Friday, December 18, 2015

Useful Paper: A step-by-step guide for making online classes accessible

A paper,  Applying Universal Design for Learning in Online Courses: Pedagogical and Practical Considerations in the Journal of Educators-Online is a good resource.  It was written by Cindy Ann Dell, Thomas F. Dell, and  Terry L. Blackwell, all from  Montana State University.

The Abstract:
Inclusion of the universal design for learning (UDL) model as a guiding set of principles for online curriculum development in higher education is discussed. Fundamentally, UDL provides the student with multiple means of accessing the course based on three overarching principles: presentation; action and expression; and engagement and interaction. Guidelines are also provided for incorporating UDL into an online curriculum for teaching both general and diverse populations including students with disabilities. 
Is one of the better pieces I've seen on the issues of making online courses accessible.  They only miss in not stating that all online courses must be accessible even if the instructor is unaware of any students in the class with a disability.  They still reference the Disability Services Office -- which is appropriate -- but don't explicitly state that all online courses need to be accessible as has been OCR position on this matter, as I've written before.

Looking for specific guidance for designing accessible online courses using UDL?  This article is a good place to start.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Equity Matters: Digital and Online Learning for Students with Disabilities

The national Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities (COLSD) recently released their 2015 annual publication Equity Matters: Digital and Online Learning for Students with Disabilities

While the PDF does not currently have an Executive Summary, I'm hoping they will produce on soon  The 150 pages include some very interesting information,which some COLSD staff have analyzed and hopefully will be included in the Executive Summary.  Almost half of the publication includes State and Territory Scans that look at policy questions related to online learning activities and students with disabilities.

(I'm a member of the COLSD Technical Working Group  but we had nothing to do with the publication.)

Friday, November 06, 2015

Learning and Helping Quality Matters

If you've been following this blog you know I was doing one of the concurrent sessions at the 7th annual Quality Matters conference in San Antonio.   And, you may have also noticed that early registrations showed there was a lot of interest in my session.  And, when the webcast registrations came in there were some 130 folks registered. The recording of my session can be downloaded here.)  My session was Tuesday morning (second day of conference) directly after the general session.  On the schedule there was no time between the two sessions, and the fact that the general session ran over by 5 minutes meant I had less time.  But, I had not planned to talk for the full session, and wanted time to interact, so though I don't like to start late, it seemed the prudent thing to do.

I did have a standing room only crowd.  I enjoyed it and got some very positive feedback.

Here's one comment:
"These Resources slides are worth the time expended for the entire conference. Thank you.
One issue I've had with QM got resolved in part at the conference.  QM has a set of standards -- which you can only get by paying a membership fee.  Standard 8 is their Accessibility Standard.  I had looked at it when I was doing the iNACOL publication.  I knew it was inadequate in relationship to meeting Section 504/508 requirements and communicated that with the QM folks.  Their first reaction was: 
Given the widespread lack of compliance with Sections 504 and 508, and recent court cases involving prominent institutions such as Harvard and MIT, this is still an area of law that is in dispute...
I pointed out it was not in dispute and pointed to the iNACOL publication.  (I suspect that's why I was greeted by all the QM folks so nicely at the conference.  

BUT, most importantly, shortly before the conference QM put out a disclaimer:
Disclaimer: Meeting QM's accessibility Standards does not guarantee or imply that specific country/federal/state/local accessibility regulations are met. Please consult with an accessibility specialist to ensure that accessibility regulations are met.
I take that as a win.

Here are the slides from my session.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

An Opportunity To See My QM Presentation Free

If you will look at the sessions available on Tuesday you'll find my session is the first listed.  Participation is FREE.  I understand there are already over 100 folks registered.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

iNACOL Leadership Webinar

One of the things I realized as I was planning this presentation, is that I had assumed that by now school leaders would know they shouldn't create a policy to specifically exclude students with disabilities (special needs students).  It wasn't something I've really included in the most recent set of presentations.   There is brief mention of this in my iNACOL publication but basically I felt it was something that was obvious.   But then a while ago I saw a report on a state (to be nameless) where two cyber charter schools were approved for operation by the state education agency (SEA) even though those charters submitted policies as part of the state approval process where they specifically said that they would not enroll special needs students.

Not very bright, in my opinion, but even more frustrating, the schools were approved by the SEA.  Since I learned of this in a report that was done by a state legislative oversight committee after the fact I don't have more detail, but it's enough to say that some folks, be they school administrators or state department of education staff, need to be doing a little more thinking about educational access for students with special needs.

So, doing the Leadership Webinar I have made sure that I will be clear in my presentation that preventing students with disabilities from enrolling in an online school (aka cyber school. cyber charter, virtual school) is a no-no!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Realizing the Promise: Making Blended and Online Learning Accessible to All Learners -- a Leadership Webinar from iNACOL

Here's an opportunity to hear some information about accessibility in a free webinar from iNACOL September 9

Blended and online learning can provide the least restrictive, most tailored educational environment for students with disabilities. However, new learning models must be designed with all learners in mind to realize that promise. Join iNACOL for a conversation with national experts on making blended and online learning accessible to students with disabilities. From course access quality reviews, to assessment policies, to new learning model design and implementation, this webinar will be of value to both policymakers and educators.

Raymond Rose, author of the iNACOL report Access and Equity for All Learners in Blended and Online Education and Lindsay Jones, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, and Meghan Casey, Policy Research & Advocacy Associate at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, will share recommendations on meeting the needs of students with disabilities in personalized learning and in blended and online education. Maria Worthen, Vice President for Federal and State Policy at iNACOL will moderate the webinar.
  • Raymond Rose, Chair, Rose & Smith Associates
  • Lindsay Jones, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • Meghan Casey, Policy Research & Advocacy Associate, National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • Maria Worthen, Vice President for Federal and State Policy, iNACOL

September 9, 2015, 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EST 
 Webinar registration:

Monday, August 17, 2015

I need a visual...

I'm presenting at the national Quality Matters conference in November.  I got this message from the conference organizer:
We are asking people to select the sessions that they plan they to attend as they register for the 7th Annual QM Conference.

It appears that your session "It's All In the Design -- The Importance of Making Courses Legally Accessible" is popular.  Congratulations on choosing a topic that really interests people who are registering!

We encourage you to let your network know you are presenting.  Spread the word!

We’d also like to highlight your session in communications leading up to the conference.  Please put some thought into:
  1. The top three things people will be exposed to in your session
  2. The two main take-aways you hope participants gain
  3. A single visual you would like people to see that connects to your session

Send these to me and we’ll toot your horn.
Great!  Love it!  And they've already asked permission to webcast the session too.

So, first thoughts about my responses to the first two:

Top 3 Things.
Who:  The recent OCR non-compliance findings for online courses.
What: The common problems found by OCR
Where: The recommendations for making courses accessible

2 Main Take-aways
Require online courses to meet quality standards for accessibility
It's easier to build accessibility into the course when it's being built than to try to retrofit it.

I'm not sure about the single visual though.  I could do a graphic of a web page accessibility report. like this.  But that might imply I was going to do more with the tool than just show the link and what it can do in providing a quick analysis of a web page.

Other ideas for a graphic or for reworking of the other items?

Monday, August 03, 2015

Speaks VOLumes Conference Recordings Still Available.

One of the nice things the folks at TxVSN do as part of the speaks VOLumes conference is record and publish every session.  And since the sessions are live captioned and sometimes (when requested) signed as well, these are great professional development opportunities.

So, not only is the conference online and accessible, it's also FREE!  How can you beat that?

I might be considered a bit bias because I've done the conference now two years and this year not only had a keynote presentation, but was also the moderator (though I prefer the term provocateur) for what I humbly thought was one of the best panel sessions I've been a part of.  The SuperHero Leadership Panel featured: Dr. Nelson Coulter, former Superintendent of Guthrie CSD, Guthrie, Texas. Mark Evans Program Coordinator for Digital Distance and Online Learning for Klein ISD, Klein, Texas, and Dr. R. Jefferson George, Senior Lecturer for the Educational Leadership program at the University of North Texas.

The thing I heard that confirms my assessment, was that it should have been a 120 rather than a 60 minute session.  So, if you're interested in ed leadership, especially in the online world, go through the registration process to get an account for the conference, and spend some time watching and listening to some very informative sessions.

Monday, June 22, 2015

CoSN's Austin CTO Clinic

A number of years ago I was very active in CoSN.  I was a member of the Emerging Technologies Committee and lead and contributed to a number of that group's publications.   Then as income dropped and CoSN raised dues, I dropped out.   But, I'd seen the announcement looking for presenters for this year's CTO Clinic which is run through the Texas CTO Council so I applied with a session focusing on access (no surprise) for online learning and websites.   CTOs have a range of responsibilities depending on their institution.

Session was accepted and presented to a small audience last week.  The slides are at the end of this post.

There were about 300 registrants for the event, and I saw some good sessions.  In some respects this is an organization very much like TxDLA.  They depend on vendor support and vendors play a prominent roll.  CTOs do have some say in budget matters and may have a substantial budget.

One of the general sessions was presented by folks from the Texas Association of School Boards focused on salary compensation for all the folks that might work in the information/instruction technology area.  There was a comparison between industry and education and generally industry was paying more, but not for all positions and not for all areas of the state.   Of course one needs to be a member of TASB to get the details.  One of their interesting components of the presentation was the Hot Tech Jobs in 2015-2016.  They identified Security, Mobil Device Management, and Network Management as the three sectors with significant growth.

So, my session was after Lunch the first day, and it seems like that's a time when folks are doing other things.  That said, I had a half-dozen attendees and we had a good discussion.  Not all the information was greeted warmly, but that's to be expected when some folks find out they have some problems they didn't know they had.   This session is just an updated version of the other slides.

If this had been a higher ed audience I would have added the Atlantic Cape Community College legal settlement.  That will be another post.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Justice Department Joins Suit Against Miami University of Ohio

Today Inside Higher Ed posted an article stating that DoJ has joined with a student in a suit against Miami University of Ohio claiming that the University selected software that was inaccessible to students with disabilities.

The interesting thing, in the article, is the list of software listed in the DoJ complaint.
The department’s proposed complaint lists a number of vendors whose software it found to be inaccessible. In addition to the university’s website, video platforms Vimeo and YouTube, and word processor Google Docs, the complaint also lists course work management software from LearnSmart, Pearson, Sapling, Turnitin, Vista Higher Learning and WebAssign. The companies have contracts with many colleges and universities, so it is unlikely that Miami is using products not broadly found in higher education.
What makes this list more interesting, is the fact that some of the software listed are widely used -- not just in higher education, as pointed out in the article, but also in K-12 institutions.

Since DoJ can't go after the software vendors directly, I think this listing is an attempt to get the institutions to pay more attention to the legal issues and take potential legal action into consideration when making purchasing decisions.

Note however that this suit has not yet been settled.  But, DoJ has a pretty good track record when it comes to winning these battles.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Should Accessibility Factor Into Determining Award-Winning Online Courses?

USDLA just announced their 2015 Awards this week.

In the press release they say:
The USDLA Awards were created to acknowledge major accomplishments in distance learning and to highlight those distance learning instructors, programs, and professionals who have achieved and demonstrated extraordinary results through the use of online, videoconferencing, satellite and blended learning delivery technologies.

"This year's USDLA Awards recipients represent the finest examples of online courses, best practices, and leadership in our field.  The depth and breadth of the USDLA membership allows us to engage with leaders from higher education, K-12, industry, military, and government who daily demonstrate the power of distance learning.  We are so very proud and excited to be able to recognize this level of excellence," said Mrs. Elaine Shuck, President of USDLA.
When USDAL asked for award nominations I looked at their criteria and was unable to find any reference to criteria ensuring the nominations met legal accessibility requirements.  This is, as you know if you read this blog, an important issue, especially for those awardees in K-12 and higher education.  I wrote to the USDLA awards committee asking about accessibility criteria, and suggesting that it would be embarrassing for USDLA to give an award to an organization for a course or program that was subsequently found to be in non-compliance with basic accessibility legislation.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly,  I never did get a response from USDLA.  Now the awards have been announced and at least one award-winner in the K-12 category is a company that has been identified in OCR compliance reviews as being one of the providers of content that was not fully accessible.

OCR does not identify the courses that were found to be  non-compliant, nor do they indicate how many of courses is use were compliant versus the ones that were not.  It is possible that there was only one course not in compliance.  It is equally possible that many or all the courses provided by that particular vendor were not fully accessible.

Did USDLA recognize a course that does not meet the legal standard for accessibility?  

USDLA has a Quality Standards Certification that includes: Comply with legal and regulatory requirements of its jurisdiction. And since USDLA is international, that wording is appropriate, It would have been nice if the awards criteria said the same thing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

TxDLA 2015 -- Another Presentation Looking at the Legal Decisions to Date.

TxDLA 2015, took place last week.  Smaller than in past years, there were almost 400 folks attending from an array of institutions.  The largest group represented higher education, but K-12, (State) Government, Non-profits, and corporations made up the rest.

This year there were a number of different sessions on access issues, ranging from stories about getting the institution to take action, to practical sessions on how to caption YouTube videos.   I, of course, did the legal compliance session.

I hope that more institutions will take a serious look at the issues and begin setting standards that require all courses to be legally accessible.

If it will help, the slides from my session are shown here.

These differ from the presentation I did at TAMU-Corpus Christi in that there are more resources listed.  I heard from folks that it was helpful to know what resources were available -- not just what needs to be done.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

New Book: Online Blended and Distance Education

If you're interested in online and blended learning you might find this new publication useful.  The editors are friends.  What's missing from the description however is who the chapter authors are.  I always find it interesting that the editors get all the attention and the actual writers, who make the publication work, are hidden.  I don't blame that on the editors, rather the publisher.

Obviously, I'm one of the co-authors on the chapter on equity.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Remotely Participating in SITE Panels

This week the SITE conference is happening in Las Vegas.  I was asked to be on two panels both related to equity. Unfortunately the website doesn't seem to have a full schedule and agenda for me to reference.

One panel, The Changing Landscape of the Digital Divide: Opportunities and Challenges for Teacher Education was organized and led by Paul Resta from UT. Bonnie Bracey Sutton was on site with Paul while Robert McLaughlin and I were connected via Google Hangout.  

The second panel:  Research Panel on Supporting Teachers and Accessibility in K-12 Online and Blended Learning Contexts was organized by Leanna Archambault. You can read about the other panelists on Michael Barbour's Virtual School Meanderings blog.

As I was preparing for the second panel -- where I was talking about the research done for the Access and Equity for All Learners in Blended and Online Learning  I thought that talking about the access issues in K-12, to an audience of predominantly teacher educators would make the issue too abstract.  I wanted them to connect with and take some responsibility for access, so rather than talking about the K-12 research, I presented the findings from the U. Cincinnati and Youngstown State University OCR reports. (see 1/5 Post)  I don't know how it was received, but based on conversations with a variety of higher ed folks, I believe many online courses are not fully accessible.

Leanna was concerned we might not have good internet access to I put together a brief PowerPoint slide show with narration. (not included in the link below)   I was listening to the entire panel on Skype.  I only used the first five slides for my presentation, thinking the others might be useful if there were relevant questions.  (There were no questions.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Brown Bag Presentation at TAMU-Corpus Christi

I did a presentation today for the Office of Distance Education and Learning Technologies at TAMU-CC.  We had a pool about how many folks would show, I had opted for a dozen.  Wrong by an order of 3.  The room was full, and there was a representative from every college on campus.   It was a fun session and allowed me to test out the December OCR findings against the two Ohio Universities.

Here and on Slideshare, are the slides for the session

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Harvard and MIT are sued because their MOOCs are not accessible

It was going to happen, the question was when?

National Federation for the Blind,(NFB) in conjunction with some other advocacy groups has gone after the MOOCs.

"Much of Harvard's online content is either not captioned or is inaccurately or unintelligible captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing."  the complaint says.

A spokes person for Harvard says that Harvard expected the Department of Justice (DoJ) to provide "much needed guidance" on the issue this year.  I think that's initial excuse for why they aren't yet in compliance.  I don't know if he realizes that this case will become the "much needed guidance."

I expect DoJ will join with NFB on this.

This will be fun to watch.

I think the suit is using ADA because many of the courses don't carry credit and are outside an education program, so may not be covered by Section 504.  Dealing with this as an ADA issue also brings in DoJ and they have bigger sticks than OCR would under Section 504.

NFB has won suits against Netflix to require captioning of all videos in their service.  They also won on accessibility of H&R Block's website.  And of course, they won against Penn State.  I don't think they'll loose this.

Links to news coverage:

New York Times

PR Newswire from National Federation of the Deaf -- one of the other complainants.


Monday, February 09, 2015

If You Are In the Area February 25th....

I'll be talking about access in online education at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.  You've seen here the latest OCR actions, so I'm putting those together into a presentation, and testing it on February 25th.

If you're in the area, come by.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Two Universities Settle with OCR

The end of the year had a couple of interesting OCR agreements made public.  University of Cincinnati and Youngstown State University both were found to have websites and online courses that were not completely accessible and in violation of federal civil rights legislation.

The findings were of course very similar to other findings reported by OCR against other community colleges and universities.  I'm posting the excerpts from the letter of findings below because there was a comment on a Chronicle article from someone who was asking for more detail: "I have no idea how a website would be less accessible to those with disabilities. Since I occassionally work on a website, I would like to know if I am similarly overlooking an important compliance issue."

Excerpts from the OCR Youngstown State University Letter of Findings
The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced an agreement with Youngstown (Ohio) State University to ensure equal access to its websites for individual s with disabilities December 12, 2014.

The following sections have been taken directly from the OCR letter of findings and may be useful in reviewing institutional policies and standards.

Blackboard is a separate system that the IT Department does not work with; it is a “black box” or proprietary system used to deliver online learning, and the University uses it “as is.” IT staff do not create, build, or control the content on that system, and University staff interviewed stated that the University does not actively make sure Blackboard is in compliance with laws such as Section 504 or Title II; rather, a staff member deals with exceptions when things are brought to his attention. In such a case, if a course does not meet accessibility guidelines, the faculty member involved would be contacted

Distance Education Program
The University has developed its own process, known as the “eYSU Rubric Checklist,” for creation of distance education courses. The checklist provides guidelines to faculty for  developing online courses. The final standard required by the eYSU rubric is that “[c]ourse materials are provided in accessible formats.” The rubric states that, “[t]o the extent possible, equivalent alternatives are provided for audio and visual content (a transcript of audio and a transcript or closed captioning for video).” The rubric also states that course creators should consult with the DSO on steps to take to make a course accessible. 

The eYSU guidelines require that course creators use the Distance Education department’s template and that courses applying for re-design are re-worked so that these “incorporate newer technologies to ensure equal access to all.” The eYSU rubric contains links to electronic documents; including links to the University’s accessibility guidelines, web accessibility guidelines, and Section 508 compliance documents. 
The distance education course creation/re-design policy includes requirements that course creators participate in appropriate training as provided by Quality Matters or the YSU Office of Distance Education. Trainings include but are not limited to: eYSU Rubric Training, Apply the Quality Matters Rubric Workshop (required by all developers), and LMS (Blackboard) training.

Distance Learning courses are also required to undergo a Quality Matters (QM) review: a determination of whether the course is accessible to persons with disabilities. This accessibility requirement is cited on the University’s Distance Education website at Included in the 2011-2013 QM guidelines are accessibility standards that require courses to employ accessible technologies and information as to how to obtain accommodations, to contain alternatives to auditory and visual content, to use design that facilitates readability and reduces distractions, and to accommodate the use of assistive technology. 

A University staff member informed OCR that the majority of the time online videos are used for distance learning. The staff member stated that it was not clear if the training for those creating distance learning courses included instructions on how to make videos accessible, but presumably so. 

University staff stated that distance education course creation is done by different departments. Faculty members use the standard course template if they request a distance education course for a term, which includes a statement on disability requirements. An instructional designer on staff, who is trained in accessibility and is also a master reviewer for QM, is available to any faculty member; and the Distance Education department recommends that any faculty member thinking about putting a course online should speak with the instructional designer for guidance. 

University review of distance learning courses is required. The review includes the instructional designer, the content editor for the specific department, and the faculty member who designed  the course. The eYSU rubric has 16 standards, with requirements and guidelines. The QM rubric has 32 standards, some that are required and some that are recommended. Courses have to meet all of the requirements of both, and many of the recommendations/guidelines, to pass review and be approved. Faculty can use the rubric, QM, or both. Faculty members also have to go through training with QM; that training discusses accessibility and how to put courses in an accessible format. 

The Distance Education department offers training to all faculty on how to make material accessible under the eYSU rubric, but the training is not required except for the information about the rubric included during new faculty orientation.

Distance Education staff stated that the IT Department responds to complaints about accessibility that are web-related; if a complaint is course-related, the complaint would probably start with the Distance Education department. For complaints about website inaccessibility, Distance Education defers to IT unless the issue is with Distance Education’s specific web page. Distance Education staff stated that the Distance Education department monitors its own site; its web editor and the instructional designer are responsible for making sure that the campus accessibility policies are implemented. All of the department’s web pages and courses are created and then reviewed before these go live. An OCR review of the Distance Education website demonstrated that, nonetheless, many links included on that page lead to documents that exhibit inaccessible features.