Faculty, staff can learn digital accessibility in new trainings

Collectively, University of Oregon employees create a wealth of digital content every day, from emails, PDFs and Word documents to Canvas courses and websites.

Do you know whether people with disabilities can fully use the digital content you create?

To help you answer that question, the UO now offers two trainings in digital accessibility.

The trainings empower UO faculty, staff and students to ensure they’re producing digital materials free of technical barriers for people with disabilities — including visual, hearing, dexterity, cognitive and other disabilities — and for people who are neurodivergent.

The digital content accessibility training covers the vast majority of digital content, including Word documents, PDF files, PowerPoint presentations, videos and Canvas courses. The training is available to UO employees through MyTrack and is also available to students and the public through UO’s Community Canvas. 

The new web accessibility training provides detailed guidance for anyone who creates or edits websites. That training is available to all UO employees and students through LinkedIn Learning.

“Providing accessible digital content at the University of Oregon is important to creating a campus experience in which everyone feels they belong and can be successful,” said President Karl Scholz. “I encourage all UO employees who create digital materials to take one or both of these trainings.”

The online trainings provide a wealth of guidance in a series of modules totaling two to three hours. For example, they explain how to add captions to videos, ensure colors have enough contrast, and address issues that affect screen readers, a type of assistive software that reads documents aloud.

Heidi von Ravensberg, a faculty member in the College of Education who is blind, has firsthand experience navigating the university’s digital content with a screen reader.

“It can tell me the organizational layout of the document plus allow me to quickly and easily navigate, if someone used heading styles,” von Ravensberg wrote. “It can describe the graphics and images, if someone included the alt text tags. It can read and interpret a table, if someone put the table in logical reading order.”

Without such settings, documents become much harder for von Ravensberg to navigate — or, in some cases, impossible, such as when people create PDFs from scanned images of printed materials.

Many accessibility techniques take minimal time to implement and can provide other benefits. For example, the use of proper heading styles in a document allows a table of contents to be automatically created.

The need for digital accessibility is vast. For example, in a 2023 survey of incoming UO undergraduates, 46.5 percent reported having a disability or being neurodivergent. More data about disabilities is available on UO’s Digital Accessibility website.

“The goal is working to proactively make things accessible by design,” said Norma Kehdi, senior director of the Accessible Education Center.

“I think our accommodation process for students is really smooth,” Kehdi said. “But ultimately, if we're really working toward a sense of belonging and inclusion for our students with disabilities, then we should be looking at how to make things accessible."

Laurel Bastian, a faculty consultant with the Teaching Engagement Program, explains that the complexity of information flow at a university requires such a proactive approach.

“None of us will know everyone in our classes or working groups or networks who may need something to be accessible,” said Bastian, who co-chaired the Instructional and Administrative Content Accessibility Advisory Collaborative. “Building content that is digitally accessible from the beginning is the way we ensure that all of our colleagues and students can actually engage with it.”

Grey L. Pierce, the university’s digital accessibility architect, agrees. “We need to do everything we can to reach that point,” Pierce said. “We all have a part to play in making the university an equitable and inclusive place for disabled students, employees and members of the public.”

Pierce co-chairs both of the new collaborative teams that developed the trainings: the group mentioned above and the Web Accessibility Advisory Collaborative. Convening those teams is one of many steps Pierce has taken toward reinvigorating and expanding UO’s ICT Accessibility Program since joining Information Services in May 2022. As the program’s only dedicated staff member, Pierce has made collaboration and capacity-building a core strategy.

“The goal is not just training individuals so that we're all more knowledgeable, but building up a community,” said Paul Kozik, a web developer in University Communications and co-chair of the web group.

Von Ravensberg and others emphasized the importance of widespread action by staff and faculty members.

“The UO’s digital accessibility is only as good as we make it,” she said. 

Instructors seeking help or resources for making their courses more accessible can contact the Teaching Engagement Program and UO Online or explore resources on the Teaching Support and Innovation website, such as the Accessibility, Inclusion and Universal Design webpage.

Students who would like to request disability-related accommodations or support can contact the Accessible Education Center.

Employees who would like to request accommodations or support for disability-related workplace limitations can contact the accommodations coordinator in Human Resources.

Anyone who has other questions about digital accessibility can contact Pierce at ictaccess@uoregon.edu.

—By Nancy Novitski, University Communications

—Top photo: A young Black man says ‘Oh, I see’ in American Sign Language while having a video meeting via laptop.