AccessED 2nd update: Decentralization and Incentives

Hello from the AccessED team! A quick review: We are a group of Harvard students from across the university working on making online education more accessible to students with disabilities. I’m Michelle Sohn, a 3rd year Harvard Law Student, and I am writing this week’s update!

What we worked on:

This week, we met with Harvard’s Office of Disability Services. At our meeting, we got a robust overview of how the Office works on web accessibility  with different Harvard schools and libraries. They shared with us a number of exciting and innovative projects they are working on, including Sensus Access (a file conversion service) and the Assistive Technology Lending Library and Lab.

What went well:

The meeting went very well! It was informative and inspiring to hear from people who think about accessibility to education everyday. While we came prepared with questions, the conversation evolved organically.

What was challenging:

Three challenges:

1. Standards: As Curren mentioned in our last post, the standards for accessibility, especially the legal ones are unclear. A series of interesting cases have resulted in federal courts in different circuits differently deciding whether websites can be considered “public accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If so, then the website must ensure an appropriate degree of accessibility so persons with disabilities can have full and equal enjoyment. I have written up a quick legal primer on the ADA and litigation over web accessibility under the ADA and would be happy to share upon request.

2. Cost: At our meeting with University Disability Services, we learned that a lot of the technology used to increase web accessibility is pretty expensive. For example, captioning services for videos is very costly.

3. DecentralizationHarvard’s online education ecosystem seems to be highly decentralized. On one hand, this is great, because it means approaches to online education can be organic and experimental. On the other hand, this makes creating consensus,  incentivizing, and even raising awareness around accessibility with faculty who are from a diverse array of schools difficult.

What’s up next

We need to brainstorm some more and come up with our project proposal!

Stay tuned and stay classy!

 

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