Classroom with disability symbols over student's heads

UM Continues Commitment to Making Courses Accessible to All

Global Accessibility Day online lunch-and-learn offered May 21 for faculty and staff

OXFORD, Miss. – Imagine opening an assignment for a college course to find a video that has not been properly captioned, and you are deaf.

Accessibility specialists at the University of Mississippi are working to eradicate this barrier and others like this by connecting Ole Miss faculty and staff members with tools and resources that will assist them in making learning opportunities accessible to all learners.

Global Accessilbility Awareness Day The University of Mississippi will celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 21 with a free lunch-and-learn webinar for faculty and staff that will give tips and ideas for increasing accessibility and access for all students in digital instructional content.

On Thursday (May 21), the university will participate in the ninth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day, or GAAD, event by offering a free virtual lunch-and-learn webinar that includes an introduction to a new online accessibility training program for UM faculty and staff.

The online meeting begins at noon and will provide participants with steps to increase accessibility in digital content.

GAAD focuses on digital access and inclusion for the more than 1 billion people worldwide with disabilities and impairments.

"In today's climate of expanded online course offerings, accessibility really matters," said Lindsey Sneed, an accessibility specialist in the university's Office of Information Technology.

"Accessibility removes barriers in digital content so that all students have access to the same resources that enable them to learn."

According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 20 percent of college students have a disability that may require assistance.

"We feel like there is a lot of confusion about what digital accessibility is, and we want to raise awareness that accessibility is not only an important legal responsibility, but it is the right thing to do for our students," said Jennifer Bland, accessibility specialist in the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education.

The webinar will cover the importance and impact of accessibility and provide simple steps to increase accessibility in digital content and in the online environment.

"Thankfully, there are easy ways to increase accessibility when it comes to documents, videos, presentations, websites and social media," Bland said.

"What we do in accessibility at UM is the background for connecting what people normally see or hear on the screen to what people who can't see or can't hear need. These services are the plus-one, that extra sense, that is needed for students to be able to process the information."

Bland explained that the "plus-one" component makes websites accessible to people who have any sort of impairment, or PDFs accessible to anyone who can't see well, or videos accessible and captioned for those who are hard of hearing.

"We are making it where students can take part in the educational process equally. Instead of doing it as a back end, we are working to do it on the front end."

The special daylong event was started by Jennison Asuncion, head of accessibility for LinkedIn, and Joe Devon, a programmer who works with television networks and studios in cloud-first development. Asuncion also is visually impaired.

Organizers state that "the purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital – web, software, mobile, etc. – access and inclusion for people with different disabilities.

"We understand that accessibility can seem overwhelming when faced with the idea that you have to make everything 100% accessible at once," Bland said.

"The good news is that you don't have to be an accessibility perfectionist – faculty and staff can start with small steps now and build on those as they learn more and become more comfortable and proficient with accessibility."

Faculty, staff, web content creators, social media curators, web developers and students who produce content for Ole Miss web and social accounts are all invited to participate in Thursday's webinar.

Besides the webinar, the new "Accessibility at UM" online training program will be available for employees beginning May 21. It will feature informational accessibility courses on the legal and policy landscape of accessibility, and courses on topics such as creating accessible Microsoft Word documents, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, social media posts and captioned videos.

The webinar can be accessed at this Zoom link at noon Thursday.

For more information about the accessibility services and training offered at the university, visit the accessibility webpage.

By Pam Starling