

Well , thanks Joe. It’s great to be here today. What would you like to talk about?

Joe Gottlieb: 0:53

Well, I know you’ve been working with many of our higher ed institution customers on accessibility of their external and internal systems and user experiences. So I thought we might summarize this relatively complex topic of accessibility for our listeners today.

Amy Shaw: 1:11

Yeah, that’s a, it’s a really good topic area and there’s a lot to discuss. It’s really big. Where do you want to begin?

Joe Gottlieb: 1:19

Well, I like to break it down into, into some smaller discussions, right? First let’s talk about the problem and its impact on higher ed institutions. And then it would be good to go into sort of motivations to solve the problem. And then lastly help our listeners with some different approaches, best practices and investment levels as they consider how they might work to solve the problem. So I know that’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in. Why is accessibility a problem in the industry right now?

Amy Shaw: 1:48

I would say accessibility is one of the top risk areas for many institutions. A lot of them are still very reactive about accessibility. They only provide the state mandated products and services. They aren’t really covering across the board for students, faculty, and staff. They’re just lagging behind. And they have a lot to work on as far as the strategy and the innovation there . They’re kind of doing the bare minimum just to kind of get through. So I think there are a number of impact areas for accessibility when we’re talking about higher ed. One of them is completion. So their dropout rates for the disabled is increasing year after year. And there’s been a number of studies on this, but , only 34% of undergrad students with disabilities complete those four year degrees. And that’s in comparison to 51% of students without a disability. So that’s already a difference there. That’s kind of a problem for these institutions. Another area is revenue. So with COVID 19, there’s obviously been a massive shift to online learning. And it disproportionately impacts students with disabilities and everyone kind of understands this and knows this. It’s been a struggle for everyone to move to COVID-19 whether they have disabilities or not. But there’s also been an enrollment decline by 21.7% in high school graduates that are enrolling in institutions. Now that’s not specifically for the disabled that’s for everybody, but as you can imagine, because this already , you know, disproportionately impacts those students with the disabilities, that’s obviously going to affect some of those students from enrolling in those institutions until some of this online learning becomes better and there’s more accessible solutions. And actually according to national center of education statistics , the number of individuals with disabilities make up about 19% of the US undergrad population. So obviously again, a good proportion of the enrollment decline could be related to some of those disabled students that just aren’t willing to take that chance right now, aren’t willing to pay that money for taking online courses when they know that they might run into some struggles with that. And obviously that’s going to affect the overall revenue that the institution is going to receive. And then, you know, another argument can be made around equality , inclusion and diversity. So a lot of institutions have quality inclusion, diversity as top imperatives that they need to accomplish, that they need to really improve in those areas. And there’s a number of arguments around disabled students and how they could be included in that. Obviously inclusion should include accessibility for disabled students, but even diversity. And I’ll explain that a little bit more. So 94% of high school students with disabilities right now receive assistance, right? And so they’ve got staff in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools that are dedicated to this purpose to helping out these disabled students. They put together five or four plans for them. They help make sure everything is in place that the teachers understand what they need to do to help out these disabled students. And so all of that is a really good process that’s in place in earlier education. But once they get into their college , they have to apply for these services. And they found that only about 60-80% of undergrads choose not to disclose their disability. So they don’t take advantage. They don’t apply for these services. And that’s a pretty large percentage. So if you’re comparing that to the 94% of high school students that are already getting these services, and then all of a sudden, there’s only 17% that are taking advantage of the same kinds of services that they could get at an institution, that’s a pretty big difference there. So there’s several reasons why that’s going on right now. One is, they might, the students might not be aware or they’re unfamiliar with range of services that can be provided to them at their institution. They could be embarrassed about applying for those services. Also I think just the fact that it’s a lot of extra work. They do, you know, have to go get paperwork and justification for medical professionals. You know, you’ve got some recent high school grads that are not used to doing that. You know, their parents always did it for them or these other professionals reached out to them and kind of help them through that process. Whereas in higher ed, you as the individual has to reach out, you have to start the whole process. You have to reach out to your medical professionals in order to prove it. It’s a lot of extra work. And as you can imagine, that could feed into why , you know, maybe there’s 60-80% of those undergrads that are choosing not to, because maybe they’re like, well, this is a lot of work. I don’t know that I’m going to benefit that much, you know, maybe I can kind of get by without it. So there’s kind of the last grouping is one that, that I’ve seenin some of my engagements are those disabilities that come on in adult years . So, you know, there’s another group that, you know, they’re not disabled when they’re younger and they’re going through and they’re getting all this kind of help. And they know , um, that there are professionals out there that can help them with accommodations. And so those adult students that are in these courses, you know, might not, definitely, probably don’t understand what could be available for them, how that might benefit them. And that this, these accommodations are really just meant to support their learning and make it possible for them to learn in their best way. That this isn’t a , you know, just trying to give them a leg up because they have a disability, but it’s really just to support them along the way. You know, it could be removing distractions, you know, it could be placing them in certain locations than classroom could be just, you know, helping provide better examples or have larger variety of course materials that would help them through. And you’ve definitely see this with military students at institutions, you know, some of them have PTSD or they have something that, that developed as an adult. And for those students, you know, a lot of them didn’t have these things in the past and now all of a sudden they do, and they don’t understand what could be done for them. As a student that has PTSD and it doesn’t have to be an invasive thing into their privacy and what’s going on in their life. It’s just something that will kind of help them to be successful and get through and graduate. So another thing I wanted to mention though around this is for institutions, I think there is a struggle for some of them to kind of take on some of these challenges and really provide more accommodations and services for them because it does cost more. There is more costs that’s involved in adequately supporting the student needs for all these variety of students. Budgets are really tight. COVID-19 definitely brought in some of that. And, and so I think that that’s probably why there’s still not a lot of institutions that are really focusing on this heavily. They’re focusing in some other areas they’re doing the best that they can. There’s certainly things you could do without a lot of budget, but , you know, certainly the more that you provide universally for disabled students at your institution the costs are gonna go up and you’re going to have to spend a little more to, to cover that, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

Joe Gottlieb: 10:49

Wow. So lots of factoids in there. I, I , and, and the, the notion that COVID-19 has really exacerbated the problem that already exists . This is a challenge it’s not new. Um, and just hearing your , your comments about how, at least in the US that I’m sure it varies by country, but, you know, for sure this, the support is more proactive at the primary level pre, you know, pre post-secondary, higher ed level. And that just sets up myriad challenges. Now then imagine if you overlay that with, with, you know, underserved or disadvantaged , um, uh, parts of the population that we’re trying to do a better job serving , uh, education toured, right. And some of that might be, it might be racial. It might be, it might be just pure, economical, right? Like, like these are conditions now that make things even tougher for those individuals that on top their disability, there are, there are factors that are affecting their ability to , um, to take advantage of education. And then meanwhile, the institutions themselves , COVID and their budget woes are affecting the ability to be able to respond and address. So I like the way you really staked out all those different impacts. Completion revenue obviously has an impact that hits the bottom line, but also is part of the equation for how you might find the ability to invest in this. And then of course, making good on your mission. Like the strategic, the thoughtful , delivering on mission that is trying to be more effective at addressing diversity and inclusion and equity, right? The disabled fit squarely into that scenario. So let’s shift over then to motivations, to solve. And I think we’ll find that these track a bit with some of the structure you’re setting up here, but , um, if I’m an institution that’s wrestling with these challenges that we’ve just identified, how can we help them think about the motivations to solve and how those motivations differ , uh, that they might, they might feel useful to them or, or applicable to them , um, as they go about their, their efforts to, you know, deal with COVID have all their strategies execute on their imperatives, et cetera.

Amy Shaw: 13:30

Yeah. So I would say that there are three main motivations to solve this for those institutions. Um , one would obviously be the, you know, the top, most one that, that most of them are considering anyway, which is the compliance legal risk. Um, that’s obviously still going to be a big one. And, and so I’ll talk about that in a minute. Um, revenue would be another one , um, and then the last would be mission or brand. Um, and I’ll go into that in just a minute, but let me, let me first start off with the compliance label risk. So accessibility is still listed in as a top 10 risk for most institutions. It’s still a big one. Um, that is something that needs to be solved. Um, and I see that , uh, you know, time and time again, when I go to different institutions that I’m, I’m serving , um, it’s, it’s a high risk area because it’s a lot to take on. Um, there’s a lot, even just from a compliance and legal risk perspective. So earlier I was saying, yeah, you know, we need innovation. Um, you know, we need strategy, but even just to get to the compliance and legal risk area , uh, you know, and , and have all of your content , um, accessible, it does take quite a bit to , to accomplish that. So I do want to make it clear that, you know, definitely there are a lot of institutions that have lot to take on and they are there , you know, are going to struggle with that. Um, and it is a big concern, right? That this , uh, compliance and legal risk, there’s roughly about 350 current investigations by the office of civil rights. Um, and , uh, you know, that’s, there’s, there’s been a 300% increase in lawsuits since two , uh, 2018. So , um, there’s definitely a reason to be concerned about this. There’s a reason to try and tackle those things. Uh, first and foremost , um, and , uh, I saw somewhere that , uh , 25% of higher ed websites have , um , more than one legal case of disability discrimination against them. So, you know, a lot of , um , the institutions that are , uh , dealing with the compliance legal risks are, you know, are actually , um, having investigations against them. Uh , it’s a lot of these external websites. It’s a lot of the, you know, the , the external , um, content that they’re putting out there. Um, but it , it’s also gonna , you know, apply to, you know, applications they’re using internally. It’s also gonna apply to , uh , digital course materials. So many institutions were forced with COVID-19 , um, into, you know , online learning. Uh, others were already going there in the first place , um, either way , um, you’re looking at, you know, loads of digital content that needs to be made accessible, right? And , um , going through, you know, years and years of, of courses and, and, you know, turning those materials as digital course materials into something that’s accessible and readily available to these disabled students is , is quite , uh, quite a challenge. And , um, there are some , uh, some institutions that have actually gone , uh , textbook free, which is a wonderful cost savings to their students. Um, but obviously that, you know, has the flip side, which is, you know, you’ve got to find materials that you can evaluate and you can make them accessible , um, for, for these students. So it’s a lot to take on. There’s a lot to review. There’s a lot to remediate and, you know, when you’re dealing with situations like that, you’re having to go, you know , uh , back through thousands and thousands of, you know , materials. It’s, it’s a lot that you need to pull together a strategy for. Uh , so definitely compliance and risk legal risk is still, you know , big motivation , uh , to solve

Joe Gottlieb: 17:18

Before you go to the next, before you go into the next one, I just want to touch on a couple of those , uh , because I think, I think it would be ideal. Like , like maybe we look at the, maybe the positive side of this also, right? So if, if 25% of higher pirate websites have have more than one legal case, you know, maybe, maybe another 25% have one legal case, but I imagine there’s progress here now, external websites are very visible. And so it’s probably, they’re probably the target for any , um, you know , any legal action or, or real complaint that might be made , uh , brought against an institution , uh, for failing to , um, uphold these standards and requirements. Um, but when you think, when you, another thing we may be thinking about though, is like, is the move to digital that was accelerated by COVID. I want to believe that in theory, this actually represents an opportunity to be able to tackle this problem with technology, as opposed to it may be in the more traditional face-to-face education delivery modes, you know, things can be, might be more expensive, right? They, you know, to adapt a physical course , um, effectively , uh, for a range of disabilities and make it accessible, might actually prove to be more expensive , um, than to do it digitally. Albeit with digital, you’re going to have some fixed costs, right? You’re going to have to, you know, make certain fixed investments to maybe have a baseline capability that then can be utilized. And sure this is disruptive, but there perhaps there’s leverage in for example, as we do. Um, well, like, like in the physical role , we have braille textbooks as, as an example , um, and we’ve, we’ve had recorded books, right. For those that are blind , um, and could read via braille, but they could also listen now, people that are deaf and blind that, you know, we’re now dealing with a more severe disability. And so options become more limited there. But I imagine there’s going to be some innovation here over time. What do you see as the, do you see anyone capturing that? Do you see, do you see prospects for the digital sort of revolution making this more effective and, or more efficient in the long run?

Amy Shaw: 19:53

Hmm . I mean, that’s a, that’s a really good question. Um, I think that there’s, I think that there’s , um, more and more innovation that’s coming out that can tackle some of these problems. I think it’s still a big problem when we’re talking about documents, digital documents, PDFs, word documents, things like that. Um, because it’s , uh , it can be a very manual process of going through and making sure that there’s, you know, all tags for images and things like that. Um, and so when you’re looking at a lot of materials that can be very cumbersome. And so, you know , that’s where he would want to reach out to, you know, there’s definitely some services out there where they can, you know, go through and they can tackle this in across the board and add some small tags and make sure that it’s successful. I think it , um, I , I think it is to start off with a strategy of how you’re going to start building new online courses and what are those things that need to go into it from the start so that you are accounting for the variety of disabilities that are out there. There’s, there’s actually a lot more cognitive for instance, than there are physical disabilities. Um, and so there’s different things that different people need. And for sure you would want to address the , the, you know, you know, all of them as best you can, but, you know, I guess what I’m , what I’m saying is if you’re, if you’re taking it from the standpoint of, you know, we’re going to start building new courses and new course materials, and you have a strategy, you have a checklist of, you know, it doesn’t have this, doesn’t have that. Is there an alternative for those ? Is there an alternative for that, that I think you’re going to do a better job of making that something that the institution can really start building on top of, and then you can start going back to some of these older documents and kind of tackling them and maybe getting some services that will , uh, you know, convert those , um, into something that’s more accessible. I mean, when you’re going through a document and you’re making an accessible, you’re having to come up with what these old texts are, you’re having to go through and, you know, make all of these changes and do stuff that makes sense. Right. You’ve got to think about it through the perspective of somebody that’s going to be viewing that. And are they gonna understand what it is that is on that page and what they’re they’re viewing? So I think , uh, I think it does make sense to, to use some of those services that are out there, but I don’t think that there’s , uh , where another point where there’s there’s anything that’s, full-proof that you’re going to use a variety of things.

Joe Gottlieb: 22:27

Okay. So first of all, we probably should define the alt tag for our audience. So they know what that really is, I guess, but maybe you can give us a quick little definition of that.

Amy Shaw: 22:41

Yeah. So , uh , and this is not , uh , from any dictionary, but , um, in my own words, an alt tag is when you’ve got an image and you need to describe that image in, you know, in code. Um, so that , um, if somebody is blind and they’re using a screen reader that it’s going to read that tag , uh , for that image, and it’s going to describe for them and usually about two sentences , um, what it is that they’re viewing , uh , so that they understand , um, you know, they might not be able to see it, but they understand what that image is trying to convey. And , um, it’s especially useful if it, if it does really play into the rest of the contents that that’s there , if it’s an image that’s kind of , uh , uh , decorative , uh, do dad, that’s just for, you know, just to , to be attractive on the page, then you don’t, you know, you don’t need to describe it as something. Um, but , uh, you know, you do still need to , to put in there that this is something that you can skip, you can keep moving so that it doesn’t , uh , you know, slow them down as they’re reading down page.

Joe Gottlieb: 23:48

Perfect. Thanks. So, so then I guess, just to summarize where you left us on the state of the universe here , uh, first of all, designing it in a way better than retrofitting later , uh , obviously in terms of minimizing the cost , um, probably prioritizing according to your community and , and potential impact , um, prioritizing how you would go retrofit courses to be more suitable , uh, seemingly makes sense. And I suspect that those early stage tools that are available today are going to start to hopefully foment, you know, sort of drive some additional innovation that will give us, you know, more powerful solutions to make this more efficient, where technology can perhaps automate more of this , um, and ease both the retrofitting as well as the, the, the design in , from the, from the beginning. Okay. So let’s, let’s move on to the revenue, the motivation to solve , uh, the , well, the next, the next motivation is to solve. So I know revenues another one on your list, right?

Amy Shaw: 24:53

Yeah. And I mean, this is just a comment about the fact that there are good number of , uh , disabled people , uh, in , in , you know, just for the U S we’ve got, you know, 25% of all adults between age 18 and 64 have at least one disability. Some of them have multiple disabilities, that’s a large, large group. Um, and you know, granted not all those folks are, you know , attending institutions right now, but , um, as institutions are tightening their budgets right now, and they’re looking for new enrollment opportunities and they’re trying to reach out to the community and , and bring people in, you know , uh, that’s, that’s , uh , you know, that’s a sizable market that they could be marketing to. And, you know, that kind of brings us into that mission or brand. Um, you know, if you’re trying to improve your brand, if you’re trying to, you know , uh, become an institution that the people, you know , want to come to and feel welcomed at , um, you know, this is, this is a great opportunity to, you know , really kind of, you know, go that extra mile for these disabled students and , and provide more opportunities for them to learn a variety , uh, you know, of , of sources for digital materials and things like that. If you, you know, make some of these changes , um, you’re, you know, you’re also going to , um, you’re , you’re, you’re not only going to , uh, you know, potentially increase your revenue by bringing in more enrollment. Um, but you’re going to tackle some of these strategic imperatives that we were talking about. Um, you’re going to increase diversity and inclusion by, by bringing these folks in, because, you know, there’s, there’s this article , uh , from inside higher ed, that’s called , um, disability as diversity by Laila Burke . And , um, you know, it kinda talks about how there are many scholars that are saying disability is far too often framed as , um, an individual biomedical condition and as a technical problem to be solved rather than as a group identity. And, you know, there’s definitely an argument to be made and, and they’re making in that, that , uh, article in inside higher ed, but, you know, certainly , uh, you know, amongst the community, people are talking about this, you know , uh, the disabled, if we put them, you know, if we, if we called them , uh , you know , uh, recognize them as their own minority group, they would make the largest minority group in the U S um, and that’s according to the Institute on disability at the university of New Hampshire. So , um, you know, you would really actually be increasing your inclusion, you’d be increasing , um , your diversity, you would be , uh , you know , addressing , uh , accessibility, which is already going to be something you’re going to have to address anyway. Um, but if you can, you know , make some of these changes and then market that out , um, you know, that’s gonna , that’s only going to improve your brand, right? That’s only going to help you accomplish your mission and, you know, bringing more students in from enrollment in an , if they feel included, if they feel as though they’re being listened to, you know , um, when, when you’re, you know , trying to recruit people , um, you know, with diversity in mind , um, you , you’re going to those people and you’re saying what what’s going to make you feel comfortable here. What’s going to make you feel included at our institution. How can you be involved in group discussions? You know, we would like for you to feel comfortable and welcome, and we want to know what we can do to make that possible. Well, hardly anybody’s asking this of the disabled, right? And so that’s, that’s where that argument comes in. They aren’t asking the disabled, you know, what’s going to make you feel comfortable. How are you, how would you best like to learn here and, and be involved? And , and what can we do to get you involved in the conversation? And I think that that’s, you know , a big piece of, of, you know, solving the problem is you’ve got to listen to, you know, the people that , uh , you’re trying to recruit in, but also the ones that you already have in house. And you’ve got to make that a , you know, definitely more obvious that there are services. You’ve got to make it as user-friendly as possible for them to sign up for, for , um, any, you know, accommodations and, and just to feel very welcome to do that. Hey, but this is what we’re here for. We want for you to feel comfortable. We want you to feel included and, you know, that’s just going to draw them in. And, and that’s, that’s a big opportunity in my opinion. Um, that’s, that’s being missed by a lot of institutions.

Joe Gottlieb: 29:28

Well, you know, I’ve personally witnessed the shift happening at the, let’s just say, well, elementary, junior high and high school levels over the last 10 years. And like we talked about earlier, while that might be further ahead, based upon a variety of things, it might be, it might come down to , um, the way it was prioritized, the, the sort of the jurisdiction, the, the obligations that the, at least in the U S the public school system has to , um, families raising children and those specific individuals themselves. Right. So we’ve, we’ve seen that evolve quite a bit. Undoubtedly, that’s going to actually elevate amongst this current generation now going to college. So for every disabled student in high school that benefited from those sorts of programs and that new posture, they were surrounded by peers that were experiencing that too. And the whole part of how in my, my experience that was handled was to raise the education well , raise the awareness level of, of, you know, those that are not classified as disabled, like , you know, and, and, and so I think that makes both the entire set of students going through now into, off the college, I’m more aware of each other and perhaps more appreciative of this thing that you mentioned, which is , um, there’s, they are a, there there’s a, there’s a, there it’s just a diversity city dimension, frankly, right. And we all have strengths and weaknesses as, as humans and therefore, or we need to think about those strengths and weaknesses as attributes that will define not only who we are, but how we might need to be served. Um, I saw recently a LinkedIn post. It was very moving on . I hope it’s not the only one. I doubt it is, but, but, but struck, it strikes me as still unique, which has to change, but I believe it was a student on the autism spectrum that was basically , uh , telling employers of his imminent graduation and describing exactly his condition, but how it manifests and what he’s really good at and what he has challenges. And he put , he was pointing out how good he is at, for example, concentrating on details and being able to , um, uh, organize materials once he’s given broader things , instruction for how they should fit within a broader sphere. Right. And so he literally said, Hey, if you’re interested in employing me, I’m interested to talk. And I saw, you know , was very thankful and , and grateful to see that a bunch of people came forward and said, I want to talk to you because I recognize that that is probably something that is a perspective that we want lack amongst our current workforce that has strength. And, you know, I think we’ll hope to see more and more of that. And to your last point on this becomes a bit of a, it becomes a market segment. It’s a market opportunity, like you said, I mean, community colleges in particular are experiencing a decline right now. Uh, and it’s , uh , it’s not just a COVID induced decline. It is a, it’s a macro trend in terms of declining enrollment, at least in the U S and community college level. And not to rule out for your colleges as a place where this needs to happen and where there’s plenty to be done and plenty of applicability for this community, but the community college level is a particularly important layer in the education system, at least in the U S where , um, where potentially distinguishing themselves via , uh, capabilities in this area will help them maybe reverse some of these enrollment declines.

Amy Shaw: 33:26

Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. You’re definitely gonna see a lot of that. I mean, the numbers I gave earlier was just the four year degrees , uh, because you know, that, that particular study was, you know , uh, looking at that in particular, but you’re absolutely right. Community colleges , uh, do get quite a few , uh , disabled students coming through there. And , uh, you know, you just don’t want to see dropouts at any level , uh , in any institutions and , you know, especially if it’s, they didn’t know, you know, services were available to them , uh, they didn’t know how to, to, to get them. You know, I , I, I saw something , uh, not long ago where , um, there was a student that was, you know , just kind of talking about his experience. And he had been, you know , several years in , um, to his, you know , um , four year degree , uh , his undergrad. And , um, he was finally made aware that there were , um, accommodations, he could have applied for it . And he was like, wow, I wish I had known about that. And it , you know, this is somebody that, you know, became an adult , um , before he, you know, he had , uh , any kind of disability , um, that, that shouldn’t be happening at, at any of our institutions. They should , they should know that that’s , uh, that’s available to them and what that could do for them. Um, you know, if they’re going to go through the trouble of applying for this, you know, it’s , it’s good to know what, you know, what, what is going to benefit me and , and, you know, how can I go about doing this and , and help me through it?

Joe Gottlieb: 34:59

Well, let’s roll up our sleeves now and , and, and tackle the last , uh, part of this story, which is how to solve this. And I know I like the way you’ve laid out the motivations to solve. I think the , the how to get going and solving this , uh , reflect that same structure. So take us through that and, you know, with an eye towards, you know, helping our listeners , uh , amongst the higher ed institutions to really , um, well , we try to break this down and apply some best practice and , you know, get started.

Amy Shaw: 35:30

Sure. Um, so, you know, there’s a quick fix stuff that’s gonna , you know, relate to compliance and , and legal. Um, you know, that’s where you’ve got , um, your accessibility standards , um, that you’ve said, and you’ve developed and , and , um , shared around the institution. So everyone knows what you’re working towards. Um, then you’ve got , uh, you know , uh , collection of , uh, the pats , which are voluntary products, accessibility templates , um, and that’s what you would get from any vendors that are providing , uh , applications , um, you know, even , um, digital equipment, anything that has an interface , um, needs to meet accessibility standards. And so , um, you can collect that information. It’s, it’s really kind of a report that , um , you know, says that that vendor has , uh, evaluated their product . Um, and the , you know, here are the problems with it, you know, here’s where it is compliant. Um, you know, making sure you have all that information , um, so that if you have a student that, you know , uh, applies for combinations , they’re gonna be taking a course that, you know , requires certain software or whatever it is , um, that you understand , uh , where there are some pitfalls and, and, you know, generally want to look for , um, vendors that have, that are, you know , working on their accessibility and are doing something about it, to make sure that it’s more accessible , uh , for the P the people that are using the product so that it’s going to be, you know, good for your students and, you know, even your staff and your faculty members , um, then , uh, you know, you , if you have some in-house developed tools and solutions, you know, some institutions do have that , uh, you’re gonna wanna make sure that you’re also evaluating your own own content and you’re , uh , remediating any of that. Um, and then there’s digital course materials like I spoke about before. That’s, that’s also a big one. So any documents that go along with your digital course materials need to be made accessible. Um, and then you’re going to want to develop a procurement policy. And that policy should be one where, you know, you are requiring that certain level of standards, accessibility standards compliance that you’ve set as an institution. And , um, that you’re asking for things like V pats or, or some sort of proof , um , before you make a new purchase. And that’s not just something that should be used in procurement. Um, you know, a lot of , uh, different institutions. They give certain, you know, discretionary spending , uh, to their various departments and those departments can make their own purchases if it’s not a certain amount , um, those , uh , departments should have that same policy and they should be looking for the same thing. So, you know, again, this is about communicating that , um, across institution, it’s developing it and then communicating and making sure that everybody’s aware this is important. We need to get this . Um , and you know, again, that goes back to legal compliance, you have to have those things. Um, you, you need to do some ADA audits , uh, you know, it’s your physical spaces, you know, what are your options? Um, you know, and , you know, that’s, that’s for the, in-person obviously , um, you know, it hasn’t been a concern for some institutions that have gone online since COVID-19 happened, but, you know, obviously as we can get back into the classrooms more and more that, that, that needs to happen. Um, and then you want to offer some accessibility services and tools and accommodations for their physical needs. So if they need a book and braille, or, you know , documented braille, something like that , um, if , um , you know, that that would be a , you know, a service that you could hire out for. Um, and , uh, you know, there’s obviously , um, various people though to do sign language and, and various combinations, there’s loads of them. Uh , so you want to make sure that you have funding for that kind of thing , uh, so that you can acquire what you need for individuals to make sure that you’re meeting their needs, at least, you know , uh, you know, the basic needs that they have set forth, that they, they need. Um, and then you want to, you know, definitely invest in some assessment in re remediation tools. Uh, you know, especially if you’re going through loads of digital files, you’re going to want to do something. Um, as far as that’s concerned, you, you want some help there. Um, you know, there’s certainly a lot of free stuff that’s out there, but it’s very manual and it takes a lot of time to go through. And so, you know, you might want to set aside some budget money for that. Um, and then of course, you’re gonna want to do some faculty and some staff training so that they’re aware of what their part is in the us and what they need to do. So then there’s more of , um, a responsive fix. Um, so this is kind of like next level up, and this is where, you know, you want to do like a full assessment. This is beyond just leave compliance. You know, you’re really going to be trying to create some strategy. You’re really trying to tackle this problem , um, from the perspective of, Hey, you know, you wanna get started attracting some of these students and, you know, pull in some of the revenue from, from , uh , some of these students. So you’re going to want to do a book , big assessment , um, you know , uh , to identify those, those high level pain points. Um, and by big, I just mean you’re going to cover , um, you know, variety of departments. You want to, you know, make sure you understand where things stand. Um, you know, you’re gonna see some new risks pop out . You’re also going to see some opportunities for improvement. Um, and this is going to be in the digital and physical, right. Um, so this is more than just a standard state managed stuff. This is, I want to see what’s going on there and how we can tackle this, and maybe how we can reduce even drop out rates. We’re encouraged that engagement. Um, you’re also going to want to set up a governance committee for accessibility. And part of this is going to be determining roles and responsibility for accessibility. So there’s a lot of , uh , institutions that have individuals or departments that are responsible for accessibility, but they can’t possibly be responsible for all of accessibility. Like I said before, you know, different departments have discretionary spending, they’re purchasing software, that’s not accessible, you know, purchasing is involved in this. There’s so many different departments that are responsible for it. The faculty members have some responsibility in there. It’s, it’s , uh, you know, you definitely training is , is necessary, but I would say, you know, a good starting point would be to get a governance committee together to, you know, look through all those risks and those opportunities and those pain points , um, you know, figure out where, what things need to be tackled, you know, where they might need to put together some procedure process or policy. Um, but also, you know , uh, you know, identify those, those key roles , uh, you know, across the university that are responsible for different pieces of , uh , of accessibility and make sure that that , uh, education is there for them as well, so that they all understand what role did they play in it, and that they are contributing to the overall , uh, you know, improvement in that area. And, you know, this, this really is, you know, a big community outreach , uh, program that I’m talking about. You, you want to educate them. You want to educate the students about the services that are available, that you’re working on this , uh , that you want their input. You want , uh, you know, information, not that you’re trying to break into their privacy and have them share everything, but if they would like to share what their experiences, you know, through , uh, you know, assessments, which, which can be anonymous , um, or, you know , uh , joining focus groups, whatever that may be, you know, that’s kind of that next level up, that’s, that’s really demonstrating to your community, that you are interested in solving these problems, and you’re going to look for innovative ways to do that. Um, and then that, that next step is , uh, you know, really, really that holistic fix. Um, and this is where you’re , you know, kind of taking that input and you’re, you’re turning into something that’s a driver for your mission or your brand. Um, so this is where you , you want to make accessibility and disability inclusion, a driving imperative at your institution . So this should be, you know , you know, one of the top imperatives that you’re working on to fix , um, many institutions are, you know , especially in academics are familiar with universal design. Um, this is where you can , uh, you know, the goal is really to make , uh , course materials, you know, make a variety of course materials so that , uh , any student with any , uh, not just disability, but any learning style , um, would be benefited from the variety of options that are, that are in there. And that , um, you know, they’ve , they would have lots of options , um, to , to make sure that , um, you know, they’re able to learn the material and the way that they learn best. Um, and so, you know, one thing that you could do for this is you can create personas, or you can create checklists , um, once you identify the learning styles disabilities, and, you know, this can really help with the cognitive, the physical and the neurodiverse people. Um, and so you want to train your staff , um, to, to help them in building those materials. This is what I was talking about earlier. This, this is kind of that, that best case scenarios , if you could start, you know, really you could start this much earlier , um, as, as part of your strategy and, you know, start building up, what , well , what are we trying to build? And , and what did these various people need? And then over time, you want to improve that by reaching out to those communities and saying, okay, how has this, how’s this working for you? And , uh, you know, are there other things that we could be doing to, to make this better for you? Um, you know, I, I, I know some, some people with , uh, some, you know , learning disabilities , uh, in particular that have talked about various tools that they like to use just to make it easier for them , um , uh , to learn sometimes , um, it , um , will limit what tools can be used , um , you know, on campus or, you know, at an institution. And, and so, you know, if you’re, if you’re collecting that kind of information, you know, this is the kind of thing you can surface to your it team to say, Hey, this is really gonna help this group. You know, they’re already using these tools on their own. It’s going to help them be better students. It’s going to help them, you know , complete their degree. Um, you, you have that information then to , to have those kinds of conversations. Um, and then , uh, you want to assess that , you know , benchmark, you want to track and measure your improvements over time. So that’s important as well. You know, that’s why you really kind of want to start off with , uh , you know, you want to kind of benchmark, you want to find out where you’re at , um, kind of in that responsive, fixed period where you’re assessing where things are at, but then over time you want to say, have we improved in these areas? Um, you know, do we have more involvement to be more engagement? Um, you know, are , is it, is it affecting our brand in a way where they are communicating this to their peers and saying, Hey, this is a great institution to go to. They’re really taking this seriously. They’re really looking at this. I mean, no institution is going to be perfect. Um, but it’s amazing how much, how far it’ll go , uh, to make you feel included, to make you feel like you’re, you know , being looked at and you’re, you’re being heard. Um, if you just, you know , continually reach out and say, Hey, we’re working on this, and this is what we’ve done, you know, how are we doing? What more could we be doing? And, you know, that’s, that’s really, you know, with, with any area and with any imperative that you’re working on. But I think , uh, this, this group, this disabled group in particular, just doesn’t get listened to enough and , and their , their voice isn’t being heard. Um, and so, you know, once you’ve got that , that input, you know, then that’s where you’re going to want to share that incremental progress. Um, you know, it should, it really, you know, you’ll see that reputation and that brand improve. And, you know, hopefully over time, that’s adding to your in enrollment and you’re going to be seen as an institution that , um, you know, is, is really one that that should be sought out by, you know, folks that are, are disabled , uh, or anyone really, that’s just impressed with the fact that they’re taking this universal approach and they’re this holistic approach and , and, you know, interested in, and what’s going to help their students learn the best. I mean, everyone benefits when these, these changes are made. It’s, it’s amazing how you can make fixes for somebody. Um, you know, that that has a cognitive challenge or, you know, a learning disability, but if we all benefit when there’s more variety and there’s more options that are available to us.

Joe Gottlieb: 48:08

Wow. Well , um, thanks, Amy. That was , uh , that was quite a tour to , to force. Um, and, you know, if I could try to pull together here as we, as we bring this to a close, you know, while it’s pretty obvious that it’s the right thing to do, and there’s lots of, you know, mission statements that , uh, angled towards this sort of thing that can, it can be, it can be difficult to confront some of the costs and challenges and sort of new ways of working to tackle this. But I think if we, if we, I think institutions that find ways to either leverage their commitment, that’s coming out of a mission statement where there is budget to follow through or connect these there’s revenue opportunities. So they may be in a, in a Romant remediation scenario where they’re trying to reverse declines in enrollment, and this becomes one of the pillars that allows them to do that. And then they’re allowed to show progress towards reversing that trend, which produces a financial outcome, which then may be, get more investment. Right? All of those things, if we can find ways to get those in motion, all the better, rather than just rely upon doing what we have to, to avoid legal trouble , uh, compliance risk and the like, but that last, you know, so that, that first and last sort of driver of a compliance legal risk, you know, if necessary ends up being the most visible. And so really finding ways to, to look at these things together and maybe prioritize your pathway to doing a better job with this while managing risk and removing a compliance issue and finding opportunities to hit the bottom line via revenue programs, and ultimately getting closer to a mission that wants to be more inclusive , um, seems to be a recipe to sort of break this down into pieces, but , um, in any event, thank you so much for joining me today. Amy was a great, great opportunity to go through this really, really important topic. And , uh , and thanks to all of our listeners that joined us. And we look forward to seeing you for another higher digital coffee talk, have a great day.

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As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

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