Information is everywhere we look—from the books and documents we read, to the videos and movies we watch, and conversations we have at work and in the community. Information shapes our experiences and our experiences shape us. When information and interactions are presented or created in ways that are not accessible, people with disabilities may encounter barriers that prevent full access and participation. Increasing access to information connects us, it empowers us, and it promotes independence.
“At OCALI, we’re striving to ensure all people with disabilities have the opportunity to live their best lives for their whole lives and that starts with accessibility,” explains Jan Rogers, Program Director at the AT&AEM Center.
Providing access can take on many forms—from technology supports, creating accessible documents, materials, and products, and designing activities inclusively. OCALI recognizes that accessibility is not a single solution. Rather, it depends on the person, what their specific needs are, and the environment in which that person is engaged (i.e., school, work, in the community, etc.).
OCALI is committed to ensuring its services and products are accessible such that:
- Accessibility is considered for all potential users at the onset of service and product format development (Universal Design for Learning).
- Users are provided with formats with substantially equivalent ease of use (i.e., Presentation slides with notes in a separate document are not easy-to-use. An outline with notes embedded in a single document is easy-to-use).
- Users are offered choice in formats when requested.
- Alternate formats are offered at the same time as other formats upon request. (i.e., no delay in provision of alternate formats).
- Formats are useable by a wide range of assistive technologies.
“While we believe ensuring access for all is a moral imperative, there are various federal and state laws or mandates that require digital and physical spaces to be accessible,” shares Rachel Schultz, AEM Specialist. “Some of these requirements are outlined in legislation through Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), decisions on complaints made through the Office of Civil Rights, and also the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as it applies to K-12 education.”
Improving Accessibility—With Staff and Partners
Guided by the belief that increasing access to information promotes independence, the Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials (AT&AEM) Center has been working hard to lead by example by providing training to OCALI staff and those they serve to ensure everyone is able to participate in OCALI’s events and access its products.
“If we’re going to promote the importance of accessibility, OCALI and its staff must model what good practice looks like,” shares Rachel. “Good practice starts with considering accessibility as soon as possible. This not only allows time to explore different access needs, it also can help minimize the amount of updates or revisions that might need to be implemented after projects are completed. Last spring, we launched a required accessibility training for staff. The sessions started with how to make basic documents, like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, accessible. Using an open lab approach, we were able to personally coach staff and answer their questions. We’ve also had the opportunity to train a few of our partners and support their efforts as they strive to become more accessible, which is exciting.”
Jim Gay, Co-Director, Ohio Leadership Advisory Council (OLAC)—one of OCALI’s partners—shares OCALI’s commitment to ensure that all learners have access to high-quality curricula.
“At OLAC, we need to ensure that everyone that uses our website has access to our content. OCALI’s training and support have caused us to consider how to make our tools accessible to all learners. As we create new tools and revise current content, we now consider accessibility issues up front.”
“We’re also looking at the accessibility of our meeting practices and the environments we create for people, including how we arrange rooms and set up public spaces,” notes Jan. “We’re mindful of our partners and customers and are now asking them if they need any special accommodations.”
The team is also working to make OCALI’s videos more accessible by using closed captions and including transcripts, as well as looking at color contrast and text on screen. OCALI has established a team, the #DescriberSquad, to focus on video accessibility, specifically in the area of Audio Description (AD). AD describes visual images or information that appears in a video, focusing on what is important for understanding and appreciating the content. The #DescriberSquad engages in script writing and voicing for new projects and plans to prioritize existing content for AD.
OCALI’s video partner, Brainstorm Media, has been an integral part of the video work over the past year. The partnership has proved to be beneficial for both organizations.
“Going accessible means making products and solutions that serve the needs of everyone,” shares Greg Lawyer, producer/director. “As a media production company, that includes making sure that the messages we create are clear and accessible.The way a video is shot and edited, the graphics, and the audio all play an important part in the message being communicated. Our work with OCALI has helped us learn to re-examine the elements of our work through an accessibility lens. This new understanding has influenced the way we approach the accessibility of videos for other clients.”
The Future of Accessibility
With nearly one quarter of adults in Ohio having a disability, it is important for organizations to work toward becoming more accessible—from schools to places of employment and entertainment.
“Like OCALI, it will be a journey for most organizations as they move toward becoming more accessible,” shares Jan. “One thing we’ve learned is the importance of considering accessibility at the beginning of projects. This process takes time and it won’t happen overnight.”
“We see a tremendous need and hope to expand our work by developing more trainings and making them more widely available across the state,” explains Rachel. “It’s exciting to partner with organizations as they begin their journey toward becoming more accessible. As we help them make changes, I believe we’re inspiring change within them, which aligns with OCALI’s mission of inspiring change and promoting access for people with disabilities.”
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