NCDAE Webcast - Student Information Systems and Individuals with Disabilities

Marty: Hello and welcome to this the next to a series of audio web cast sponsored by the national center on disability and access to education. My name is Marty Blair, I am the Policy Director for the National Center on Disability and Access to Education Today’s audio web cast is being co sponsored by the National Center on Accessible information technology in education, or access IT at the University of Washington in Seattle. Today’s web cast is focused on issues related to student information system in education institutions. These are most common in higher education and include systems for student registration, financial aid, student records, etc. We will not be dealing with course management systems in today’s web cast, that is a topic for another day. We recognize that they may be closely related and integrated at times with information system but that is beyond the scope of today’s discussion. We have 3 distinguished panelists with us today. The first is Alice Anderson, she is with the Division on information technology at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Alice is the technology accessibility program coordinator at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Her office supports a coordinated university wide infrastructure that encourages the use one tools and web pages that are accessible for administration teaching and learning. Our next panelist is Skip Knox. Skip is at Boise State University and since 1996 has been the webmaster for Boise state. He is a professor of history and also works to insure as a webmaster that university web services are accessible to all students. Our 3rd panelist is Ron Stewart from Oregon State University. He is the founding president of ATHEN Access Technology Higher Education Network and association and network for assistive technology professionals in higher education.  He directs the technology access program and the northwest center for technology access at Oregon State University. We welcome our 3 panelist’s. Thank you for being with us today

Our panelist will each have a few minutes to share their thoughts about today’s topics, student information systems and individuals with disabilities and after their presentations we will address your questions. If you would like to submit a question to our panelists, please use the form that’s at the bottom of the web cast screen that you used to tune into today’s audio web cast. You may submit questions at any time. We will hear from our panelist in the order that they were introduced, and we will do our best to address your questions as time permits. So we will first hear from Alice then Skip, then Ron. Alice, take it away.
Alice: Thank Marty, Marty indicated in the introduction that I am at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It’s a large institution, post secondary. I work with the information technology department in DOIT. We work with the colleges, departments and individuals to develop and implement new systems and at the same time, we provide service on current systems and work with our customers to migrate them from older technology. I tell you this because accessibility is a key part, but a very small part of a larger infrastructure, serving, some almost 3500 faculty and instructors. 12,000 staff and more than 4100 students. We have 700 employees in DOIT. I am one person that looks at accessibility, but I need to commend the many programmers that I work with in DOIT and they are very cognizant of out campus web accessibility policy and very committed to working towards accessibility. We work with the individual college departments in a unit in a variety of situations, I personally work with the campus ADA coordinator, and the Disability Resource Center which provides services to students with disabilities and that’s the way we figure out what are the issues, we tend to find out that the issues aren’t reported to us unless we ask and almost always and we usually ask in an anonymous fashion. What are the technology barriers they are experiencing aced with. For example, every 2 years we do an anonymous survey and with our students with disabilities and ask a variety of questions. And now with this audio conference will now provide some access questions about student services.  I just wasn’t on our horizon.  We ask a lot of education applications, but didn’t ask about these. We in the last few months have been working with the last few months about any barriers they have been experiencing about any of the applications for student services and at this point they said, in fact no, but I need to reiterate that I really feel that if I want to find out what students are experiencing we have to do in a systematic anonymous way for a variety of reasons.

We work here generally with professional staff and analysts designers and program, program managers on application services in this particular case with our partner the registrars office and we tend to use ­­people soft or hybrid, or customized manner of people soft For example right now we are doing an upgrade on a very critical component called ISES. Integrate student information systems which covers admissions, enrollment, financial aid curriculum, students access to records and  alumni records, this has been going on since June, I just saw someone at the elevator today, one of our 700 employees and she was joyfully jumping up and down saying we only have 2 more days until the upgrade. Is it fully accessible? We don’t know, about fully accessible, we’ve done a lot by testing it. We are doing what we can to see that it complies to campus policy. Then we have a series of screen reader users, one who actually is employed in the registrars office that tests these applications, then we ask our other friends and colleagues who are either blind or not blind using the screen reader to help with. What we’ve often found is that our applications are compliant to the campuses web policies, but have major, major issues when it comes to screen reader users. I’ll stop there so that the other two can talk about their campuses.

Marty: Thank you... Skip. We will next hear from Skip Knox from Boise State University. Well, maybe we have lost Skip, so we will try to get him back on the line. Ron Stewart from Oregon State.

Ron: Yeah, Oregon State been using the system banner, SET Banner, we started in the early 90’s. For the last, well… Banner has basically grown from being primarily a financial managing package to an information managing packages across student services, human resources and financial information systems and so folks not just at Oregon State but in the entire state Oregon post secondary system use the banner system. Our relationship with the campuses, our program is responsible for access to technology for people with disabilities. Obviously a primary component of that is for students and in that regard we work directly with the office of disabilities services . And then on a more macro scale with our registrars office and our academic computing department to look at the accessibility issues that even now more importantly the usability issue of these online plural systems, because what was found from the research that we’ve done is we’ve looked at it from a usability perspective, it’s the database of a portal system be used by a user with a disability access comparable way to as a user without a disability and the answer is no. Things have gotten better, their entire backbone of the data play system is built in these system and we use banner, and people saw from pretty much the same. The data has about 20,000 students and research university and primarily an engineering university.   We also provide the primary IT support for the Oregon university system, which is the nine for year universities around the state. There’s parallel support system that supports at community college. One of the key factors that we’ve seen in the last few year, as there’s systems have some into compliance with accessibility criteria is the W3C, more often section 508, we’re finding that the things conform, but are not useable.  One of the primary issues, is how many clicks or how many key strokes does it take a user with a disability to perform a comparable task. Secondly, when we’ve worked with some of these vendors on fixing the problems, the fixes have been insolated to the user, an example was we worked with them who was using magnification who needed cooler change, and they fixed that screen for that individual, in this case, an employee, but none of the other issues were fixed. It’s that kind of pocket approach that is problematic.

Marty: Thank you very much, that gives us a perspective form 2 different places, from information technology and also from student services disability site. Our third panelist we have with us is Skip Knox. He is the webmaster at Boise State University. Skip can you explain a little about your perspective of student information systems an individuals with disabilities.

Skip: Sure, unlike the other two participants here, I am not in the disabilities area, I am the university webmaster, but I became interested in this topic pretty early on. I became an advocate and tried to keep myself educated in it . We have people soft running almost all of our student information systems. And of course people soft has been purchased by Oracle, one of the things that I saw was the decision process by which these assistants are brought on campus was made without any regard to accessibility issue. The concerns in our case our old main print system had to go away when the year 2000 was coming and the old emphasis was getting to key information systems in place in time. And we were worried about everything else afterwards. Once it’s in place then when people bring the topic up, the reaction of most key oriented people were we’ll put it in our list. And we have to get an upgrade, or install this additional module and so on. And in particular if this is true for other systems, but it certainly is for ours. There is a strong disincentive for mucking with the system or for tailoring the system in any way. Because when the next version of the software comes out, there is no warranted upgrade of any modification that we’ve made. The vendor simply says, if you started with the product and you upgrade, then the upgrade will go smoothly, but if you’ve changed code. We don’t warrant that. So, it’s been a mantra among out developers to change this system to add little as possible and so there’s a strong disincentive to go tackle this things and from our sides so we have to wait for the developer . Its interesting because the companies that create these products, they sort of act like...nothing is really broken, things are accessible. We have been if you read the article site, they talk about how they have been striving for a section 508 compatibility since 2001. Well, that doesn’t necessarily say you’ve made it and it turns out that oracle said nothing about people soft at this point, that’s their recent acquisition. So, the manufactures of this product don’t have a strong incentive, they’re not getting strong message from the university that this is a high priority. The university is worried about functional issues and stability issues, that’s their thing and accessibility is a little further down the list. That’s enough for now I think.

Marty: Thanks that form a webmaster perspective I just had a quick question that came to mind as you were talking. When developers are making or developing these systems and upgrading them. Are we talking about accessibility that’s in the backend or are we talking about making fixing just to in interface. Where are the big concerns? If that question makes sense, and any one of you can try this.

Skip: Sure this is Skip. Again, I was at the Oracle site at that time to see what their position was and the vast majority of what their website has to say is about the developer tools, they’re concern was to create accessible tools for creating people soft screens and so on. It was not on the end users experience. So that’s a perspective that I saw.
Ron: This is Ron. Let me speak to that too. In the initial, up until the last year or so, when more and more customization have been discouraged, it was actually what we found in our research, and it was actually our research was the interfaces that were delivering the content to the content users It was those programs that go into the underline oracle database and most people soft and banner use an oracle underline. The data was pulled out and not delivered in a way that could be used with a screen reader or without a mouse, because basically what you were getting was a picture, and what customers were doing, universities in this case, were customizing the user interfaces. And you would find institutions that had fully accessible units of interfaces and those that didn’t. And I always like to use the example of Oregon State and University of Oregon. University of Oregon user interface the banner system can be used with a screen reader, Oregon states couldn’t. And that had a lot to do with the orientations and actually to cover that conversation before the systems were developed. And now moving into a realm that the vendor weren’t allowing us to do as much customization that we’re finding that problems are creeping back in, because they do have human factor folks on their staff that use user design. It seems that these systems have been developed in pieces then conglomerated together, so not only do you have accessibility issues with just overall, but accessibility issues overall.

Marty: Okay, just… thank you, a reminder to those that are participating via the internet today, if you would like to ask a question of our participants or panelists, use the form that is at the bottom of the web cast screen that you used to tune in today.

Marty: Another question. What considerations, and you may have addressed this in your introductory remarks, what considerations needs to be taken into account to improve accessibility it and usability, what are some of the things that are happening on your campuses, what considerations are you taking to improve accessibility. What are you doing now that do you think needs to be done?

Alice: This is Alice. I will talk for the University of Wisconsin Madison campus. Specific to student application, I made a point to go and check with the several developers who were working on a variety of applications and focus on just those developers working on student’s applications. What we have done in the past, and I might have mentioned earlier we do the usual run through and test it for compliance with our campus policy which is based on 508. And then we ask screen reader users to give us our feedback that we need. It’s not, I don’t believe it’s as rigorous as what Ron was talking about usability and that out long term goal to look at click for click and time for time each user whether or not they are using assistive technology able to access information equally. We are at the first level, which is can our user access the information. The second thing that has happened and it’s just happened recently, our developers are now using a network version of JAWS to test these applications as they are developing them. They will do this, then they’ll go to the usability staff, which were evolving as I speak, to do a more rigorous usability with screen reader users and other assistive technology users. So we’ve made a major gain in the last several years as the get go on integrating these systems to keep testing them with assistive technology.

Marty: So it’s an ongoing process.

Alice: It’s really evolving with the technology, with each upgrade, not with people soft but also assistive technology upgrades and whether its just to throw out a few, zoom text JAWS, Kurzweil. As those systems upgrades, we find new little glitches, that come to our attention, sometimes.

Marty: Okay. Other panelist want to address that issue.

Ron: This is Ron. Our approach is two fold, we have been working with campus policy for a number of years, but there is two components, one is the educational an awareness on the part of the people who are involves in the decision making and selecting the product we’re going to use to the implementation, then also from the user support, and that is more an awareness building, how do we meet the needs of various users across campus community. The other thing is we’re trying in that education process moving to a point where accessibly is part of the first decision making process from not an add on, band aid or intermittent or not at the end. One primary motivation is cost, the other is really starting this discussion, if its not an issue on part of the vendors, who do we need to engage in this conversation and looking at national dialogue between universities and educational IT associations these vendors aren’t getting it. They are selling us a product saying it’s compliant, but not understanding that our responsibility  the laws is not just compliance, so it’s really getting it on the radar screen, getting people to the point of what their talking about then slowly getting some movement or progress we’ve been using banner since 94-95 and it was fine until we went to a graphical user interface now it’s taken 5 years to get to a point where we have some level of accessibility but if can’t be fully used, so we’re not fully there.

Marty: So it’s been difficult to strike that balance between accessibility and usability?

Ron: Well, yeah I think that at this point you can get a conversation going about accessibility because vendors know what section 508 is at this point, but when you try to take that conversation to usability, there’s a disconnect and it’s also an issue for usability for all users, their systems are very difficult to use.

Skip: I think all the students here at Boise State would vote for that one. I have a question to the other two panelists here, as some of these have been in development have been in for a long time, are very familiar with the issue about cross browser compatibility when you design a page, I just have an uncomfortable feeling that you can make pages accessible, but you can’t guarantee that every various accessibility browsers, whether it’s JAWS, JAWS gets mentioned a lot but there are a lot more out there. I think that Alice made reference to changes even in versions, so that was happened, its’ not only the product that changes, and I think that Ron said, going from a tech base to a dewey base and creating issues there. But it’s a cause of just guessing that the browser market is also evolving and creating new issues and solving old ones. Can Ron or Alice speak to that?

Ron: This is Ron. I will chime in quickly. Yeah, every browser is different, every screen reader is different and then there is audio browsers on top of that. I thought about this earlier but didn’t state it, we ask that folks don’t design their accessibility for a single product, a vendor product. So a lot of work is going on for JAWS accessibility. Oregon State University’s standard screen reader is not JAWS. So you can design for accessibility for JAWS and it is going to break when our screen readers use it. So what we try to do to make people understand what it is that a screen readers does with a computer interface. And design for accessibility based on that. The other fact that enters in for us, is our user tend to be very unsophisticated so when they are interfacing with theses products, with these assistive technology, they are doing it with a very low level of proficiency, I don’t know if that answered your question.

Skip: Doesn’t that create an issue for the vendors as well? I mean they can create something, but that doesn’t mean that necessarily, it can be perfectly standard compliant, but that doesn’t mean that brand X screen readers of rendering the page.

Ron: That’s correct, it’s going to be, if you are using a web delivered app, what browser is that person using?

Alice: And what platform are you using.

Ron: Exactly. That’s the tone I got from the Oracle site, well, we make our product Section 508 compliant, and if you are having trouble with it, it’s probably your browsers fault. It’s not our fault. I know, I know, we have the obligation. We can set minimum standard, we do that for screen resolution, we do that for performance of a computer, what application we’re going to support, so if we are giving the vendors, we want your products support, JAWS, windows eyes, and super gnome, the three major screen readers, not at a level where you have to right customize scripts, so we can provide them that information, but are we going to get what we ask for? Sometimes.

Skip: Alice, have you experienced issues on the browser side as well.

Alice: They haven’t come to me attention.

Skip: Okay.

Alice: I do that personally with other applications, but the, you know Ron mentioned that would be great if we could select products, you know that are more accessible, event if they aren’t totally accessible, The cost is gong to be the deciding factor here at University of Wisconsin Madison. For example, the entire state of Wisconsin post secondary education system has a license or oracle people soft, and I don’t foresee that changing any near future. Our data lies there and it interacts with a variety of systems on campus, as each system is intended to interaction with another. I am just grateful that the developers and again Ron mentioned it have the awareness that accessibility should be checked and not just at the end but early on, either as you are designing, upgrading or continuing to create in a manner that we can set up.

Marty: Thank you. A reminder to those of you who are listening in today, if you’d like to make a comment or ask a question to our panelist, please use the form at the bottom of the web cast screen. I do have a comment here and then several questions. The first one is a comment from Ken in California, “If banner and people soft are so inaccessible, why do we continue using the, I am blind and while the sites are somewhat usable, there must be a better way. “

And I think Alice it was your comment, we don’t have often times the ability to be part of those initial discussions. Accessibility is an after thought. So that is a comment from one of our listeners.
I have a questions here that’s come in from two different people, from Bob, no, not from Bob, from Bud, I am not sure where Bud is from, and Peter and Peter is from Brisbane Australia, and Peter if you are listening, I am sure it’s the middle of the night there and we commend you with you diligence for being part is this. The question is this, “How will the new W3C standard impacts users who do not fall within specific disability description, such as vision, mobility or hearing?”

The other question from Bud that’s related, “What do you think of the pending web content accessibility guideline and how will the new guideline impact what you do in your specific responsibilities?”
I don’t know who wants to tackle that question. Lots of silence out there

Alice: At University of Wisconsin Madison, we have a research center that’s actively involved in developing the guidelines. There are a variety of people involved. How will it impact us? Very little. We recognize that the techniques and issues are going to have a lot of interaction or interception with our current campus policy which is based on 508, which won’t be a strong as the new guidelines, I am not sure if I am answering your listeners questions, but the campus policy that really pushed our campus into paying attention to accessibility, And that came on board almost 5 years ago now. The first 2 years it wasn’t a pretty picture, There was a lot of arms throwing up and resistance. To why should I do this for a few people. And over the years, its just been the last 2-3 year u have heard developers say wow usability for all is no being affected, now that they are paying attention to accessibility.  But it was an education or evolution of total resistance at the beginning, to any sort of talk about accessibility, to now it’s here and we’re going to have to pay attention and it’s really not a bad thing

Ron: I’ll bite a little bit on the evolution question. This is Ron by the way. It wasn’t part of the discussion. It wasn’t at the table. At Oregon State I was part of the original banner implementation team, I was at a different role at that time. We are operating in a text based environment, there really wasn’t a concern, and most folks that work in accessibility know that everything changed when we moved it to a graphical user interface, Even though where we are at now with conformance guidelines, and whether we are using section 508 or WCAG or the new version of the web accessibility guidelines. That’s, I don’t know how to say that, the sets a minimum bar, and what we are finding with usability testing, that bar is still not big enough and if we start reframe the discussion in, how do we maximize the usability of these products that are being purchased for efficiency of operations users of our system, if we look at is from the most possible or the most user friendly environment, for someone to get their tasks done. I think that we are going to go a long way to meeting that need for base accessibility; we are still going to have accessibility issues, for what I call the more outlier low incidence, rare, low incidence disability. But it we look at a good user interface criteria, a lot of accessibility issues are going to go away

Skip: That’s interesting because I approach it sort of from the other direction. My goal is to get compliance with standards that doesn’t have web pages created that conform roughly with the W3C. No one really cares, and it’s difficult to get them to care, because you can’t legislate good practice. But you can legislate accessibility and I can we’ve federal regulations in their faces and such. So for me accessibility is the path to get to good design, or improved design - less idiosyncratic or sorts of designs. Yeah, I kind of agree with Alice. If we can get folks to wake up to make their site accessible, what they find is it’s kind of lie a by product, the site improved.  I think that’s what you were saying Alice?

Alice: Yes

Skip: More or less. I don’t know if we can ever get vendors, and they always talk about usability and stuff, but what they really mean is marketability.

Ron: This is Ron, I wouldn’t disagree with Skip. I think with our process, we’ve… the accessibility hammer was very effective, for the first few years, but then it became counterproductive.

Skip: You had already achieved it, right?

Ron: We never achieved it, we had make progress, and then a lot of staff change, and then we continued that dialoged and it got to the point with the key decision makers, and I say this somewhat jokingly, they would cringe when I would walk in the room, they knew what I was there for, and I had to look at how I was approaching it from a systems perspective, from Oregon state and Oregon university,. How can we move this discussion, to a point where we don’t keep having the discussion. I am not the only one at the table, I am not saying your method…it’s very effective, but there does become a time whet the hammer of the accessibility law, doesn’t help anymore.

Marty: We have a question that came in that just came in that may be related to this question. And first I need to apologize for the lack of captions. Our captioner was unable to be here and that was a last minute cancellation and we apologize to those that are seeking captions. And this will be captioned at a later time and will be available in caption format our caption archives and once again, we apologize. This question is a comment then a question. It comes from Lori in Arizona, “It seems that changing the standards to mean usability and then the enforcement of those standards is the only way to achieve the desired results for students.” The question part here, “I think that the needs of the few or the minority will never rise above the needs of the many, meaning profitability for the developers, stability and functionality for the campus IT people. What do you think?” I think this would be an interesting question for you Alice. You have a campus web accessibility policy. How did that come about?

Alive: Everything on our campus comes about by committees. We are a very flat campus and it took a series of years and we’re on our third now stable of our campus policy. So if the question is how did the policy come about. It came about with a number of disability advocates being on the right committee, and enough people that could buy into this and a good decision for the campus, and then it was implemented and that’s when problems came up. I think, we had our first campus web policy that was based on the old WCAG level true guidelines and although we had sent it many subcommittees and have many, many reviewers and developers and web designer agreeing that this was all do-able and manageable, when the policy actually have opened there as major revolutions an the campus basically said this is just crazy, as crazy as can be,. The good end to the story, it that forced the CIO of our organization to partner with the ADA vice chancellor and draft the 2nd policy. Now it has IT by end, just by the co-sponsorship. So, I am hoping that I answered your question. How did this happen? It’s usually painful. Any policy, depending on how policies are implemented or drafted into campus .It’s not an easy thing where someone can says it’s the right thing to do, so it was a battle. It was won, then it way lost and then it was won again.

Marty: This is Marty again. How do you make the sell? Is it a financial sell, is it doing the right thing kind of sell, you already addressed that a little bit. How do you sell the needs of the few over the sell of the many?

Alice: Our campus, the ADA coordinator, who is the vice chancellor made the decision that it was the right thing to do, and I am not sure if there was any hidden agenda’s, but she brought the task force together and asked us to draft the policy and run it through a variety of committees. When you are selling web accessibility is one of the sales pitches cost effective actually in the long run. There is lots of argument about why accessibility makes sense, we have an aging population, but on our campus I am not sure what’s the motivation other than there are many, many people nudging here to move, to get a policy on our campus.

Marty: I know from the conversations from the three of you earlier that at Boise State University for example, there is not a web accessibility policy yet, Skip form your office and your perspective, you have made a commitment, as those you have worked with to do your best to make sure that the web is accessible. Is that just based on the goodness of the individuals with you work, or was there any other driving force for that?

Skip: Yes, first I agree with Alice that first you do it because it’s the right thing to do. Second because there are some admittedly vague but real Federal requirements along those lines. And third, you do it because you wind up with better websites and a more maintainable, standards-compliant all that sort of thing. So, there is positive benefit as well as the other aspects to it. And, in the web services group, which does web development for departments on a charge back basis. That’s part of our standard operating procedures, to make sites that are accessible. And each part, there is a draft policy that’s making it three year journey through the system and I fully expect that same Alice has having the first generation having to come back through it again, And I think it’s going happen again and it’s a little cynical, and I think one reason that policies like that can get adopted is because the upper administrator doesn’t understand the impact of it, they tend to think that web pages are relatively easy and costs are hidden because so many of them are made by students or by staffers or so on, it’s difficult separate out. It’s easy to quantify how much people soft costs us. Nobody has any idea of how much the rest of our web pages cost, and so that say yeah, it’s the right thing to do, it’s federal law. Let’s put that in the policy, then when it gets implemented and they go, oh…we didn’t mean that, and then you try to refine it, but I would bet money that the policy that people soft will be explicitly exempted from the policy. It is… we’ll make policy that talks to web pages we create. Web pages that are given to us by companies, from which we have contracts, we have no power to make then do anything.

Marty: So the web policy you expect will be only for those that are internally developed?

Skip: Yep.

Ron: This I Ron, I have to put on my disability advocate hat here. In our policy effort at Oregon State is different, but the way we got here is different too, but we had a campus commitment to IT accessibility. It’s gone through some evolutions, you know it’s…where we got where we’re at now the accessibility law is because of the growing frustrations with the lack of progress, if I am a student at a public institution, and in tax dollars, to provide services to me, what point do we recognize that might say are being violated when the university is using a system that I can’t use. And I am going to used an example that sticks in my mind, we put a kiosk system here at Oregon state, one of the first student information system models was used, those kiosks were not usable by anyone in the chair, or anyone who couldn’t use a standard mouse, so in order for a use to use that cut screen based system was basically impossible. Yet we still have student that would try. What point is the institution responsible to meeting the needs of all of their constituents?

Alice: Ron brings ups a good point - I often wonder in the back of my head if the motivation wasn’t to have a policy on campus to avoid a lawsuit. There is nothing that moves people toward recognizing that we gotta do something except a law suit, for whatever reason, our students and other students in post secondary institutions, put up with an awful lot. They will work around, they will have friends help them access inaccessible materials, they’ll do a lot, and I am always curious if they want they degree so bad they they’re not going to interrupt that flow to start a lawsuit. Or they…whatever reason, they will put out with the extra mile when it should be on our end to make sure it usable an accessible to all, but Ron is right, we often after the fact think about oh…how many users can’t use this?

Ron: I just want to follow up wit the second comment. We actually reconsidered here at Oregon State, and for us banner is a system wide tool. It’s used in state governments as well. Accessibility was one more reason to reconsider continuing to support the product. It wasn’t the primary reason, but it was almost to the point where the straw was going to break the camels back, because the yearly cost of these systems and everything else, and there’s a lot of initiative in Oregon to go to open source, and It’s easy to do that, the points’ well taken, these systems are very expensive to implement, and to maintain, and then 10’s of million.

Alice: And 10 more million if you’re going to make a switch
Ron: Yeah. So those are all the pragmatics, and I think Skip said it’s not if you do the cost benefit analysis, if you can make a business case for accessibility and I think for a lot of instance you can, that’s one more way to say okay, we may not be able to fix the existing system but we’re going to move to a new system someday. How can we prevent this from happening again?

Skip: Well, absolutely, that’s what I hope to do without policy. I do think that there’s going to be afraid to touch people soft but I’d liked to be able to get something in the purchasing process, where accessibility will be one of the requirements, for future acquisitions, and we will be considered for the next upgrade, that sort of thing. We have to start making demands of these vendors, although I am sort of in Ron’s camp, you go open source and you walk away from all those folks, but that’s somewhat of a different issue.

Marty: Is accessibility part of the procurement process? It sounds like that’s not the case at Boise State, but what about at Oregon State or University of Wisconsin Madison?

Ron: This is Ron. At Oregon State our policy which was going to become standards but is now going to become guidelines, is a partially procurement policy. It’s the same philosophy that underlies the last revision of Section 508, its procurement policy.

Alice: I know at Wisconsin there is discussion about procurement policy adapting, developing one, ours was a web policy, but all of the student applications are on the web.

Ron: Yeah I mean, this is Ron again, as we got into the web discussion, these issues transcend all the software we’re using in our institutions, whether it’s locally based on our computer, or delivered over the web, we’re finding the exact same problems across the board.

Skip: It should be noted too, everyone is well aware of this, there’s been a pretty significant change that as we as universities are doing our business… in the last 5 years I have seen now, you don’t get paycheck stubs, that’s on the web and you have to register them on the web, we keep making more and more demand on people to do business on the web and I am not sure, a lot of the reaction from our disability folks is well, if worse come to worse, you can always come to campus and we’ll help you out, and they are aware of that one of the things that was pointed out to me, that was our olds answer stock answer, but it’s becoming less and less viable as the university funnels more and more of the students life through that one portal, that one interface, namely web browsers. It’s not a terribly sophisticated interface.
Marty: In other words, universities are putting all of their services on the second floor without elevators.
Ron: Pretty much.

Marty: If you can climb the rope great, if you can’t, you’re in trouble.

Just a reminder to our listeners, we have about 7 or 8 minutes left if you’d like to ask a question, please do so. The question about procurement actually came from Bob who is from the great lake area of our country, he has another question. “Have you at your university considered a collaborative accessibility budget report, or request to vendors, or in other words, having a central location where you can lodge all your complaints then send them to the vendor, and thoughts on that?”

Ron: This is Ron. Our university tried something like that. We did some usability research on library database systems, and have done it for a number of years, when we did the first round of studies, we actually contacted all the vendors. I wanted to get the vendors perspective on what it was we were encountering, in these systems especially in the portal systems is the problem of the vendor product if the was we were implementing it, And we knew the banner system was the way we’re implementations in. None of the vendor chose to respond, so we chose to follow it up with a second letter from our university librarians and once again, none of the vendors chose to respond, and we don’t have a centralized recording bug and we’ve attempted to reached out to get their feedback, I would much rather work with the vendors because we have long term relationship with theses folks, with them to find a solution, but I mean, I am going to use a different example. Banner actually reacted hostility to our research. They didn’t come out with any thing to say no we were wrong, they just said it was garbage, it’s not true, it’s the way the research was done, instead of working with ups to fix the problem and this has gone of for several years.

Marty: Let me ask, does Alice or Skip want to say anything on that question?

Alice: If I understand the question, it would be in my ideal world, all of the disability accessibility advocates could have some sort of unified voice, and it’s a challenge here and Ron touched on it. Their products is an add on, or customized at each campus, so what might be a bug at this campus, might not be a bug to report to people soft at another campus, based on how we implemented it, or configured it or bolted on something to it. But, if we jump to products like WebCT or Cruse were, etc, I am hearing more and more where disability and accessibility advocates can join forces and put pressure on that product, because there isn’t that much tweaking once it gets to your campus, but these students systems there is an awful lot of tweaking on both ends on how the data goes in and comes out.

Skip: I don’t have anything to add to that.

Marty: Just a question that comes to mind, I imaging that there are a number people listening today that are web developers that may not be much involved or very much aware of disability advocates groups and what the concerns are. From the perspectives, just in a few minutes or so, what would you want to tell these folks that are the webmasters, web designers and the information technology folks, at universities and colleges across the country, what would you need to tell them?

Alice: The one thing that the web developers at Wisconsin have agreed on, is once they understand the accessibility issues, they become better web developers.

Marty: Better web developers I guess because of…

Alice: They build better products, once they understand the barriers that are up, they understand the barriers and how to fix them and make good websites, meaning accessibility to all, they become better web developers.

Marty: It sounds like what you are saying is accessibility is assuming that usability improves as well.

Alice: Exactly.

Skip: Their code improves because you have to break yourself of bad habits, that sort of thing. And I would say pick a standard and live with it. There’s a couple of different levels and so on and I would say go out and do your research and any standard is better than none, and to pick a WAI level 1,2 or 3, any of them. You have some choices, they are all essentially in the same neighborhood, but pick one and make sure you and your whole shop understand what those are and then absolutely live by them. It will be painful for awhile, but then a new day will dawn.

Marty: Ron, any thoughts on this question?

Ron: None other than to echo what’s already been said, I think that developers take pride in what they are creating, typically, and my experience has been once you work with them, show them what the barriers are and what the limitations are. Then they will become better developers and become more aware and in the long run it will benefit them professionally, It wasn’t too long ago that the question was never asked in the interview, how do you approach accessibility? What do you know about accessibility? And the person would talk about they need this much band width.  Now, the conversation is how do we meet the needs of all users? It’s very true. These systems are better. I live in a rural state and we can’t design the greatest glitches site and deliver is to constituents over the state, it won’t deliver, the band width is not available, so for designing for accessibility, you’re designing for maximum usability.

Marty: That’s great, I have on my agenda here with just a few minutes left, you’re final thoughts and I am not sure what else you would say based on the things you have said, but Ron, Alice and Skip, in that order, is there’s one parting comment, we would love to hear it. Skip you get the last word today!

Ron: I guess for me, I would like to share a sense of frustration; we’ve been going backwards for the past few years. And we’re seeing it on our campus and somewhat nationally. As we are trying to make our sites major user friendly and that interactive need. We’re loosing site of the purpose to what it is we’re doing.

Marty: Alice…

Alice:  My thoughts aren’t the same as Ron’s, but I will have to get together with him offline. My celebration is people are really talking about it on this campus, and they are talking about it in a usability, making our campus a more accessibility, usability campus and there’s amazing partnerships across disciplines, it’s not just the techy talking to administrates, it’s departments, registrars, it’s a great partnership with  the IT people here and they don’t seem to flinch when someone says. You’ve done all the testing, it’s all part of the projects now.

Marty: Skip… you get the last word.

Skip: Maybe it’s because we’ve done so little to date that I feel more of a sense of progress or maybe we’re catching up to where Ron is. I agree with him however, that from the point of view of the commercial vendors, these student information systems, that’s who we’re talking about. I don’t see them moving forward and I guess my thing is, it’s pretty much time to fish or cut bait. There are two paths we could go here, either as universities we from lobbying groups and we as a market, we apply the pressure to the vendor and force them to deliver more accessibility products, or we walk away. I have notices a distance trend in the open source initiative, that they almost unfailingly will say, we’re standard compliant, we’re Section 508 compliant, and they sort of actually mean it. And I think we’re coming probably in the next 5 years to a pretty significant division there. I don’t’ think that the commercial vendors can continue to give us those kinds of products they’ve been giving us. I don’t think we can keep living with that. I guess that’s my final comment.

Marty: Well thank you, to all of our panelists. We’re very appreciative of your time today. For those of you who have been listening to this web cast, we thank you. Our next web cast will be in February 2006, next year. We will be addressing the topic of standards, especially looking at NIMAS, the National Instructional Media Accessibility Standard, which is part of IDEA, the special education law that was reauthorized last fall. We’ll be looking at what we need to do at the school level, what you need to know and what you need to do. We also remind you that we will be holding in collaboration with our partner access IT ad accessible distance education mini-strand that the annual conference of the assistive technology industry association AIA 2006, that will be in Orlando Florida in January, in just a couple of months. For more information on that conference you can visit ATIA .org or for more information on NCDAE and our web cast series or to get an archive on this web cast, visit our website, visit us, we have daily updated news regarding accessibility and distance education. Thanks for being with us. Have a great day.