Why online ed accessibility is not a “when we get to it” issue

As several high-profile lawsuits surface around accessibility of web content, colleges and universities must take the steps necessary to shore up their own approaches to online accessibility of web content.

accessibility-universities-onlineIn the era of online learning, colleges and universities are quickly learning that it’s not enough to provide online content—the content must be accessible for all. But how can institutions provide online accessibility; and is it a legal requirement?

In February, advocates for the deaf filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T., stating that both universities violated anti-discrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts, and other educational materials. In “Harvard and M.I.T. Are Sued Over Lack of Closed Captions,” the New York Times highlighted portions of the complaint and zeroed in on the fact that, “Much of Harvard’s online content is either not captioned or is inaccurately or unintelligibly captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Applying ADA to online education

This new case highlights a particularly controversial subject in an era where more institutions of higher education are making lectures available online and developing related content that may not always be accessible to students with disabilities. Sheryl Burgstahler, founder and director of University of Washington’s DO-IT Center and UW Access Technology Center (ATC) in Seattle, says part of the issue lies in confusion over exactly how the American Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to the world of online education.

“Everyone has gotten used to the fact that ADA requires us to provide accessible classrooms, materials, and alternative texts,” says Burgstahler, “but they hadn’t completely thought everything through online. The bottom line is, whatever schools are providing in the physical environment also needs to be made available to individuals with disabilities – whether we’re providing a online course or just posting our college president’s recent speech on the web.”

The UW ATC, for example, allows for full use of campus computing resources using braille tools, alternate document formatting, magnification for blind/low-vision users, keyboard/mouse alternatives, and speech-input software. And while closed-captioning a video isn’t necessarily difficult, Burgstahler says schools get themselves in hot water (as in the case of Harvard and M.I.T) when they ignore their legal, ADA-related obligations.

“A lot of people just don’t think about it and they don’t realize that it’s our legal obligation,” says Burgstahler. “It’s also our ethical obligation to include students with disabilities in the [conversation] when we decide to give people access to educational content.” In some cases, she says the oversight can be attributed to the fact that a specific professor or teacher doesn’t have a deaf student in his or her class.

“They’ll provide closed captioning when they know they have a student who needs it,” says Burgstahler, “but what they don’t realize is that when they’re blasting things out to the world via the web, there are plenty of people (English as a Second Language learners, for example), who need or want access to that content – and they don’t always have it.”

(Next page: Accessibility as a resistance to change; resources/tools available)


Op-ed: Top 4 apps for healthcare students

If you’re not weaving these applications into the fabric of your classroom, now’s the time.

nursing-apps-healthcareWhether through simulation experiences, use of social media, or flipping the classroom, schools of nursing seem to be setting the bar as it pertains to responding to student needs in such a fast-paced, agile environment.

Using technology by way of apps and web-based discussion boards to enhance the student experience is a way of life at Fairfield University’s School of Nursing, which has been named among the nation’s ten best schools at which to earn a degree in nursing, alongside Ivy League institutions like Columbia and University of Pennsylvania.

According to Bright Hub, “Students are taught in small class sizes using the latest medical technology to provide a strong theory-based knowledge” at the University. It’s no surprise then that the SON faculty are well-versed in integrating technology into their teaching and learning.

I recently caught up with Dr. Jackie Conelius, assistant professor of nursing within the Fairfield University School of Nursing. She shared with me four tech apps/environments that she uses to support the classroom experience for her graduate students.

1. Epocrates: Epocrates is recognized for developing the #1 medical application among U.S. physicians and nurse practitioners for clinical content and decision support at the point of care for medications and prescribing medications.

2. CV Risk Assess: Calculates your 10-year risk of heart disease or stroke using the algorithm published in 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Assessment of Cardiovascular Risk.

3. Figure 1: Figure 1 is a community for medical and nursing professionals to safely share clinical cases and discuss treatment.

4. QuantiaMD: QuantiaMD helps validated clinician members to stay ahead by participating in short expert presentations, asking each other questions, and discussing how to use what they learn within their practice.

 Paige Francis is the CIO at Fairfield University.



Op-ed: Making sure grads are more prepared for jobs than interviews

Reevaluating the college-to-career roadmap to help students achieve career success.

college-career-barnesAccording to a recent study, surveyed students may be more prepared for an initial interview than for the skills required for the job—a trend that could ultimately affect recruitment and retention efforts at colleges and universities.

As seniors prepare to graduate in May, job hunting has officially commenced, with students beefing up their resumes, attending networking events, honing interview skills and sending out applications. However, a study conducted by Barnes & Noble College and Why Millennials Matter found that many students today are falling behind on the college-to-career roadmap.

This should be concerning not only for students, but colleges and universities as well. Today, career placement rates play an increasingly bigger role in where students decide to get their degree, and alumni donations also are highly influenced by how well the school helped launch their career. With recruitment, retention and revenue constraints topping the list of higher ed concerns, colleges and universities can’t afford to take this trend lightly.

The “College Student Mindset for Career Preparation & Success” study surveyed more than 3,000 students from two- and four-year colleges and universities across 44 states, garnering more than 17,000 open-ended responses. The study aimed to uncover Millennial student expectations, motivations, influences and preferences in regards to career preparation and early work experiences.

According to the study’s findings, many respondents are simply waiting too long to start building the experience and skills they need to launch their careers. Among those surveyed:

  • Only 36.7 percent of juniors and seniors have participated in an internship, while 42.5 percent have not applied to one.
  • Over half (52.4 percent) of juniors and seniors haven’t begun casual job searching.
  • Only 23-34 percent of all students are using the Career Center to research options.

Students surveyed also aren’t building the skills they need to succeed. They know what skills are important, such as clear communication and critical thinking, but they also identified these skills as those needing the most improvement. Additionally, respondents are more focused on building the skills they need to pass the interview and land the job, as opposed to the skills they need to succeed on the job.

(Next page: 3 innovative ways that a university can invest in student career prep)