Dr. Cowden’s team has been working via the William C. Demetree Jr. Foundation Chair in Education for Special Needs. This project resulted in the “Hands-On Accessibility” workshop, offered in three sessions to full and part time faculty/staff. Additionally, they created the “Accessibility Advisory Group” in partnership with Dr. Deborah Larew, Director of Office of Students with Disabilities, which now has made in-roads with college-wide policy to have two full-time captionists on staff, and a required “Intro to Accessibility” course for all employees.
“Hands-on Accessibility” means that faculty and staff were able to come to a campus-based session hosted in the computer lab and work on their syllabi, tests, quizzes and videos to update and revise such with helping hands from the O.S.D. staff. Chris Cuevas is the technical support manager for the college and not only presented valuable information to the participants, but was there to engage with them one-on-one as they worked on their course material to make such more accessible. Stephanie Crosby was just as engaged with support for their needs, and Karen Cowden provided the faculty focus on the “best practices” for all learners and inclusion and diversity concepts.
Allowing faculty to participate in workshops that allow them to work in their own course materials with support while they are doing it has really empowered faculty with the skills and understanding to create materials that are accessible.
In meeting the diverse needs of students “we want to make sure that we do not assume we know our audience’s learning needs for support and that we design all course material with ‘best practices’ not as an after-the-fact response to paperwork for special accommodations.” As an example, when “our society was first introducing sidewalks, we didn’t consider cutting the curbs so wheeled items could easy flow on and off. However, after a push from multiple facets of society inclusive of the ADA and others, having cut curbs now supports not only wheelchair access, but also that of children on bikes, moms with strollers, and others.”
So, it makes sense that all content is designed – college-wide information and course content – to be accessible for all, regardless of having paperwork for accommodations presented or not. To be accurate in the discussion of this topic it is important to realize the burden of paying for the documentation required to support eligibility for accommodations is on the student and therefore many times goes undiagnosed, which does not remove the need for support that the college can potentially provide by making all material more diversely delivered and designed.
Valencia’s student body includes students who have every type of disability, and some who have concurrent disabilities. The curriculum materials, student services, campus activities, and media must be accessible to students who have mobility impairments, are blind, are deaf, have learning disabilities, have processing disorders, have attention disorders, as well as other types of disabilities.
In order to meet this wide range of needs, Valencia’s OSD partners with CTLI and academic departments to provide training to faculty members and staff. Under the leadership of Dr. Deborah Larew, the Accessibility Advisory Group is developing processes that can be implemented institution wide to advance the use of technologies that can be used by any student, faculty, or staff member. Each term, the OSD creates alternative format textbooks that are compatible with screen readers for students. Chris Cuevas (pictured, right) works closely with faculty to insure that their Blackboard pages and online courses will be able to be accessed by students with various disabilities. On each campus, OSD advisors provide early advising to students, to allow them to plan for the use of their accommodations and to develop a schedule that will meet any unique needs. The OSD also provides services to Valencia’s deaf population. Donna Kimmeth schedules interpreters and captionists to guarantee that deaf students will have full access to courses, meetings, activities, and tutoring. Since access is provided in collaboration with each student, accommodations may vary greatly.
Valencia has been taking large steps in advancing the accessibility of all of its online materials to all students. Patti Davis has been an incredible ally in promoting accessible technologies and web design. Craig Blazejewski has also been instrumental in developing procedures to make sure that all online marketing materials can be accessed by any student interested in Valencia.