UNC-Chapel Hill now has a Digital Accessibility Office that will offer training, consulting and assessment services to make digital platforms and materials more accessible at the University.
The Digital Accessibility Office (DAO) launched July 1 as a four-person team within ITS. The DAO will operate from ITS Manning, but will have a presence throughout the campus.
The staff members of the DAO are responsible for helping UNC-Chapel Hill meet standards and live its values of inclusiveness and diversity with respect to access to University resources.
Leading the team is Brad Held, who previously served as Assistant Director and Accessible Technology Coordinator for Student Accessibility Services at the University of Central Florida.
“ITS has assembled a dynamic team that I’m excited to be a part of,” he said. “I strive for digital access to be another cornerstone of the UNC community.”
Held’s team members are Sarah Arnold, who comes from UNC Libraries, Kat Moore and Doug Schepers. Like Held, Moore and Schepers have prior experience working in digital accessibility at other universities and businesses. Moore is a web designer with a background in developing online courses with attention to digital accessibility. Schepers has worked in accessibility in a variety of capacities, including as a software architect, chief technology officer and as a project lead with the W3C, the standards organization responsible for standardizing web technologies.
Arnold brings to the team her knowledge of the University’s digital services and platforms. At UNC Libraries, she assisted with the library’s ongoing efforts to improve universal accessibility on its website and online tools. “Because of this experience,” she said, “I understand the challenges and competing priorities we faced that I can apply when consulting with other departments and units on their own effort.”
‘Firemen, not policemen’
The DAO will begin by conducting assessments on many high-visibility University websites to ensure they comply with federal ADA requirements and industry standards. The team will review sites using accessibility devices like screen readers but also considering Universal Design practices. The team will work to identify obstacles that users may encounter when visiting these sites.
“We’re firemen, not policemen,” Schepers said.
The DAO will also hold training seminars and offer consultations to University staff. These sessions will help ensure any future digital service created at the University will be accessible from its initial launch.
“It will seem like it takes a lot of time in the beginning to make something accessible, but developers will actually save time and resources in the long run,” Moore said.
Will benefit all users
Moore and Schepers emphasized that any changes to the University’s digital platforms and services to improve accessibility will not adversely affect any class of people but will actually benefit all users.
“It will be our job to implement a vision towards accessibility that fits the UNC culture and allows our students to feel most welcome,” Held said.
Getting to this point
The DAO formed in response to a growing need for the University to make its digital services — from websites and applications to online documents and media — more accessible to all current and potential users.
The launch of the DAO comes three years after the University formed the Digital Accessibility Advisory Team (DAAT) to work on key accessibility initiatives, including establishing this new team of digital accessibility experts. DAAT is a group of people from all corners of the University who have some role to play in the rules or resources for making the campus digital landscape better and easier for everyone to use.
The DAO “will help us identify our biggest opportunities for improvement, will make training available to all of us, and will help us navigate in this important realm,” said Kim Stahl, a member of the Digital Accessibility Advisory Team and Senior Policy and Process Lead at ITS. “Between the resources that they identify and develop, I think that soon it won’t be at all hard for everyone at the University to understand their own role in making content and systems they create or support accessible.”
In addition, “when we make systems and content accessible to people with disabilities, we make it better for everyone,” Stahl said. “Think about how much captions help all of us to access content, or clear documents that are easy to read, or having things presented in both images and text. When we use a website or an app, we can tell if it was made to be easy for the user or if that was an afterthought.”
Members of the DAO “will be working with us to make it second-nature to incorporate Universal Design principles into even the most ordinary things we do,” Stahl said. “I am so excited about this group!”