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How To Start An Effective Conversation Around Accessibility

By: Aylin Dunham
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Accessibility is a hot topic in education right now, but many educational leaders still aren’t familiar with it. 10% aren’t sure what accessibility means, while 11% find it hard to justify the costs involved in adopting accessibility tools and practices. While some educators are likely going to great lengths to get institutional buy-in around accessibility measures to promote greater inclusion for diverse students, others are still in the dark about its importance.

These tips can be used to inform and drive effective initial conversation around accessibility on your campus and online.

1. Educate your peers on the basic definition

Don’t assume that most of your peers understand the ins and outs of accessibility, let alone the concepts and what it entails on a basic level. Breaking down what accessibility means, who it benefits and complex standards like WCAG 2 is a critical first step.

Simply put, accessibility is the practice of making information, experiences and technologies easily usable by as many people as possible. Taking the time to share examples of different ways that other institutions have adopted – or failed to adopt – accessibility measures can serve as helpful illustrations to unfamiliar listeners and prompt greater action on their parts. Showcasing that accessibility can be delivered through acts like sending out presentations ahead of time to students who are blind, adding captions to videos for students who are Deaf, hard-of-hearing or have auditory processing disorders, as well as ensuring that documents have 12 point font or larger with effective color contrasts to include those who have low vision will make it seem more tangible.

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2. Explain why it matters

Get leaders to care more about accessibility by explaining who it impacts and why it matters. According to the World Health Organization, about 15% of people have some form of disability. In education alone, there are nearly 7 million students with disabilities in the US. Whether you’re an educator in the classroom or a leader in an online learning platform, you’re likely to come across a student or colleague with a disability.

Accessibility in education matters because it offers a level playing field for students with disabilities, providing them with the same experience and opportunities as their peers. Current statistics show that 90% of websites are currently inaccessible, meaning that there’s a lot of room for schools to start prioritizing accessibility not only in person but online. Plus, many of the technologies and tools designed to help individuals with disabilities are proven to help the entire student body.

3. Highlight its legal implications

Accessibility lawsuits are on the rise and simply can’t be ignored. Avoiding legal action is one of the top incentives for becoming accessible. Education professionals must be aware that accessibility isn’t just nice-to-have—it’s also a civil right.

When starting a conversation around accessibility, educators should share that legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires colleges and universities to offer effective communication for individuals with disabilities. For example, accessibility tools like AST’s captioning are one of the many technologies being used to offer effective communication to students with disabilities as they learn live in classrooms, on platforms like Zoom or consume recorded videos as part of their coursework. All of these live and recorded video forums must provide captioning that reaches 99% accuracy levels in order to meet accessibility benchmarks and deliver equity to students. Poor accessibility technologies, especially free ones, typically don’t actually deliver accessibility, which means failing to deliver effective communication.

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4. Tie accessibility to other benefits

Accessibility isn’t just about offering access to students with reported disabilities. There are many other benefits to tout in your conversations. Accommodation technologies can help commuters, non-native speakers, students who are employed and parents to name a few, allowing them to consume content in different ways to meet their diverse learning needs and circumstances.

For example, with 55% of students researching colleges online, making your website and online content accessible could make the difference in attracting them. An inaccessible or poorly designed website is likely to turn potential candidates away. Offering an inclusive and accessible online experience is essential to stay competitive and account for the 2.6% drop in university enrollment rates.

If you need buy-in from a marketing and tech angle, it’s also worth noting that accessibility technologies like transcripts, which serve as notes, also increase your school’s search engine optimization (SEO). Tools like transcripts can take the place of human notetakers, but also help to boost SEO by making your schools’ videos searchable. Individuals will be able to search and find your school by using keywords that appear in transcripts on your site. Incorporating accessibility practices therefore not only helps students who need them for equity, but can greatly enhance your school’s online presence.

5. Create a forum to share resources

Make it easy for your peers and leadership to stay up-to-date on the latest accessibility and inclusion news by:

  • Establishing groups or threads where you can recommend and share helpful resources
  • Create a digital library of resources and accessibility blogs like AST’s
  • Share lists of key UDL principles and accessibility leaders to follow on social to learn from
  • Conduct interviews with students with disabilities, their parents and accessibility-focused thought leaders through both live events and webinars that your peers can attend, as well as share helpful insights from conversations you’ve had with them
  • Encourage them to experiment by recommending small accessibility changes they can incorporate into their daily practices like captioning a video they’re sharing with their class that day or adding alt-text to images or captions

Learning about individuals with disabilities both from thought leaders and from these individuals themselves can help your peers make the link between the concept of accessibility and the real impact it has on people’s lives.

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6. Be patient and thankful

Time is money, so be sure to thank the listener for hearing your perspective. It can take many months of resource sharing and repetitive conversations to get buy-in for accessibility. Patience and dedication on your part will be key to keeping the conversation going. Encouraging peers to become a part of the process or thanking them for setting time aside to listen in on one advocacy group meeting or one guest talk can help them feel more involved and therefore become more involved in enlisting change to help your school become more inclusive. They’ll also likely speak to other peers about what they experienced, which will lead to a ripple effect in the amount of people touched by your initial accessibility-driven conversation and efforts.

Difficult Conversations Pay Off

Advocating for accessibility comes with its challenges when institutional budgets are the common restrictor, but prompting conversations and celebrating small wins will push you forward on your journey towards greater accessibility. Change can rarely be done alone, so have conversations with as many peers as will listen.

Scheduling conversations and coming prepared with key insights and actionable tips from peer schools will help create a culture of doing more and doing better at your institution. First, you must have the points to inspire leaders and your greater community to truly start caring about accessibility. Then, forging a plan and enlisting key partners like accessibility leaders like AST to not just talk about accessibility, but deliver it, will come next.

AST’s captioning, transcription and audio description services help support the accessibility needs of today’s students and schools in their efforts to deliver on accessibility. For more information, reach out.