Recently, a bipartisan team of members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill that would promote equal access to academic opportunities, services, and materials for students with disabilities. The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act, also known as the AIM HIGH Act, would create a commission to develop voluntary accessibility criteria for instructional materials and educational technology.
The AIM HIGH Act is the result of a collaboration between the National Federation of the Blind, the Association of American Publishers, the Software and Information Industry Association, the American Council on Education, and Educause. To successfully implement the provisions of the Act, schools will need to create processes both for implementation and to monitor compliance. Done effectively, these processes will also generate analytical insights that will help schools become better at delivering services and at meeting their institutional goals and legal mandates. The most effective tool to support these efforts is with a business process solution.
Codifying Accessibility with Processes
Accessibility takes on many different forms. As a general rule, information and communication technology is considered accessible and usable if it can be used in a similar fashion, and to the same effective results by people both with and without disabilities. Essentially, comparable access to information must be provided, taking the needs of all users and learners into account. Digital formats can complicate accessibility for not just the sightless and the hearing impaired, but also for those who are color blind, those prone to seizures, and people with physical limitations that require keyboard navigation rather than the use of a mouse. These are only some examples.
Things like what to make accessible, and how to comply with the Act will fall to individual schools to decide. Without specific guidelines, the effort could be complex, but with a process-driven approach, IT teams can frame the scope of the effort to become AIM HIGH compliant and customize to their own needs.
University IT departments can start by developing workflow standards to guide all aspects of development and implementation. Building these standards will be critical for establishing the consistency needed to be accessible in the eyes of the legislative framework, and the agility to manage the specific needs of individual cases.
IT teams can start by identifying specific categories they need to work on, including:
- Testing and data collection tools: this includes things like Web-based tests (open-ended or multiple choice), or data collection that students might employ in the course of doing academic research.
- Academic presentation material: includes electronic document templates used to create coursework-related documents or presentations. This could be a standard PowerPoint template that’s required to establish a common look and feel for presentations or requirements for using and submitting term papers in Google Documents.
- Educational materials: this covers interactive online courses, which are increasingly becoming used in higher education. This includes self-paced training courses; educational webinars; other educational presentation formats; and support materials for such activities, including electronic worksheets, required reading, and tests. It could also include a course syllabus or administrative documents and tools.
Implementing Accessibility with Process Director
Process Director has long been used in higher education to meet all manner of student and institutional needs. It can be a critical tool in helping to codify and manage the necessary processes that will help schools be successful in administering AIM HIGH and other accessibility requirements. IT teams can use functionality in Process Director to apply a guided approach that includes:
- Discovery: it’s essential for IT teams to understand the unique needs of the issues for which they are solving. A well-prepared team will be better able to incorporate specific milestones, approvals, and decision-making into workflows if can use a process-driven approach to understanding and implementing necessary tasks.
- Awareness: this is about recognizing when to accommodate and when it’s not necessary. This may seem easy to ascertain, but for someone who has never had to consider accessing a website in a way where they have unique physical or mental abilities, it may be difficult to truly understand how to meet the needs of different users.
- UX design: make sure that the design of any digital format is built in an accessible way, and perform UX testing with the audience for which the solution is being developed.
- Visual design: this is different from UX. Visual design is about the actual placement and layout of web pages, forms, and other tools so they can be interpreted and understood.
- Development: your code should be accessible so that, irrespective of ability, it is able to be deployed in different formats.
- Workflow development: ensure that in all workflows, AIM HIGH requirements accounted for.
To successfully meet the needs of higher education inclusion, colleges and universities will need a dedicated effort that includes some level of complexity. In order to make sense of it and roll it out successfully, they will require a process-driven approach. Being compliant with legislation like AIM HIGH will be one goal of these efforts, but of far more importance will be the ability to create an inclusive learning environment for learners of all types of abilities.