Since its creation in 2015, the California Community Colleges Accessibility Center has been a vital resource for staff and faculty to ensure course materials are provided in a format that is accessible to all students. Its value to the system has been highlighted during the pandemic, when many college courses shifted to online and asynchronous delivery.
Even as colleges begin returning to in-person instruction, the Accessibility Center, funded by the CCC Chancellor’s Office, remains the go-to destination for colleges interested in accessibility, tools, services and professional development.
“The CCC Accessibility Center is providing so much good material for faculty and staff learning how to make materials accessible,” said Corrine Haverinen, Instructional Accessibility Specialist at Santa Rosa Junior College, who works with distance education faculty to ensure accessibility is built into their course materials. “With the pandemic, my job has gotten so much more challenging, and it seems like the Accessibility Center is stepping along with us and helping us figure out some of these hard things,” she said.
For example, the Accessibility Workshop held in January featured a half-day of presentations focused on captioning, which is a key element for the accessibility of video and online materials.
“What we’re finding is that even as instructors are starting to filter back to face-to-face work, they are still providing asynchronous lectures, so it’s something all the colleges really need to start to make a more permanent solution,” Haverinen said, adding that the twice-annual Accessibility Workshops are essential and “really worth our time.”
SJRC staff and faculty make use of as many Accessibility Center resources as possible — such as guidance for developing board policies and procurement processes, as well as tools for ensuring documents and Canvas pages are accessible, Haverinen said. And she appreciates the convenience of having these readily available online, at no cost to the college.
Compton College has also benefited from the Accessibility Center’s professional development resources, such as the hour-long “Office Hours” web sessions on specific accessibility and assistive technology topics, as well as in-depth customized campus training.
“Last year they did a multi-day Canvas accessibility training with our staff and faculty, and the feedback I got from that was super positive,” said Airek Mathews, Distance Education Manager at Compton College. “Everyone felt empowered to go right into Canvas and start applying what they learned. So, this year, I reached out to them again to do a training on Microsoft Word accessibility features. Our campus has been very excited to participate in those training sessions.”
A strategic initiative at Compton College is to support student success through the use of technology, and one of the best ways to approach it, Mathews said, is by integrating accessibility into everyday processes.
“When we’re sending things to students -—like a document or a contract to sign — making sure it’s in an accessible format helps everyone on our campus understand and be sensitive to those students’ needs without having to single them out, because it’s integrated into our everyday processes,” Mathews said. “I recently learned about the Equidox PDF remediation tool and took it over to my VP, and she said let’s talk about how we can use this to support students and document creation for our campus.”
“We also have the Pope Tech Instructor Accessibility Guide installed in our Canvas instance and everyone loves it because it does a better job of assisting users who are maintaining Canvas pages to address any issues,” Mathews continued. “Our faculty and staff really like having that tool available, and we got that free through the Accessibility Center.”
Even as great strides are being made systemwide in the area of accessibility, the extent of colleges’ legal obligation to provide accessible learning materials continues to be tested.
In a high-profile case, the Los Angeles Community College District recently announced it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a lower-court ruling in favor of two blind students who sued the district over access to textbooks and other class materials. LACCD said it is hoping to settle the case before it reaches the high court.