Section: Opinion

Expanding digital access will prepare the College for a future of universal accessibility

David Berman visited Kenyon College in October 2018 to address eAccessibility and inclusive digital design. Berman is a web accessibility expert who, over the past thirty years, has been dedicated to promoting digital accessibility worldwide. He is also the chair of Carleton University’s Access Network for Accessibility Information Technology. His book published in 2013, “Do Good Design,” is available in the Kenyon Bookstore.

As director of Student Accessibility and Support Services (SASS) for the past 20 years I have occasionally been asked to offer guidance on ways to improve accessibility at Kenyon.  I’ve  discovered that barriers to access exist not only in the buildings and walkways but also in the emerging technologies designed to create new pathways to learning in the classroom.  Technology is an integral part of our lives from social networking and communication to basic access to information. 

The web is a universal portal for connectivity yet the inclusion of people with disabilities is often overlooked when developers of websites and related technologies do not design for all users.  Kenyon has begun to address the need to ensure that web content is accessible and to provide training to faculty, staff and others who create digital content.

The Center for Innovative Pedagogy (CIP) and SASS co-sponsored a Day of eAccessibility with Berman as a kick-off event to promote digital access initiatives on campus. The event was designed to bring awareness to the need for digital inclusiveness. The event was supported by President Sean Decatur; the Office of the Provost; the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; the Office of Communications; the Office of the Registrar; the Gund Gallery and the Kenyon Review.

Berman’s Common Hour talk centered on inclusive design and its importance. For example, Alexander Graham Bell, a 19th-century inventor and engineer, credited with creating the first telephone, began his work at a private school for girls who were deaf or hard of hearing by creating the “harmonic telegraph” — a hearing device for the deaf. Bell went on to create the microphone, amplifier, loud speaker and the telephone. This history of accessible innovation and technological advances underscores Berman’s core message: “When we design well, everyone benefits.”

A lunch workshop followed the Common Hour presentation. Attendees included faculty, instructional and information technology specialists, librarians and administrative staff. Pointing to Kenyon’s 2020 plan and the goal to create a diverse and inclusive community of students, faculty, staff and community members, Berman identified some digital access barriers which could readily be addressed by planning up front for inclusive design. He shared tips for creating accessible documents, instructional materials and emails announcing campus events, stressing that planning ahead can benefit all and reduce costs. “It is the idea that if we build accessibility in right from the beginning, we can actually drive down costs,” he said.

The goal of Kenyon’s digital accessibility initiative is to put strategies and tools in place to create a culture of inclusive design. SASS will plan a range of trainings and workshops throughout the academic year on topics such as website accessibility, how to create accessible documents, Moodle accessibility tips and captioning of digital media. A steering committee with representatives from across campus has been meeting regularly this semester to ensure progress in a variety of areas concerning digital accessibility.

SASS and the CIP are also co-sponsoring a monthly Digital Accessibility Design Award (DADA) for campus members who utilize accessibility resources and tools to create accessible materials or further the colleges digital access initiative by attending professional development opportunities. The monthly DADA winners will be placed in a drawing at the end of the year when we will select a DADA of the year winner.  It is clear to me that digital access is the new frontier in accessibility, and through these measures, Kenyon has an opportunity to provide leadership in this area among our peer institutions.

Erin Salva is  director of Student Acessibility and Support Services at Kenyon College. You can contact her at salvae@kenyon.edu.

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