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Sarah Arnold, Brad Held and Kat Moore
From left, Sarah Arnold, Brad Held and Kat Moore

As part of its commitment to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment, UNC-Chapel Hill is devoted to making its digital resources and services accessible to all users.

A fundamental step toward creating an inclusive digital experience, obviously, is having a team of experts driving the effort. UNC-Chapel Hill accomplished that in July 2019 with the creation of the Digital Accessibility Office (DAO), within ITS. The DAO team offers training, consulting and assessment services to make digital platforms and materials more accessible at Carolina.

The DAO offers a variety of resources including training, a web scanning platform, document remediation tools, and captioning consulting and resources.

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 course content — more accessible to all current and potential users regardless of ability, disability or assistive technology. Accessibility enhances usability for all.

Policy guides path forward

Kat Moore provides guidance to Enterprise Applications staff members
Kat Moore provides guidance to ITS Enterprise Applications staff members

A second key step toward creating an inclusive digital experience has now been checked off the list as well — putting in place documents in the form of a policy and standards. Sure, for many of us, our eyes glaze over when we hear words like policies. But such documents enable things to get done. Policies set a definite course of action. So, it’s meaningful that the Digital Accessibility Office and campus partners have established a Digital Accessibility Policy.

The policy is supported by the Accessibility of Digital Content, Resources, and Technology Standard and Accessibility Standards for Procurement of Digital Content, Resources, and Technology. These documents are meant to guide the UNC-Chapel Hill community and apply to all University users, including faculty, staff and students, and to University units and departments.

Of the two standards, the first spells out that these requirements apply to all University digital material regardless of audience or whether authentication is required. Digital materials can include, but are not limited to, websites, video and audio content, electronic documents, software applications, content management systems, library resources, social media and other electronic communication systems.

The standard also says that new digital material must meet minimum accessibility requirements — the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. These requirements, which apply to more than just web despite the name, serve as the basis for universal design principles.

Laying out compliance efforts

For any existing digital material that isn’t accessible, the standard says an action plan needs to be created to bring the content into compliance in a timely manner. Efforts to comply may be prioritized based on available resources, audience scope, and amount or size of the request or content.

The second standard says that these requirements apply to all University constituents and third parties, under circumstances within the University’s control, who procure digital material used for conducting the University’s business.

Both standards have a process for limited exceptions, but they say the University should try to be as inclusive as possible.

By ensuring use of these principles and compliance with requirements, UNC-Chapel Hill seeks to create a welcoming and equitable digital experience for a wide range of people regardless of ability, disability or use of assistive technology.

To get to this point of adopting the policy and standards and before that, forming the DAO, took years of work. Five years before the DAO launched, the University formed the Digital Accessibility Advisory Team (DAAT) to work on key accessibility initiatives, including establishing this new team of digital accessibility experts. The University is currently in a resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights from a complaint regarding specific UNC-Chapel Hill websites.

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