The Institution's Web Accessibility Study Team

Cyndi Rowland, Editor

We often get the question, “who should participate in our institution's self-study team or task force committee on web accessibility?” This resource sheet is intended to walk you through the logic for selecting the most representative committee, to help you begin to identify the best individuals, and then provide some strategies to enlist and sustain their participation.

Why do I need a team?

He travels fastest who travels alone” (Rudyard Kipling). It is appealing to think how quickly you or a few people could turn around an institutional self-study or action plan on web accessibility. Harder and slower is including others in your efforts, especially if they don't share your zeal or purpose. However, if you are to accurately paint a picture of your institution's web accessibility, identify the opportunities for change, and prepare for the barriers in front of you, it is crucial that you have the participation of stakeholders from across the institution. It is ultimately in your own interests to hear many different voices, experiences, and perceptions.

It is not unlike the story of the 6 blind men meeting an elephant for the first time and describing it to another; one experienced touching the skin, another the tusk, and yet another the tail. Their descriptions were very different, yet all aspects were part of the essence of the elephant. In order for you to understand what is in front of you, you must pull together as much information as is possible. This will help you adequately describe, and understand what is going on at your institution and the best ways to affect change.

Who should be a part of this effort?

There are 5 important considerations as you identify those you would want to include in your web accessibility team:

  1. First, you want to select people who are knowledgeable about, or experienced in, web accessibility or the web accessibility efforts on your campus. These individuals may come from the Disability Resource Office or ADA Office on campus, as well as web developers, or some IT staff members, who are skilled in accessibility. Of course this group may be broader if your campus has existing work on web accessibility (e.g., say from your Library or another unit dealing with web accessibility).

    Take a minute now to start a list of those people who might already be experienced in web accessibility or in your institution's application of it. If you have absolutely no idea of who these people might be, jot down the names of a few people you might talk with that could help you generate this first list.

  2. Second, you want to make sure you have identified personnel from two different end-user constituent groups. In one group are those people who are consumers of accessible (or inaccessible) web content. These will be individuals who have a disability that affects computer and internet use. Make sure you have identified both students as well as employees of the institution (i.e., faculty and staff), as these groups are consumers of different aspects of your institution's web presences (e.g., registration, coursework, intranet, staff resources or faculty processes). The second end-user group should include those people who would have to change what they do as a result of the recommendations of the committee. Examples of this group would include a web developer who does not currently develop with accessibility in mind, the Learning Management System (LMS) lead on campus, or a faculty member who creates course content and uploads it into the campus LMS. Understanding what you might be asking them to do and seeking their input is vital if you want to secure solutions that will obtain broad adoption.

    Take a minute now to generate a list of both types of end-users of your process. Make sure you include those that need to consume accessible content and those who would have to change what they do as a result of your team's recommendations. If you have absolutely no idea of who these people might be, jot down the names of a couple people who could help you create these 2 lists.

  3. Third, you will want to capture those entities that will be important to the overall sustainability of accessibility efforts on your campus. To begin with are large systems that form a funnel of capacity into the institution. One example of such a system is the Office of Human Resources. Since they determine job descriptions and qualifications for hiring, they can ensure your next generation of technical hires will have web accessibility skills. Another example of an institutional system that impacts accessibility is the Procurement, or Purchasing, Office. The institution will have a vested interest in making sure that accessible products are purchased, otherwise it is the institution that will incur the costs to fix or provide endless accommodations. Staff from Procurements can require accessibility in product and vendor solicitations (i.e., RFA's or RFP's). This is one way accessibility can become part of the selection and remain a component of executed contracts. Examples of other entities that often help accessibility efforts include Risk Management, or Legal Council, since they are the ones to fend off complaints and litigation. Also, you will want to make sure you have participation from someone who can represent your Central Administration, or who has the ear and support of Central Administration as administrative support of what you will set in motion is vital to your success. These individuals need to be present at the start of the process.

  4. Take a minute now to generate a list of these entities on your campus and the people you might approach. If you have absolutely no idea of the systems or people, at least identify someone who can help you think through this important item.

  5. Fourth is making sure that all the members on your committee or task force are respected members of the constituent groups they will represent. Ultimately they may be involved in helping your committee communicate directly with the broader stakeholder group and in attaining community buy-in. As an example, if you were to select a web developer whose work is not respected, their recommendations may not be welcome or adopted. However, a respected member of the campus web development community will go farther in getting new ideas or new development cycles adopted.

    Take a minute now to look at the other lists you have already generated. If you have knowledge of peer respect for individuals on these lists, highlight their name (e.g., circle, or underline). If you have no idea, you might want to write down a few names of people you could talk with discretely to see who has garnered peer respect among certain groups on campus.

  6. Finally, we have all heard that the optimal group size is “7” +/- 2, so size does matter. While the lists you created above may be in excess of 15 people, you must now get your team to a workable size. One strategy is to look for places where members can take on multiple roles and share multiple perspectives. Of course you would want to tell them that you want them to take on a dual role (i.e., “we need you to wear the hat of a faculty member and department chair”). Another strategy is to consider if some individuals are more important to the “discovery” phase of the self-study, while others are more important to the “action” phase. With this said, if you decide to have some individuals participate in only one group, you may miss context from the first to the last or lose ideas that percolated from the “discovery” work. Ultimately you may choose to operate with a slightly larger group, but just realize that larger groups are more difficult to manage.

  7. Now it is time to narrow your list. See what you can do to combine. If you simply cannot reduce, realize that it is OK to have a larger group; it will simply be more difficult to schedule and move a larger group to completion of your aims.

Stakeholders that commonly participate in institution-wide web accessibility planning include: staff from administrative units, central IT, webmasters or other developers of web content, student services, the disability resource office, the ADA office, representative faculty and staff members, web accessibility specialists, and individuals with disabilities. At times individuals from risk management, procurement offices, sponsored programs, human resources, or university council are also invited participants. Not all members need to be accessibility experts.

How can I get their participation?

While your first instinct may be to simply contact them to ask, consider their existing work loads and also if they are in the position to assign their own work. Some individuals have the time and can assign their own work. Others will do what their supervisor asks of them and might even be in a tight spot if they choose to work on initiatives without their supervisor's permission. Sometimes they also need to understand how this work will not be an additional role they must juggle. Still others need additional persuasion to say “yes” or an understanding of the importance of this work to the broader institution. Consider all of these factors as you prepare to “make the ask”.

One effective way to secure participation from your list, is to have an invitation to sit on this committee or task force come directly from your central administration (e.g., the Office of the Provost). This can be an email message or mailed letter. We recommend that you write out a draft invitation that can be edited and used by the one sending it, as it is a more efficient way to help others get the invitations out; also you are probably the best one to describe the work of this committee. This is an effective strategy because few individuals will say “No” if they are asked by central administration to participate in an institution-wide effort. If it is not possible to have an invitation come from a central administrative entity (e.g., you don't yet have the support of your central administration), consider other administrative entities that might be able to send the invitation, such as your Dean. Of course you could always do it yourself. If this is the case, it will be important that before you send invitations to participate, you have visited briefly with supervisors of those you wish to solicit to ensure support. In fact, you could then indicate this support on your invitation. As you know it will be important to include the requirements for the committee or task force in the letter as well. For example, if you are using the GOALS self-study Benchmarking and Planning Tool for Institutional Web Accessibility, it has been our experience that the process engages members in approximately 10 hours of work in meetings and individual assignments, and the Team Leader in about 20 hours. Any other details you can provide in the letter are important too (e.g., if the work is to be bounded, in time -“in the next 2 months”). All of this information will help them make decisions and get back to you in a timely way.

If there are other strategies that you use, with good outcomes, please let us know. We consider our resources to be living documents and would be happy to share your success with others. If you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions on this resource sheet, please contact Cyndi Rowland.