We just returned from our annual trek to the Educause conference. For those that are not familiar with Educause, it is one of the key gatherings in the higher ed community, and an important showcase of what is new in the field of educational technology. The exhibit floor is packed with hundreds of vendors showing the latest developments in cool technologies for schools. We’ve been an exhibitor at Educause for the past several years and while it is always an exciting show for us, it is frankly a bit of a challenge to make a captioning offering stand out against a backdrop of so many flashy technologies; for many folks, accessibility just did not have the same cool-factor (I know, it surprises me too).
I have noticed over the years of watching and attending Educause that accessibility awareness has slowly received an increasing share of attention. A few years back we saw the creation of the “IT Accessibility Center” at Educause – a venue for sharing and distributing information on accessibility. At this year’s show, we saw the release of a new video on accessibility from the folks at the University of Washington’s DO-IT center (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology). The video is titled “IT Accessibility: What Campus Leaders Have to Say” and features university presidents, CIOs, and other IT leaders discussing the importance of IT accessibility on their campuses. Give it a look:
The folks at DO-IT have been doing a great job of bringing accessibility awareness to issues for many years, and this video does a fantastic job of highlighting a trend that we have been seeing for a while: an increasing level of attention on accessibility from the very highest levels of university management. Accessibility has now gone beyond cool – it’s considered mission-critical by executives of all levels in higher education. At Educause we released our latest whitepaper and we had many people coming by our booth asking for copies. We had both IT managers and CIOs coming by and saying “This is a high priority for our organization.” Captioning and accessibility are now a mainstream focus at universities.
While increased attention may partially stem from recent high-profile litigation on accessibility issues, and a desire to ensure compliance with the various accessibility mandates, it seems a good deal of it is also a result of an honest desire to make educational communities more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. I think also that there is growing recognition that accessibility features such as captioning can improve learning outcomes not only for users with disabilities, but for the entire user population.
While I have focused on the education sector in this post, we are seeing very similar trends in both government and corporate sectors. Whatever the drivers, this trend is an important and positive one. Attention and buy-in from the executive offices is critical to evolving accessibility into the mainstream. These signposts suggest we are finally on the path to a place where accessibility is not just about accommodating a segment of the population, but about designing an information infrastructure that is inclusive and engaging for all users.
Watch our free recorded and captioned webinar on Educational Video Accessibility.