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Paying Attention to the Intention

“Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.”    

Alfred North Whitehead

I learned about Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act for the first time at a conference I attended today.  I have to admit, I was shocked.  I have been in the Adult Learning Teaching and Learning with Technology program for three years, and we have never discussed the law.  I’ve participated in several webinars about designing distance learning, and none of them have mentioned the law.   From what I have read since the conference, the amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act are at the beginning stages of implementation, and have largely referred to procuring software, not developing your own courses – but that is changing.  Yet, it makes sense that the two are closely related – enough, at least, to pay attention to the intention of the law.

Some things I learned:

Section 508 applies to Federal entities and States that have adopted similar regulations. It requires that any electronic and information technology (EIT) procured, developed, used or maintained by Federal agencies must be accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 was enacted to: 1) eliminate barriers in information technology, 2) make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and 3) encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.

The Virginia Information Technology Accessibility Standard (GOV 103-00) applies to All Commonwealth of Virginia Executive Branch agencies and institutions of higher learning. VITA outlines the minimum accessibility requirements for procurement, development, or maintenance of electronic and information technology systems. The Standard also requires that Commonwealth of Virginia (COV) employees with disabilities and members of the public with disabilities have access to and use of information and data comparable to the access and use of Commonwealth employees and the public who do not have disabilities.

So I checked on the VCU website and low and behold – look what I found!

The seminar facilitators also provided this great list for self advocates:

10 indicators of Distance Education program accessibility

For Students and Potential Students

  • The distance learning home page is accessible to individuals with disabilities (e.g., it adheres to Section 508, World Wide Web Consortium or institutional accessible-design guidelines or standards).
  • A statement about the distance learning program’s commitment to accessible design for all students, including those with disabilities, is included prominently in appropriate publications and websites along with contact information for reporting inaccessible design features.
  • A statement about how distance learning students with disabilities can request accommodations is included in appropriate publications and web pages.
  • A statement about how people can obtain alternate formats of printed materials is included in publications.
  • The online and other course materials of distance learning courses are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Course Designers:

  • Publications and web pages include a statement of the program’s commitment to accessibility, guidelines or standards regarding accessibility, and resources.
  • Accessibility issues are covered in course designer training.

Instructors:

  • Publications and web pages for distance learning instructors include a statement of the distance learning program’s commitment to accessibility, guidelines or standards regarding accessibility, and resources.
  • Accessibility issues are covered in training sessions for instructors.

Program Evaluators:

  • A system is in place to monitor the accessibility of courses and, based on this evaluation, the program takes actions to improve the accessibility of specific courses as well as update information and training given to potential students, actual students, course designers, and instructors.

As with so many things in this course, I am glad to have been made aware.  As an online course designer, I am now also accountable.

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