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7 Questions on Engaging Faculty in Digital Accessibility

We asked the Technical College System of Georgia's accessibility champions how they help instructors create a more inclusive learning experience for all students.

Recently, more than 85 colleges and universities around the world spent 24 hours making nearly 80,000 accessibility fixes to digital course content. They were participating in Anthology's fourth annual Fix Your Content Day challenge, a competition devoted to creating more inclusive learning environments for students. This year, the leaderboard was dominated by the Technical College System of Georgia: Not only did TCSG colleges take first, second, and third place for the number of files fixed per number of students enrolled on campus, but 13 TCSG institutions finished in the top 20 overall.

Campus Technology sat down with TCSG accessibility champions Robert Keown and Erica Roberson to find out how they engage instructors to improve accessibility across the system and drive a better student experience. Keown is executive director and Roberson is educational technology coordinator for Georgia Virtual Technical Connection, the system's online learning division, where they provide distance education training and resources to faculty at all 22 TCSG colleges.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

7 questions on engaging faculty in digital accessibility

Campus Technology: What changes in the higher education landscape are bringing accessibility issues into the spotlight right now?

Robert Keown: We have always prided ourselves in ensuring that we are ADA and WCAG 2.1 compliant within the Georgia Virtual Technical Connection, which is pure distance learning. But in the pandemic, we had a whole lot of people across TCSG who went into a hybrid mode. And when they stepped into that environment, I don't think they were as conscious of the need to ensure that all of their curriculum, their documents, materials, presentations, and so forth were up to accessibility standards, because they parked that in our learning environment and delivered it from our learning environment, whereas before they were just doing it in the classroom.

Erica Roberson: To add to what Robert was saying, the student population now is so diverse. It's not just your average college student anymore. There are adult students of all ages attending college, some with full-time jobs, kids, other situations — and then you also have students with different learning styles. Making digital files accessible and providing multiple formats of digital files allow students to learn in the way that's best for them, that's going to benefit them the most. Anthology Ally, and its alternative formats, has helped us out a lot with that.

CT: When you have people moving from materials they previously used in the classroom to digital materials, what are some common misconceptions or mistakes they make in terms of accessibility?

Roberson: One of the biggest misconceptions is that accessibility is only for those with disabilities. When we began our initiative on making our content more accessible, that's something we had to put a lot of focus on — to get people to understand how accessibility benefits us all. When I do training, one of the examples I like to give is elevators: Elevators were created for people with disabilities, but we all use them. Being able to have examples of how accessibility benefits us all helps bring that to the forefront and get people to understand.

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