“Our student population with accessibility needs is higher than most public institutions – we really did want to make sure that we were taking care of all of our students,” said Janet Kamps, coordinator, Distance Education, Center for Teaching & Learning at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Kamps said student learning is one of the most important motivators behind the university’s accessibility efforts.

“If students can’t access the material in a way that’s meaningful to them, they’re going to miss out,” she said.

University officials reached out to faculty and students with varied accessibility needs and asked them to try Brightspace.

“We have a faculty member who does not have vision and who uses a screen reader. I asked her to try out Brightspace, and she emailed me back and asked how soon we could get it. That really spoke volumes,” Kamps said.

Over recent years, the university has developed and fine-tuned a guiding accessibility document that outlines what different academic departments can do to work with campus disability services and how the administration can play a role in supporting accessibility efforts.

“That guiding document has had a tremendous effect on the way we operate and the way we work with accessibility,” Kamps said.

As part of its efforts, the university relies on student workers to test-drive accessibility measures to determine if educational materials are usable.

It also created an accessibility checklist that expands on the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, a tool that is used to document whether a product adheres to accessibility standards.

“We’ve had students tell us a product isn’t really usable, and that they’d drop a class if they had to use that product,” Kamps said. “Our [accessibility] checklist goes beyond VPAT–it’s very valuable to us. We don’t want a student to get left out.”

Laura Ascione