The 2022 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, held in Denver in late October, featured two presentations by ITS staff members, Kate Hash, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Customer Experience & Engagement, and Chelsea Porter, interim Head of Digital Accessibility.
EDUCASE is “the largest community of technology, academic, industry and campus leaders advancing higher education through the use of IT.” The EDUCAUSE Annual Conference bills itself as “the premier higher ed IT event” of the year. The conference draws participants and presenters in higher education and the tech industry from across the country. Presentation slots are competitive, so having two presentations chosen is an accomplishment for UNC-Chapel Hill and ITS.
Hash and Porter presented jointly for one session, titled “Policy, culture and technology: How UNC launched a successful digital accessibility program.”
The presentation, which drew more than 30 attendees, covered the story of the Digital Accessibility Office (DAO) so far. First launched three years ago, the DAO has built an accessibility program from the ground up. The session shared this experience of creating a program and growing a culture of respect for digital accessibility — all while responding to an Office of Civil Rights complaint and helping to navigate an inclusive COVID-19 response as courses shifted online.
Hash and Porter also shared real case studies from UNC-Chapel Hill and answered questions about opportunities for digital accessibility inclusion and transformation other campuses. And even after the presentation ended, the questions kept coming.
“We actually ran over time and still had hands up wanting to ask more,” Porter said.
“The presentation we did exceeded my expectations,” said Hash. Seeing the engagement after the presentation ended “was a reminder that the DAO has built a world-class program here at UNC.”
Being at the conference helped Hash gain some perspective on what makes the DAO’s growth and maturity so impressive. “Stepping back and talking about what we’ve done and our accomplishments was a great opportunity to reflect on all we’ve achieved in a short period of time,” she said.
Hash also served on a panel called “Investing in Potential: Building the Next Generation of Diverse Leaders.”
The panel discussion told the stories of four leaders who represented the full spectrum of career stages. The panelists discussed how institutions can set themselves up for success by building a next generation of diverse leaders. There was also a focus on how participants could implement these unique frameworks at their own institutions.
Hash has been involved with EDUCAUSE in many roles over the years. She serves in an advisory capacity, co-leads the Young Professionals Constituency Group and has written for the EDUCAUSE blog. She is also currently a mentor in the EDUCAUSE Student Leadership Pipeline program.
At the conference, Hash had an opportunity to meet her mentee, Eric, who is a student at IUPUI, in person. “Guiding him through the EDUCAUSE experience and seeing it through his eyes was great,” she added.
Because EDUCAUSE offers year-round virtual opportunities for community-building and networking, the in-person event offers an exciting opportunity to put some faces to names.
“My favorite part of EDUCAUSE was networking (not usually my thing!) and seeing colleagues from across the country,” said Hash. “It was fantastic to meet people that I now know really well but have only seen as Zoom boxes for three years.”
Porter echoed the sentiment. “It was educational and very encouraging to get to meet and discuss accessibility with others from all across the country,” she said.
Beyond just networking, the conference gave Porter a broader view on the challenges and opportunities at other institutions. “We are seeing more and more universities and colleges everywhere begin integrating digital accessibility to their campus culture, and policy,” she said. “We all still have a long way to go, but being able to share insights and lessons learned from these other schools has been eye-opening. I enjoyed learning from others as well as sharing the knowledge we have gained.”
Interested in getting involved? UNC-Chapel Hill is an organizational member of EDUCAUSE, meaning that all UNC students, faculty and staff are eligible for individual membership. Members can participate in community groups, conferences and learning opportunities.