UO digital accessibility moves forward with new program

For the first time ever, the University of Oregon has a program dedicated to helping ensure UO websites and other digital materials are accessible to people with disabilities.

Information Services launched the Information and Communications Technology Accessibility Program with the hiring of program manager Josh Seifert in March.

Seifert wants to help make the university's digital ecosystem as accessible as possible to the entire UO community, including people with disabilities. That includes technologies such as websites, files uploaded to those websites, course materials on Canvas and services provided by third-party vendors.

"Accessibility was already required by federal law but there was no single, comprehensive resource to help the UO community comply," said Jessie Minton, vice provost for information services and chief information officer. "Josh has hit the ground running to fill that gap and provide professional guidance."

UO policy specifies that departments are responsible for ensuring their own digital content and services conform to federal accessibility requirements. In addition, all UO faculty members, staff and student employees who interact with such technologies must make good-faith efforts to comply.

This month Seifert launched the new digital accessibility website to provide guidance, tools and training materials to UO departments and individuals.

He encourages units to get started by performing self-evaluations of their digital content.

"My goal with the new website is to provide people with an entry point," Seifert said. "Accessibility is iterative. If I can empower people to get started on this path, it's good for the whole university."

Seifert encourages each unit to identify someone internally to become the go-to person for their own accessibility efforts.

"I can work with you to make your department's digital content accessible in a way that complements your existing workflows and business needs," Seifert said.

The ICT Accessibility Program also offers professional evaluations of UO digital resources, as well as training and ad hoc consultations. In seeking to prevent or minimize accessibility barriers that people encounter at the university, the program's charge complements that of the Accessible Education Center, which provides accommodations to students who encounter such barriers.

An advisory committee with representatives from across the university helps inform the new program's priorities.

"This is a complex and ever-changing topic," said Kate Conley, communications director for the College of Design and a member of the advisory committee. "Josh is doing an excellent job of helping us get up to speed and find ways for folks to build in accessibility at the ground floor."

Jason Huebsch, director of web services in University Communications and a fellow committee member, said Seifert serves as a helpful guide in the constantly evolving digital space.

"It's incredibly valuable for us to have a subject matter expert we can come to with questions, bounce ideas off of and make sure we understand the current best practices,” he said. “Josh has been great to work with."

Committee member Veronica Vold, an instructional designer with UO Online, sees the program and committee as part of a larger culture shift at the university.

"In everything we do at the university, we want to genuinely acknowledge and invite the contributions of students and staff with disabilities," Vold said. "I and others are here to help the UO community put our shared values into practice."

For instructors unsure of where to start, Vold emphasized the community of support available in UO Online and the Teaching Engagement Program in addition to Seifert.

"We can help you get started right now with some quick and easy ways to make your course design and Zoom classes more accessible," she said. "No one does this alone."

Anyone with questions can contact Seifert at itaccess@uoregon.edu.

—By Nancy Novitski, University Communications