A few weeks ago, several of us were in Florence, Italy attending the annual W4A conference when we received great news about the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU-B): the US Department of Justice had closed it’s investigation into possible non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). CU-B still has work to accomplish, but we see this as a great step forward toward building inclusive education. Congrats CU-B!
I’m on public record saying that I not a fan of fear-based incentives including lawsuits and/or federal inquiries. The Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to issue various inquiries and interventions which, as you might expect, builds awareness of the issues in general, but often serves as a threatening stick, rather than a carrot. Sometimes these situations become rife with contention rather than stimulation for positive change.
It seems to me that educational institutions and private industry have the capacity and capability to ensure, for example, that educational systems and IT are designed to serve all people, regardless of ability. However, and in my humble opinion, until we create a truly compelling business value proposition for private industry and higher education, fear-based incentives and enforceable laws will continue to be the primary drivers of accessibility. I’m just sayin’
So, how do we move away from fear-based incentives to inclusive thinking? One suggestion is to consider rebooting our accessibility strategy and focus on an inside-out approach…
Accessibility Strategy Refocus
I’ve been thinking about something that Sarah Horton, David Sloan and Henny Swan emphasized in their recent W4A award-winning paper, “Complementing Standards by Demonstrating Commitment and Progress“:
What if, in addition to evaluating products against standards, we focus energy and resources on activities related to creating a culture, practice, and processes that support accessibility? A coordinated accessibility program, with documentation and continual assessment, provides the means to demonstrate commitment and progress toward achieving accessibility. In this way, accessibility moves from a standards-based remediation activity that is characterized by standards failures and technical remediation to an endeavor that is focused on people and good experience, and targets successful progress forward towards an accessible digital environment.
Inherently, I’m a ‘swing first, think second’ person. Then I remind myself of Daniel Kahneman’s encouragement towards ‘System 2’ thinking (Captioned Video) — a little slower, more deliberate in process and logic. Which is why the culture, practice and process accessibility template this paper presents is spot on! This is a principled leadership, inclusion-driven model. It’s top-to-bottom, horizontal and pervasive. It’s an exemplar strategy. It involves hard work, integrity, systemic commitment and direct support from organizational leadership. It’s the kind of thing we are witnessing at CU-B.
Within CU-B, Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano, Robert Boswell, Vice-Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement, Larry Levine, Chief Information Officer, and recently appointed Chief Digital Accessibility Officer Dan Jones, are providing that commitment and leadership, ensuring that the university accessibility efforts are aligned with the core principles of diversity, inclusion and equal access.
What’s encouraging is that higher ed institutions and private industry can look to the example of CU-B as the start of a successful vision. CU-B’s commitment from the top demonstrates how accessibility in practice is forward thinking and has the potential of removing the sting of fear-based incentives.
What do you think?
By the way, if you’re interested in reading a little more about TPG’s User Experience work with CU-B, see David Sloan’s article, “Making Real Progress in Digital Accessibility in Higher Education“.