ISTE18: Building District-Wide Capacity for Accessible Design

Sketch Graph plotting Awareness and Skills leading to Inclusive Communities
CreateA11y @ WUSD is a project that I have been working on within my school district. Its goal is to build awareness, empathy, and increase skills around accessible design to create more welcoming, inclusive online environments and communications that are accessible to our students, staff, families, and community members.

 It began by focusing on a few district-level individuals who were involved with updating our website and has grown into vlog series shared throughout the district with a short email describing a tip/trick related to accessible design.  Along the way, I have done trainings at schools, with our teachers, and with students in classrooms.  At all levels of this project, the relationship between awareness and skills is tight which has helped scale the project and build capacity. It is my belief that this is the only way to create transformational change.

Sharing my story and experiences with inaccessible materials online helps build connections and puts a face to the work. Besides sharing my own experiences, I often have people use a screen reader themselves, attempt to navigate a website without using a mouse or view a website that simulates colorblindness. These exercises cannot replicate the daily experience that a person with disability experiences navigating resources online but they help keep the focus on people rather than just laws and compliance. This exercise can create a powerful emotional reaction among my adult participants. By creating a safe space through sharing my own experience (which never gets comfortable for me) many participants are vulnerable themselves and open up about how they have overlooked the digital accessibility experience of someone close to them. This provides a great opportunity to share Maya Angelou's quote, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."

Heightened awareness means that people are more equipped to be advocates for accessibility. When publishers or vendors come calling and display their products, it warms my heart to hear my teachers push back critically regarding the accessibility of their products. This helps create systemic change within educational technology.

Heightened awareness also means that people are equipped to support one another. Following a CreateA11y vlog post regarding Color Contrast and Perception, I heard secretaries who received emails from teachers and district staff with the inaccessible background images described in the video taking action.  They thoughtfully reached out to the sender, described the issue, and walked them through changing the background image to make their email communications more accessible.  Something simple as a short vlog episode whose topic targets an assessed accessibility need, describes the issue in a compelling way (awareness), and then offers a solution (skill) can empower your users district-wide to make a change.

Accessibility cannot be the responsibility of one or few. This will not create the capacity needed for change. We all have an ongoing role in accessibility no matter our role in education.  I wish this change was faster and the work was easier. I am hopeful as more and more educators engage in this work the effects are obvious with more accessible online materials and spaces. Increasing awareness and building skills within our districts at all levels through a variety of methods can move us closer to creating the inclusive communities we desire.

If you are looking to start or continue these conversations at your district or school, I'd love to connect and further build capacity around accessibility. 

No comments