When the Digital Accessibility Office (DAO) launched in 2019, one of its primary goals was to build awareness of digital accessibility across campus. It was a challenge for a small team at a large University — only four staff to UNC-Chapel Hill’s 13,000 employees and 31,000 students. To extend its reach and foster peer-to-peer advocacy, the DAO created a community of practitioners known as the Digital Accessibility Liaisons (DAL).
Liaisons advocate for digital accessibility within their own department. They are volunteers from all types of roles across campus with an interest in learning more about digital accessibility and a passion for sharing that knowledge with colleagues.
“I was largely clueless about the hurdles blocking equitable access to internet and other digital resources until I attended a Digital Accessibility Office training session,” said Donna Nixon, who works for the Katherine R. Everett Law Library. “Once I knew the challenges and our obligations to alleviate them, I worked to learn as much as I could. That led to me becoming a Digital Accessibility Liaison.”
Likewise, Christine Harradine, liaison from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, said she has “become an even stronger advocate and now I can back up my beliefs with skills to help my colleagues.”
Goals and duties
When the DAO created the program, one of the first things the team did was create a document outlining the goals and duties for the liaisons, said Sarah Arnold, Digital Accessibility Consultant and one of the four members of the DAO team. In addition to scaling the DAO’s outreach on campus, the liaisons’ goals include honoring and recognizing work already being done to improve digital accessibility on campus and equipping the Carolina community through training, networking and resource building.
As members, liaisons are expected to:
- act as the main contact for digital accessibility questions and issues in their unit.
- communicate digital accessibility policies, standards and related information.
- attend monthly meetings and interact with fellow liaisons via Microsoft Teams.
- track metrics that illustrate improvements to digital accessibility.
These goals and duties acted as a guide when developing the Digital Accessibility Liaisons Badge Training. The badge training allows interested liaisons to take their role a step further to learn how to find reliable accessibility information online. After the training, liaisons complete a final project before receiving their badge. The list of badged liaisons is available on the DAO’s website.
Meetings and topics
The first DAL meeting on August 14, 2019 drew 40 participants, both in-person and online via Zoom. The group has since grown to more than 170 members. Arnold, as the DAO representative, and two member liaisons, Aleah Howell and Akshata Malur, lead the group.
Liaisons meet online via Zoom from 11 a.m. to noon on the last Tuesday or Wednesday of the month. They gather to learn about accessibility-related topics from guest speakers and one another. Between meetings, they share ideas and resources on the DAL Microsoft Team. Anyone at Carolina can attend meetings or participate in Teams.
Meetings in 2022 have included:
- a presentation by the Digital Accessibility Office on alternative text including a video demo of screen readers.
- a presentation on virtual event planning by Anna Rose Medley, Assistant to the Chancellor.
- guest speakers from Caption Perfect, a local live captioning company, about how their jobs have changed since the start of the pandemic.
- guest speaker from George Mason University about their digital accessibility strategic plan and their “accessibility as a service” model.
Why you should join
Arnold encourages campus community members to participate in the liaisons program. “Joining the DAL is a fantastic way to connect with colleagues in a supportive community and to contribute to a more inclusive culture at the University,” she said.
Thao Nghi Tu from ITS Educational Technologies became a DAL “to get a better understanding of how to ensure that our digital content is accessible to everyone,” she said. “Advocating for accessibility means reaching all of our users so that the digital world is inclusive of everyone. One thing I have learned is that if all users cannot access our content, we lose the opportunity of reaching them.”
As a liaison from Carolina Housing, Haley Houser has gained “the accreditation I need to when attempting to educate co-workers and supervisors on why we can’t do certain things,” she said. “They still create or post inaccessible things, but when I come back to say I have changed it to be accessible they understand the ‘why’.”
Serving as a liaison has truly sparked an interest for Harradine, the liaison from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. “Now that digital accessibility is on my radar, I can’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “It has become part of me.”
To join the liaisons program, email the DAO at Digital_Accessibility@unc.edu.