Gaining Online Accessible Learning through Self-study 2
Many students, faculty, and staff members with disabilities are unable to access educational opportunities and services because they are not always able to gain access to web-based content. Resources, tools, and models of system reform for postsecondary education currently exist, yet the problem persists. This project capitalized on the products of an existing FIPSE-funded project (# P116B070167) and focused on motivations of top administrators to choose to engage in self-study and continuous improvement on web accessibility. Project staff developed two important blueprints under this funding: Blueprint for Aligning Institutional Web Accessibility with Regional Accreditation, and Blueprint to Support Institutional Adoption.
A 6-member consortium worked together to produce project materials and secure institutional participation. The Consortium leader is the National Center on Disability and Access to Education at Utah State University. The other 5 Consortium members were: 1) the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the regional accreditor; 2) the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE), the regional compact; 3) the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), an education collaborative; 4) the Michigan Community College Virtual Learning Collaborative (MCCVLC), a stakeholder in state online learning; and 5) WebAIM, a nationally-respected Web accessibility group.
Extending the potential impact of the accreditation Blueprint, Consortium members shared project information with SACSCOC members, members of the Higher Learning Commission (NCAHLC), the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC), and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
The Institutional Blueprint (including the Benchmarking and Planning tool) was used for institutional self-study and improvement across 52 institutions. Reporting from the external evaluator confirms the positive influence of this process on metrics of system-wide web accessibility (e.g., presence of policy or linked information on how to achieve accessibility for faculty and staff), and the actual accessibility in a small sample of pages they collected.
The cost case studies provided sample costs of specific practices in use by 6 institutions. This report details (1) The cost to litigate, (2) The costs to retrofit, (3) The costs of captioning, (4) The costs to retrofit an open source LMS, (5) The cost of making group accessibility procurements, and (6) The cost to establish a procurement review process.
Other materials created for this project are extensive. They include Cheatsheets intended for nontechnical faculty and staff. These have been tremendously popular. Many other project materials are popular too. One metric to verify that resources developed under FIPSE funding are viewed as relevant, are backlinks (others who directly link to your web page). As the project concluded, we had over 2,100 backlinks to project materials.
A focus on formative evaluation was built into the fabric of the project to improve materials all along with way. Aggressive dissemination focused on adoption of project materials in postsecondary settings and with accrediting entities. The external evaluator, WIRE collected data on both accreditation efforts in web accessibility and a sample of institutional efforts, along with a snapshot of accessibility across a national sample. Their evaluation of the project found that the GOALS process offers 'important and effective support for creating enterprise-wide accessibility. As more and more institutions adopt this process, it is likely that web accessibility will become a reality for the majority of students and other stakeholders of post-secondary institutions'.
The project is sustained and has already been approached by 7 institutions since the end of federal funding. The positive impact of FIPSE-funding to start this work will be felt long into the future.