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Reflections from Accessing Higher Ground 2019

AHG Conference banner featuring conference information against a backdrop of a snow covered mountainAs we reflect on the Accessing Higher Ground Conference and look ahead to the new year, it’s clear that higher ed will continue to build an increased focus on accessibility. In an all-out effort to avoid falling victim to the triple-digit increase in digital accessibility lawsuits over the last few years, the higher ed community has been largely focused on getting its arms around the ins and outs of IT accessibility, governance, documentation, and remediation. Specifically, there has never been a more important time than now for institutions to place an increased focus around equitable and accessible learning materials. 

Nearly one in five college students have some type of disability, but on average only 11 percent of all undergraduate students formally register with a Disability Services Office (DSO). That means most institutions aren’t aware of the more than half of students with some form of disability or accessibility need. We are no longer in the age of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to instruction and learning. In the spirit of “accessibility helps everyone,” more and more campus stakeholders are embracing the universal design and inclusion mentality.

This year’s Accessing Higher Ground (AHG) Conference felt like the first major shift toward putting the student learning experience first. Thanks to conferences like AHG and the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, the higher ed community now has a foundational understanding of what it takes to lead accessibility initiatives on campus. This has allowed us to turn inwardto the heart and soul of our institutions: the student learning experience.

One of the themes for this year’s sessions was focused around the equitable and accessible learning experience. An attendee who wanted to learn more about universal design and inclusion could curate an entire week of sessions around these subjects. From a workshop on the process of inclusive design, to tips on helping instructors and faculty understand the importance of usability, to planning for the variability of learners with universal design for learning (UDL) principles, this year’s sessions covered a wide range of topics. 

Another emerging theme from the conference was around “born accessible” EPUB in the higher ed space, driven by two of the world’s biggest accessibility rock stars, George Kerscher and Richard Orme. The publishing industry is beginning the shift from PDFs to more accessible EPUB formats in order to provide the best possible experience for all. George and Richard conducted workshops designed to demystify the world of EPUB, provided how-to sessions on creating and remediating EPUB, and chaired panels of key educational publishers showcasing the accessibility features of their EPUB titles. 

In addition to the forward-thinking sessions and discussions, an important piece of the conference went back to the basics of accessibility. As accessibility becomes increasingly more essential within higher ed, sessions and workshops around understanding accessibility laws and associated documentation, successful testing methods, and emerging assistive technologies were helpful for all of those looking to gain a base understanding. 

This year RedShelf was thrilled to share a presentation around helping campus stakeholders understand the importance of adopting accessible course materials. In order to create lasting change around accessibility, institutional stakeholders like publisher representatives, faculty, campus store managers, and accessibility offices need to be engaged. 

Knowing the importance of stakeholder involvement, one of the biggest initiatives of RedShelf’s accessibility team is educating our campus partners on the importance of adopting EPUB titles every term. Helping our partners understand why an EPUB is more effective than a PDF empowers them to create a groundswell on campus to ensure that everyone from individual faculty to admin offices is making sure course material accessibility needs are being met. While change is oftentimes difficult and institutional processes can be inflexible, we take pride in supporting each campus in their journey from accessible adoption to accessible delivery.  

The AHG Conference always feels like an opportunity to put the finishing touches on our yearly quest for accessibility as a requirement, not a feature, and look ahead to our ambitions for the new year. We are all truly accessing higher ground each November by learning, networking, sharing ideas, and seeing old friends and making new ones. I am proud to be aligned with such thoughtful and influential people helping to make the world a better place.  

Cheers to a prosperous and accessible 2020!

Our thanks to Erin Lucas for kindly submitting this article. Erin is Senior Director for Digital Accessibility at RedShelf, an Inclusive Publishing Partner.

Accessing Higher Ground 2019

November 18th to 22nd, 2019

This 5 day conference, presented and hosted by AHEAD focuses on the implementation and benefits of:

  • Accessible media, Universal Design and Assistive Technology in the university, business and public setting;
  • Legal and policy issues, including ADA and 508 compliance;
  • The creation of accessible media and information resources, including Web pages and library resources.
  • Universal Design and curriculum accessibility.
  • best practices for web design, reaching untapped audiences through accessible design, and compliance with existing and anticipated Section 508 and ADA stipulations.

Delegates will be interested in sessions presented by DAISY staff and Inclusive Publishing Partners:

  • Richard Orme, DAISY—Getting to Grips with EPUB
  • Richard Orme, DAISY—Inside EPUB
  • Erin Lucas, Red Shelf—Born Accessible: Ensuring you’re Adopting Accessible Course Materials
  • Richard Orme, DAISY—Creating and Remediating EPUB
  • Richard Orme, DAISY—Introducing Thorium, a new free desktop EPUB reader for Windows and Mac
  • George Kerscher, DAISY—EPUB Face Off: Publishers Getting it Right or Wrong. This session also includes Rachel Comerford (Macmillan), Jonathon Thurston (Pearson), Mary Conzachi (McGraw-Hill), Deb Castiglione (Cengage)
  • Rick Johnson, VitalSource—Take Control! Overriding Publisher Layout for Improved Accessibility in your Ebooks

Date

November 18-22, 2019

Venue

Westin Westminster, Colorado, U.S.A.

Learn More

For further information on this excellent program and how to register visit the Accessing Higher  Ground website

The Big 5 US Higher Ed Publishers are Going All-In on Accessibility

AHG conference logo with conference details listed underneath the image of a mountain

I had the pleasure of organizing a session at the 21st Accessing Higher Ground conference in Denver in mid-November—a conference that is attended by a lot of folks from Disability Services Offices (DSOs) from across the US—to help those folks realize how much the big higher education publishers are doing to make their resources accessible, with a focus on accessible EPUBs.

“Born Accessible” is getting closer to the new normal!

The publishers on my panel were from Cengage, Macmillan Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, Pearson and Wiley, and they all had compelling stories to tell. While I don’t have space here to get into everything they had to say (the consolidated presentation is available here), the message was clear: they are not just working hard on accessibility, they’re getting it done. All of them are producing new resources as accessible EPUBs that align with the EPUB Accessibility 1.0 specification.

That means alt text—good alt text, done with an understanding of the nuances required to get it right—and in many cases extended descriptions of complex graphics as well. All of them are ensuring proper structuring and navigation. For resources that include media, most are providing closed captioning and transcripts. And those with math are providing MathML. They’re even working hard to get their tables right!

Cengage Learning logoBut it’s more than just the products themselves. The corporate cultures need to be accessibility aware. Cengage, for example, is putting a major focus on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), including a significant staffing commitment: a Director of Universal Design and Accessible Technologies is already on board, and an Accessibility/UDL Specialist and an Accessibility/UDL Coordinator are soon to be named.

Macmillan learning logo

Macmillan Learning’s presentation was all about the people and the processes, with a realization that just providing specs and expecting vendors to get it right is not sufficient. They have established a wealth of initiatives to foster knowledge of accessibility throughout their organization, with training and workshops that include vendors, creating a judgment free space to encourage motivation, participating in industry events and organizations, building a testing center in-house, and establishing an Advisory Board and Student Focus Groups to involve their constituents.

McGraw Hill Education logo

McGraw-Hill provided an in-depth look at the specifics, detailing both alternative text and extended descriptions not just for alignment but as captions and transcripts for audio and video content, enforcing contrast specs in their designs, use of MathML, using language tags at the page and phrase levels, and even tackling proper structuring of tables.

Pearson logoPearson stressed their end-to-end commitment to accessibility for both their content and platforms, all based on WCAG 2.0 AA conformance and alignment with EPUB Accessibility 1.0. They are putting a special priority on making these accessible resources easy for students to obtain and use, through initiatives like their partnership with VitalSource to establish the Pearson Accessibility Store, all resources of which are guaranteed to be accessible, and partnerships with Kurzweil and T-Base to integrate well with those key technologies.

Wiley logoWiley is doing all these good things too. (They came last due to alphabetical order.) They are addressing accessibility not just for going-forward content, but for legacy content as well, and expanding into other business areas outside of higher ed. Because of the diversity and technical nature of much of their content, they are working on discipline-specific alt text guidelines. And like several of the other speakers, they mentioned that they are working with Benetech on their Global Certified Accessible program, expecting to be certified this summer.

The message was clear: these folks are working hard on accessibility, and many of their products and platforms are much more accessible than students and DSOs realize. They’re doing this by aligning with standards and taking advantage of the right resources, like Ace by DAISY and the Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base. “Born Accessible” is getting closer to the new normal!

This event report was kindly submitted by Bill Kasdorf, Principal, Kasdorf & Associates

Accessing Higher Ground

November 12th to 16th, 2018

This 5 day conference, presented and hosted by AHEAD in collaboration with ATHEN, EASI and the University of Colorado-Boulder. focuses on the implementation and benefits of:

  • Accessible media, Universal Design and Assistive Technology in the university, business and public setting;
  • Legal and policy issues, including ADA and 508 compliance;
  • The creation of accessible media and information resources, including Web pages and library resources.
  • Universal Design and curriculum accessibility.
  • best practices for web design, reaching untapped audiences through accessible design, and compliance with existing and anticipated Section 508 and ADA stipulations.

Date

November 12-16, 2018

Venue

Westin Westminster, Colorado, U.S.A.

Learn More

For further information on this excellent program and how to register visit the Accessing Higher  Ground website