All posts by msohn

AccessED Update

After our mid-term review, we definitely knew we wanted to meet with MOOC developers and get their insights on accessibility. We are trading emails with some great people and trying to set up a time! It’s a bit of a challenge to juggle people’s schedules, but hopefully we’ll get find a time soon!

AccessED Update

Midterm review/What we did
Last week, we presented a synopsis of our findings to the DPSI community. We went over some of the legal considerations for MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) providers as well as our meeting with the Harvard Disability Services Office.
What went well
Our presentation went pretty well and we were able to get some good feedback from the audience. Our two main questions for the audience were:

  • Given Harvard’s decentralized governance structure, what are some incentives (besides money!) that would encourage professors who develop MOOCs to consider and apply best practices for accessibility upfront?
  • We originally started thinking about MOOCs broadly, but have since focused our efforts on accessibility of Harvard’s MOOCs. Would a better final product be Harvard-focused (e.g., helping Harvard encourage its own MOOCs to apply accessibility standards upfront) or should we broaden to a work product that may be more broadly applied by other universities?

If anyone has thoughts on these two questions, please feel free to drop us a comment!

What was challenging
A big piece of the puzzle that we are missing is getting a soup to nuts overview of how a MOOC is developed.
What’s up next
We are hoping to set up a meeting with a MOOC provider soon!

Update from AccessEd

What we worked on:

We met this week to discuss to reflect on what we’ve learned so far as well as next steps going forward. 

I also got to see a demo of HiSoftware’s Compliance Sheriff, which is a software tool that scans a webpage’s html code to see if it is compliant with web accessibility standards such as  Section 508 or WCAG 2.0. The tool is pretty easy to use and can spider through each link to check compliance. It can provide a high level view (e.g., what departments’/percentage of your website is compliant with web accessibility standards) as well as an in-depth view into non-compliant code. For example, Compliance Sheriff can highlight the exact portion of the code that is non-compliant and explain how it is non-compliant. One thing Compliance Sheriff does not do is go ahead and fix the code for a developer.

What went well:

It is heartening to know and understand that a variety of tools and technologies already exist to help make digital content accessible for persons with disabilities.

What’s been challenging:

The real difficulty is lack of consensus on specifics of accessibility. Based on our research so far, we haven’t found a best practices for captioning technology, for example.  We hope our research this week will shed light on that particular problem. We also hope to set up a meeting with some of the edX team to get an overview of how courses are put online as well as how edX deals with accessibility issues.


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!