Assistive Technology versus Accessible Technology
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In the large picture scheme of things, the widespread use of technology on campuses now is putting an unbearable strain on disabled student services, which, in the past, was expected to make things accessible for students with disabilities. With all the different technologies that are now available, there's no way DSS can do that, there's no way, so the only way to address the accessibility issue is to start buying things, and put pressure on industry to make things that are accessible so that DSS doesn't have to put band-aids on things. But we're a long way from the marketplace having those things, and we're in this interim period where, I think, the system has to understand, the campuses will need to understand, and maybe we'll have to figure out a way to make the message more clear and palatable, that it's an investment, and we have to be investing in the capability to really have procurement policies that work, in order, eventually, for the vendors to get it.
- Speaker 2
Right, and there's a big communication thing to those vendors as far as where we're headed. This is what you need to do to be compliant.
Right, like the first one who makes blackboard accessible wins a prize, but it's going to take a while before we get there, and in this interim there just has to be an investment in resources to make this work, or we're just in this very stuck, very inaccessible place, with students being able to file complaints because they're not having access to the same kind of education as other students. You know, I think it's in everybody's business to figure out how to accelerate the process.
- Speaker 2
Well, part of our plan was if it wasn't 508 compliant, then when will it be, keep us in the loop for when it does become compliant, also, provide an alternate means of accessible technology, whatever it might be.
One of the clarifications coming from assistive technology and not accessible technology...it's two very different things. Penny and I have worked in assistive technology with the students, with software that are all the band-aids and all the things that have been invented to help students with disabilities and that's assistive technology. Accessible technology, or an accessible technologist, is somebody who knows technology and knows how to apply accessibility concepts to make sense of it. And anybody in an IT department is totally capable of understanding.
- Speaker 2
The assistive is what you apply when they don't have the accessible.
To some extent, some of the assistive technology, like a screen readers, people will need for a long, long time.
A screen reader is assistive technology. Microsoft Word is accessible technology, or technology that needs to be accessible.
Procurement is strategically one of the most important places on the campus in achieving this goal. If we really get our act together and are able to combine the buying power of all twenty three campuses, the vendors really pay attention to what we have to say. And we get there alot more quickly. But, I think if they perceive if there are big holes, you know, and we say we want things to be accessible, but really, we'll buy inaccessible things, then we're not going to get there. Having the ability to evaluate things for accessibility is something we're going to have to figure out how do we make it as easy as possible, how do we spread our resources so that everyone is not having to do this as a separate campus. But, we really have to figure out how to...
- Speaker 4
Do it as a community.
Right, the reason that we're here at CUDA is because we're starting, just starting a project that will lead us to the point of being able to evaluate products for accessibility here.
And then we had...That's the one thing, I mean, Debbie, Becky, when you were in any of the conference calls that we've had in the past. The one thing that Mary Cheng always heard, over and over again, because we were told, each campus do your own thing, you're your own satellite and we just all collectively went ugh as buyers, we just said, this is a nightmare, no way. Because it just plays into the hand of, we won't do anything, because we can't. So whatever it is, we need to go together the same way, and have a process. That's one thing that purchasing is good at, we're used to rules and regulations and we're used to getting the point across that there are rules and regulations to people who either don't like it, or don't understand it. I found it interesting that the way, whoever put the plan together, to me p-card is a huge problem, especially on my campus and they're doing it so late. To me its all together, its buying, we should do it at the same time. Because what's going to happen is people are going to say, the buyers are making me do it this way and going through these hoops, and I'm just going to use my p-card and go around and buy it my way. It doesn't solve the problem.
I think we're going to have to start thinking collectively about that issue really soon. You know to get ahead of that deadline because that deadline...OK, we're in the wild west. How do we handle everybody having their own card?
On my own campus, so much purchasing is done on p-cards and it's just going to be more and more and more and their promoting it big time.
We're going to have to have some centralized way that is relatively easy to use for people to find out about accessibility. The challenge is accessibility is not just a yes or no thing, it's pretty complicated. We're going to have a lot of work that we're going to have to do together to figure out how we maximize the fact that we are a system and how we can make it as shared a venture as possible.
- Speaker 6
If you have a central depository at the CO of approved products and maybe part of it will be communicating and educating those who use those types of p-card purchases to go to the website first and see if what they want to buy is on that approved list and if it is they can buy it and if not, the next step would be to go to procurement and talk to those folks.
I know there has been some resistance, and I don't know why, from Mary and Mark and others to the idea of having an approved list. It'd make your lives a lot easier.
- Speaker 7
I thought you were going to do it.
We're going to have a centralized repository of VPATs and we're going to have a way for consumer information on that repository so that campuses will be able to put in their own comments and own information about their experiences with the accessibility of different products. I don't know if its because we don't want to make it so easy so that people don't do their own thinking about accessibility? I don't know why.
- Speaker 8
In particularly hardware, like printers and stuff like that, the rate of change of products happens so fast that you can look at a printer today and do some kind of rating on it, and six months later, there's a slightly different model, its not the same model number. The same things almost true with software applications, it used to be with something like Acrobat, they came out with a new product like every two or three years. And now, they're coming out with new or maybe half releases. And I think that maybe, I can't speak for them but I can just say that the rate of change, basically to some extent, it might be useful because it might teach people what to look at, if they're doing a major product. I guarantee you that if you go back, whatever we put in there today, a year from now those products will not be available in the IT marketplace under those product numbers.
- Speaker 9
Three months from now.
- Speaker 10
They'll be continuing upgrade.
I have a question for Doug and that is that we're not the first group to go through this, and I know the government has been going through this for a long time, have you heard how they did anything, wisely?
I can tell you that it has varied. Some agencies are struggling. Two especially, but let's say three. VA, IRS and SSA. As I was listening to you folks talk, my first thought was well, this might work, but the more I heard, I realized that your individual components, even down to the fact where somebody who is head of a specific math department on a specific campus can order a specific product, and it doesn't have to go through any evaluation or approval. Is that correct?
- Speaker 11
Not until after the fact.
We're all, we're very decentralized.
Right and you see, the agencies are able to, for example, IRS has a set number of software packages that everybody uses and so every new product that comes in, or every, what do you call it, every version, they get a chance to test it first with different types of assistive technology. And they approve not only, or disapprove, the individual mainstream software packages, but they also have to troll over the assistive technology issues, which is something you just don't have here. SSA has a major unit that does nothing but evaluate and assign, this is what we're going to use within the agency, and its agency wide.