Episodes
13 Letters
March 18, 2021

College Try

Colleges and universities are proving grounds for digital and physical accessibility. With disabled students living on their own in many cases for the first time, these institutions need to be fully compliant, ADA literate, and not just accessible, but highly accommodating –– and if they're not, students are left out. With the cost of education on the rise and remote learning now a norm,, many are taking a hard look at college and asking if it's even the right path for them. Therefore, we need our institutions of higher education to be more accessible and inclusive than ever. In this episode, Will and Cordelia sit down with accessibility leaders from the University of California, Harvard and the University of Cincinnati to hear about where they're at in their accessibility journey and what they're doing to make sure everyone can get a good college education.

Episode Transcript

Will Butler:

Hello, and welcome to 13 Letters. Today on the podcast, we're talking with Lucy Greco, Kyle Shachmut and Heidi Pettyjohn. Those are some of our favorite accessibility practitioners from UC Berkeley, Harvard, and the University of Cincinnati.

Will Butler:

But first, I want to give a big shout out to our transcript sponsor, Diamond. Did you know that every single 13 Letters podcast is available as a transcript bemyeyes.com/podcasts? That is all thank you to Diamond.

Will Butler:

"What is Diamond?" you ask. Well, I'm glad you asked, because Diamond is an inclusive digital agency specializing in scalable, high performance web and mobile applications, bridging innovation and enterprise. Find out all about it at diamond.la.

Will Butler:

Now, Cordelia McGee-Tubb and I explore accessibility in higher education.

Will Butler:

I do want to start by welcoming our esteemed guests. This is the first time we've ever had three guests at a time on the 13 Letters podcast. This is a big ambitious project. Lucy Greco, welcome to 13 Letters.

Lucy Greco:

Thank you, Will. I'm really happy to be here today.

Will Butler:

Heidi Pettyjohn. Am I pronouncing it right, Pettyjohn?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Yes. That's right.

Will Butler:

Welcome.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Thank you for having me. This is a dream come true. Thank you.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yay.

Will Butler:

Then Kyle, Kyle Shachmut, right?

Kyle Shachmut:

Yes. Thanks, Will and Cordelia. Happy to be here.

Will Butler:

Now that you've got all their voices clocked, Cordelia, how excited are you to talk about higher education today?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I'm really excited about this episode. I should tell you, my parents are really excited about this episode. They both work in higher education, so they sent me a list of questions. We're going to have a lot to talk through, in addition to Will's questions, my questions, your questions for each other, and of course, my parents' questions. Thank you three for being here. We should just jump right in.

Will Butler:

There was some discussion about whether or not we should create a spinoff, once they saw our list of questions, because there is so much to talk about. I think first, we should just have a go round. Going in the order that we went in before, let's hear, just briefly, who you are and what you do.

Will Butler:

Lucy, tell us a little bit about what you do.

Lucy Greco:

My title is accessibility evangelist. That's a really appropriate title, actually, because what my role is primarily is teaching people about accessibility, teaching people about being inclusive to people with disabilities, and getting people converted to the idea and the culturization of accessibility within the university environment.

Lucy Greco:

I lead the accessibility initiative for the entire University of California system, but I work at UC Berkeley. I do everything at Berkeley from test applications, test websites, to working with developers to help fix the applications and websites, and teaching people all about accessibility. My least favorite part of the job, I write policy.

Will Butler:

That sounds like a lot.

Will Butler:

Heidi, tell the people a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

All right. Well, Lucy works at what we call the other UC. I'm at the University of Cincinnati here in southwestern Ohio. We're a public university, about 48,000 students across all of our campuses.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I'm our executive director for accessibility. I'm our school's ADA and 504 compliance officer, and our EIT accessibility compliance officer. I oversee several units that provide direct services to students and employees.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Also, like Lucy, I head up a lot of initiatives, including a pretty big cross-functional program we have at UC called the Accessibility Network. We've been really full into electronic accessibility for about five years now. We've done all the great, exciting things, and I get to be really part of all of it.

Will Butler:

That's wonderful.

Will Butler:

Kyle, bringing the perspective from the East Coast, who are you and what do you do?

Kyle Shachmut:

My name is Kyle Shachmut. I am the assistant director of digital accessibility services at Harvard University. I lead our IT department's digital accessibility team of experts that help do all of the things that Heidi and Lucy mentioned, consulting, training, policy work, evangelism, promoting accessibility, and the importance of it.

Kyle Shachmut:

In addition to that, I work with EDUCAUSE, co-leading the IT accessibility community group, so often get to talk with a lot of practitioners, including Heidi and Lucy and others, on the state of affairs in higher education accessibility generally.

Will Butler:

Wow. So we have an incredible amount of expertise in the room, in the Zoom room, so to speak today. We just have ... There's so much to discuss. Again, we're not even going to scratch the surface, I think, of all the issues of accessibility in higher education, but we need to know a little bit about you guys before we really start with the hard balls. I don't know. Cordelia, what do you think?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah, absolutely. I guess we'll go around in reverse order, and start here with Kyle. Kyle, how did you get into accessibility?

Kyle Shachmut:

I got my start in accessibility ... I've worked in higher education for a little over a decade. I am somebody, myself, who uses assistive technology and relies on accessibility. So it's always something that I've paid a little bit of attention to.

Kyle Shachmut:

As I got started, earlier in my career, working in technology and higher education, I was in a job function where that was not a part of my formal responsibilities. But guess what. Accessibility was still needed in higher education at my institution. It became something I did on a volunteer basis, and learned a lot more about, and grew a greater and greater expertise.

Kyle Shachmut:

Then between five and 10 years ago, I got my first full-time job working in this area, and have continued on to where I am now. So got my self started in it around self-interest, and grew it into a career, and totally love what I do.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's fantastic.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Heidi, what about you? How do you end up in accessibility?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I kind of stumbled into it. When I went to graduate school here at UC, my job was as a graduate [inaudible 00:06:32] what we called at the time our disability services office. I landed there because I just needed a job, and I emailed a bunch of offices to see if they were hiring grad assistants, and this one stuck.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I started working there in 2005, and then just really fell into higher ed as a profession, which I never thought I would do. Had kind of a winding path since then, doing a lot of work with disability services, and then eventually working in some pretty high level [inaudible 00:07:02] initiatives at the university.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

But about five years ago, one of the strategic or special initiatives I was asked to come on board with was ... We had an OCR response, Office For Civil Rights response, about our electronic environment. We were getting ready to make a big investment into it.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

My boss, who is the vice president for student affairs and a disability attorney by training, asked me if I would head it up for maybe six or nine months until we could figure out what to do with the position, and where to go with it. [inaudible 00:07:31] 2016.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Since then, I sort of said, "Where this work goes as an office, we don't have yet." This role that I have now is new to UC. We've built out our accessibility program here, and we're solidifying it at UC, and we've created a whole accessibility unit. That's how I got to be where I am now.

Will Butler:

Yeah. We hear that a lot on this podcast when we ask folks how they got into accessibility. "Oh, I kind of stumbled into it, to tell you the truth, and then it was too sticky. I couldn't leave."

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Well, that's how I stumbled into it. But I think, for me, why it's important to me is because I learned early on in that graduate assistant job that really this work is about barriers. Whether you're talking about student accommodation, employee accommodations or electronic access, it's just about identifying barriers and figuring out how to remove those and make things better. That's something that I think is a really important thing to take on. So there's the how I got into it and then the why, how those two come together.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely. Yeah. I also love what you were saying about, "Oh, it was a six to nine month thing that then turned into five years." Lucy, what about you? How did you become an accessibility evangelist?

Lucy Greco:

Like Kyle, I also am an assistive technology user. I have used AT my entire life, and have always been a person to be an early adopter of technologies.

Lucy Greco:

So when I was in university, I ended up being the person who helped teach people how to use their assistive technologies, and ended up being somebody who advocated for, "Use the technology to get your work done quicker and faster." In 2005, I was hired at Berkeley to do that for students, be the person to help guide their path, and learn about the assistive technologies they should be using, and help them get to the point where they could use those assistive technologies to complete their education.

Lucy Greco:

But while I was doing that, I learned very quickly that I was constantly having to teach student after student how to overcome the barriers that existed within the technology. So I started working with a volunteer group on campus to try and start removing some of those barriers systemically.

Lucy Greco:

Eventually, the university saw the light and said, "Wait a minute. That needs to be a full-time position. We can't have you fixing it one fire at a time. Let's start working on it as a systemic fix the problems before they happen, instead of working with each student to overcome the barrier over and over again."

Lucy Greco:

It's always been a sense of pride for me that when we fix the problems, I get to see students achieve and do well. When I see where the students I've worked with are today, I'm really proud of that. I'm also really proud of a lot of the stuff I've done, seeing other universities adopt it and following through. It really is an ego push.

Will Butler:

Well, I make fun of Lucy sometimes, because, well, you were the first other blind person I met, Lucy. I was a scared little freshman at UC Berkeley in 2008, I think, or '07. You scared the crap out of me, because you were giving me this whole introduction to all of these new tools that I had no idea about.

Will Butler:

I think it's important to recognize the position that many, many students are in, whether they've just lost some vision, or whether they're just adjusting to college, and that students are overwhelmed.

Will Butler:

But to this day, I think the reason that you're so successful, Lucy, is because you are such a outspoken and really determined advocate. That comes out both when you talk about assistive technology, but also digital accessibility.

Lucy Greco:

I want to address that a little bit.

Will Butler:

Yeah, yeah. Please do.

Lucy Greco:

Because I think it's worth people knowing. I was pretty adamant with Will, and I was pretty strong with him, because I knew he was going to do well if he learned his adaptive technologies and actually did the stuff he needed to do.

Lucy Greco:

If he was scared of me, there was a little part of me that was scared of him, because I'm just a short person, five foot two. He walks in the room at six foot plus, this big student. I was like, "Oh, okay." So maybe I was a little bit more assertive with him than I would normally be, because that's my normal reaction.

Will Butler:

Well, I was one of these low vision people hiding out, not telling anyone I had a disability. I imagine a lot of students are in that position, a lot of students that we're all helping here. I just wanted to set that stage, because it's not just simply quote unquote students with disabilities who we're helping here. A lot of people are navigating accommodations for the first time.

Lucy Greco:

Yeah. That is the majority of students I worked with. There were students who had never, ever used assistive technology. There were people who came in with, "I don't need this stuff," and realized how much better they were with it. There were people who ... My favorite cases were the ones where students left the lab in tears because they were able to read independently for the first time ever.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Lucy Greco:

That's my motivation is getting people the ability to do something they couldn't previously do.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Well, the three of you represent very different institutions, University of California, University of Cincinnati, Harvard. But stepping back from all that, and setting a trap for you all right now, I want to just ask, on a scale of one to 10, if you had to rank university accessibility, college and university, higher ed accessibility generally, the experience of students and faculty, one being, "Miserable, can't get anything done," and 10 being, "I can't imagine anything better," where would you put that number right now? Heidi?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

You want me to go first, huh? I was thinking about that. I would put us somewhere between a six and a seven. I think there's a really high awareness at most universities that now is starting to go beyond just people who are the disability or accessibility professionals that this is a need, and that this is a thing, and that it's out there.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

We're a decade plus after what was a very well-known Dear Colleague letter that came out to all of higher education about this topic. So I think there's a lot of awareness. I think there are a good number of schools who are doing a really good job and have really incorporated this. And then there's also that still have a lot of work to do.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

But one thing that is also really, I think, important to remember about higher ed is that all at least public universities, and medium to bigger sized schools, also have offices that really are dedicated to working directly with students, and are really incorporating, like the work that Lucy did with you, Will, assistive technology and technology solutions.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Awareness has definitely expanded, especially in the 10 or 12 years since I experienced it.

Will Butler:

Kyle, what do you think, from your perspective? One to 10.

Kyle Shachmut:

I think, in aggregate, it's probably five or six, if I had to put a number on it. I think the reality is all of our institutions, we're an aggregation of thousands of those data points. Every classroom, every student experience, every faculty member, every time someone goes to a campus theater event, or participates in a guest lecture, all of those are points at which people can experience greater or less access in the way that we're talking about.

Kyle Shachmut:

So systemically, I think we do much better with accessibility than we might have 10 years ago, or in thinking about the many ways we can consider accessibility. But until there's a more consistent presence across the board assumed, I think it still needs to get a little bit higher.

Kyle Shachmut:

All of our campuses probably have areas where we'd say that's a nine or a 10, and there are probably some areas where we're like, "Ooh, that might be a two or a three." We're trying to push the average up, and have fewer of those lower numbers and more of those higher numbers spread across all those different data points.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I think what I'm hearing is we're barely halfway there. Your point is well taken.

Will Butler:

Lucy, do you want to go out on a limb here, and undercut or overshoot any of these numbers?

Lucy Greco:

I'm going to probably undercut and say we're only at a three or a four, because there is a lot of awareness that's growing, but the awareness is that there is this thing called accessibility, but there's very little awareness as to what it is. Because of that, it often gets undermined, and it often gets slipped to the side and pushed aside for other priorities that people understand a little better.

Lucy Greco:

We like to collaborate and partner a lot with privacy and security. People get privacy and security. They understand it. A lot of money is spent on privacy and security, because people get it. Data has been leaked, and people know stuff they shouldn't know. Okay. People get that.

Lucy Greco:

But when it comes to accessibility, people fundamentally believe in the right of accessibility, and understand the right of accessibility. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty and the hard work of it, there's still very few people that understand how to make an accessible course reader, or how to make sure that your online class is fully accessible.

Lucy Greco:

Now, it's still very difficult to even get a mandate in place that says everyone should have audio description and captioning in their classes. I have literally been told by people that, "You can't mandate audio description. We don't have the facilities or ability to do that". Well, actually we do. The tools, the technology exists. People just don't have the knowledge.

Lucy Greco:

For me, that knowledge is really the barrier at this point. Nobody wants to discriminate or block people or put up barriers for people with disabilities. They just are scared to even try, because they don't know and understand how to.

Will Butler:

Lucy, I want to just follow up on that. Do you think it comes from the common misperception that accessibility is for a small group of beneficiaries?

Lucy Greco:

Absolutely. In fact, I've been going through a pile of comments and feedback on a certain platform lately. Somebody told me I was being unreasonable, and that accessibility wasn't a right, because accessibility costs money, and nobody's going to spend money on making something accessible, when it costs so much, for only two or three people. That's just so inappropriate.

Lucy Greco:

Whenever I speak about accessibility, be it in academia or outside of academia, I point out that the things that are inaccessible are things people hate anyways, people dislike. The things that are accessible are beautiful, comfortable experiences for everyone. Things that I may find to be a blocker or a barrier, other people dislike using them. They can get through it, they can do it. But things that are accessible really end up being beautiful experiences and effective experiences that are done quickly and effectively.

Will Butler:

Do any of you have anything to add to that, that ... How do you combat this idea that accessibility is just for a niche population?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

This is something we talk about a lot, and actually it's been a topic of conversation just this week with my team. I think there's two things I think about. One is that I tell people there are way more people with disabilities on our campus than you know. So even if we were to say, "This is just for this specific population," this population is much bigger than you think. That's one thing.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I think the other thing that I stress is also though the danger in how do we not de-center disability in these conversations, thinking about this issue we've had throughout history of having to sell the rights of one population to the dominant culture based on how it's better for them.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

This is a little bit maybe philosophical or academic, but I think that's always a balance we're trying to strike is, while it's true that it does benefit everybody, it's also true that it is the right of this population, that we need to care about that right whether there's one or thousands, both because we have to legally, and because that's what aligns with our values.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Lucy, I really liked what you were saying about how that first hurdle is awareness, but then that next hurdle is actually knowledge about how to implement this and how to implement it well. It ties back to something that Kyle was saying earlier about how even within one university, there are some experiences that are super accessible and others that aren't.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Kyle, I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about what do you see as the biggest gaps in accessibility in higher education right now?

Kyle Shachmut:

Well, to that point, I definitely think there's a gap generally in consistency, that there are more or less equitable experiences depending on different programs, departments, tools that someone might be using. That's just a general statement, not any particular campus. I'm sure that's true.

Kyle Shachmut:

I think one of the biggest gaps we face is often in the work that we have to do with third party platforms. My institution and so many others, we don't build everything that we use. They're not our product. So many of our critical systems, we have to rely on third parties, whether it be learning management systems, or payroll systems, or registration systems. That's just basic.

Kyle Shachmut:

All of the different learning tools that are available, which do really awesome things, but that we then are relying on collaborating with third parties and sometimes informing them, accessibility is a core value, and it's something that needs to be taken in consideration. That takes a lot of effort and a lot of cost, whether that be our time, or our attention, or our dollars in fixing.

Kyle Shachmut:

As much as we reference that our institutions are different, between Berkeley, Cincinnati, Harvard, relative to all of the post-secondary institutions in America, we're more similar than different. There are small liberal arts colleges, community colleges, minority serving institutions. Relatively speaking, we are well-funded, big institutions that have lots of budget, so I think we are well-resourced in regards to accessibility, more than many.

Kyle Shachmut:

A big gap is just in the way that higher education generally might receive funding, and schools that have the capacity to dedicate time and resources, yes, everybody's required to, but the way in which we're able to [inaudible 00:22:13] in a [inaudible 00:22:15] way than probably the average institution might be set up to.

Will Butler:

Lucy, would you add any gaps that you think people really need to look out for that are big glaring things in higher ed right now, or maybe speak to this third party issue as well?

Lucy Greco:

I actually want to challenge Kyle a little bit first and say, "Kyle, you are very well-staffed and very well-resourced." I have myself as a full-time position, and then three quarters of an FTE from three other people. That's not well staffed and well-resourced, so be very careful when you say that, because the resourcing comes very, very limitedly in the public sector. We don't get the resourcing until we get sued. That's really where it happens for us.

Will Butler:

I imagine though, Kyle, you often feel like you're fighting an uphill battle as well.

Kyle Shachmut:

Yeah. I meant in the totality of a university's budget that, yes, I think accessibility, probably to a person, everybody that works in this always feels sometimes like we're the person shaking your fist at a cloud maybe, or into the wilderness, as you mentioned, well, of trying to encourage more accessibility. I think that's a relatively common experience.

Kyle Shachmut:

I just meant that, in general, our institutions, I think, have more resources for many things, not just accessibility, and we're fitting accessibility within that, and just acknowledging that privilege.

Lucy Greco:

Okay. I'll give you some of that, definitely.

Lucy Greco:

For me, I agree that the third-party resources is really the big challenge. I just recently participated in an RFP for a product that was for limited use on campus. It had a specific task and a specific function for maybe 100 people to use it. The vendor drew a very strong line in the sand and said, "We have no plans to-"

Lucy Greco:

Drew a very strong line in the sand and said, "We have no plans to make this any more accessible," period. And the department insisted that they still were going to go ahead with the purchase. They just didn't want to actually have to understand that, deal with the particular accommodations that were coming in place. And yes, none of the staff that are working with that product today are disabled, but it's really limiting where we can go. We can't hire somebody now with a disability in that unit, without accommodating them. And it's really difficult for me to see that. Those are the things that make me go home at night and cry, is when I lose those battles. Because it's really tough, business need comes before accessibility, when accessibility is a business need, I think.

Will Butler:

Heidi, have you been in that situation? Or how would you deal with a situation like that when a procurement is marching forward on something that just isn't going to work for students with disabilities?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

This is something we talk about a lot, and actually it's been a topic of conversation just this week with my team. I think there's two things I think about: one is that I tell people there are way more people with disabilities on our campus than you know. So even if we were to say this is just for this specific population, this population is much bigger than you think. And so, that's one thing.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I think the other thing that I stress, is also the danger in how do we not de-center disability in these conversations. Thinking about this issue we've had throughout history, of having to sell the rights of one population to the dominate culture, based on how it's better for them. So, this is a little bit maybe philosophical or academic, but I think it's always a balance we're trying to strike is, while it's true that it does benefit everybody, it's also true that it is the right of this population that we need to care about that right, whether there's one or thousands. Both because we have to legally, and because that's what aligns with our values.

Will Butler:

Before we drill, drill down into the more nitty gritty, Kyle and Lucy, any big wins that you would want to highlight, generally speaking, where we've taken some accessibility leaps forward in the past few years?

Lucy Greco:

Yes, I definitely have those. And it's hard to... The stuff that really gets you down emotionally is the stuff that does badly, but yes, I have lots of wins. And sometimes it needs somebody to hit me over the head and remind me that the wins exist. So for example, one of the projects that I'm most proud of is the scanners that we've installed in our libraries. Not that anybody can go into our libraries today, but still these scanners that we put in, I'd say about two years ago now, all have a screen reader on them. And the manufacturer worked with me very closely to put a screen reader on these kiosks for scanning and photocopying, so that anyone who uses these devices now can, be it at Berkeley or be it at the University of Washington or Cincinnati, the campus doesn't have a choice. They buy the unit, it comes with the screen reader built in, and on by default and ready to go.

Lucy Greco:

So, that's a huge win for me. I've worked with companies like GitHub to start improving the accessibility of GitHub. I've worked with, ServiceNow is a company that I've been doing a lot of testing and work for. And as Heidi said, we are giving them thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of hours of our time, to make their products better for everyone. And we're still paying them for the privilege of having their products, because it just pays off for us to do that.

Will Butler:

Yeah, that makes sense. Kyle, any big wins you want to highlight?

Kyle Shachmut:

I think I would echo some of the sentiments of Heidi and Lucy, about it feels great when we work with a company, and they make improvements and it benefits people beyond our own institution. It's better for everyone when that happens. I think that from a corporate standpoint and a long-term sustainability standpoint, not sustainable to have the expectation that every institution vet and give tens of thousands of dollars of free consulting, to sometimes million or billion dollar companies. I think that's an unnecessary burden placed on education institutions, even though the institutions have an obligation to provide an equitable experience. But where I think a big win, is the people in higher education. Not many people enter working in higher education just for the big bucks that they're going to make. And so, I know all of us work with people that really love what they do, like working with students, we all have mission driven institutions.

Kyle Shachmut:

And so, I think when we get people, we all talked about some level of evangelism and sharing the importance of accessibility. And I know it's really gratifying when we work with people and they get it, they get accessibility, they get why it's important. Our institutions want to serve diverse communities, and so they say, "Oh, I get it. This is why. I didn't know that I was doing something that unnecessarily excluded people." And they get big commitments, and working in whatever areas their department or their niche part of the university might be working on. And that is what I find, is really energizing wins, where people take what they learn and they run with it, and do things that we weren't teaching them specifically, but they apply their skills in innovative ways to make things more inclusive.

Will Butler:

Yeah, that's really where the juice is. That human to human, I helped somebody, or some passionate person. That's what makes a difference.

Kyle Shachmut:

And I do think we've had some wins in this era. We're early in 2021, we've come out of the year of the pandemic and COVID. And certainly not all accessibility challenges have been solved, but I think the awareness of accessibility as a need, a critical access need, is greater than it's ever been. Because as many of our institutions across the nation in the world went to either primarily or exclusively online teaching, digital access became a really binary issue. There was no more supplementing, "Oh, all the in-person stuff's accessible, and the online things, we can work around it." When online was the only way that students, faculty, and staff were able to engage with their work, I think it did put a much bigger spotlight and more attention to the issue of how, wow, this is a really big issue that we need to make sure is solved.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I'm so glad you brought that up, Kyle. Because I think that's a super important, super timely topic now. We've been in this for a year, but I imagine it's still really difficult for students to adjust to this all-online distance learning reality. Wondering if you could kind of talk us through, what would the experience be like for a new freshman? I'm thinking about freshman Will at UC Berkeley coming in and talking with Lucy, and you don't have those resources readily available in front of you, when you're experiencing this distance learning. So, what has the experience been like for students with disabilities during COVID? Do you have any statistical stories, or anecdotes about the student experience? Maybe we'll start with you, Lucy, because I remember you mentioned the scanners in the libraries that no one goes to anymore.

Lucy Greco:

So, anecdotally I've been told by our disabled students' program, that a lot of students deferred their enrollment for the fall 2020 semester. They just couldn't get through the idea of how they were going to do online education. So, students did defer. So, that answers the freshman problem, is there is a big fear and it's pretty significant. A lot of students were facing a lot of frustration early on in the pandemic, using the technology, barriers that came up because of the technology that was adopted really, really quickly.

Lucy Greco:

So for example, early on faculty said, "Oh, we're going to have to find a way to do secure exams." And luckily the Berkeley community came together and said, "Well, let's look at ways to do that," and they wanted to use online proctoring software. And after going through and looking at the privacy softwares, the proctoring software that was available, Berkeley decided as a whole, as an institution to say, "No, you will not use proctoring solutions that are currently available, because they are inaccessible, they violate privacy, they violate student security, and they just don't meet the needs that we have." And it was a wonderful experience to have the campus get together and make a decision like that in a hurry. Things never happen quickly in academia, and we made that decision in under three weeks.

Lucy Greco:

And accessibility was a huge part of that. The campus did really feel the impact, I think because some of those decision makers happened to be in the Zoom meeting when we were testing it, and saw me pounding my keyboard, not being able to actually get to the answer or the question, because I'd been locked out of the exam. It probably was very effective to have those people see that situation, but still, they made that choice. And it turned out to be that yes, accessibility was a major factor, but it also turned out to be an economics factor. Because when we went online, we had to find ways for students who didn't own laptops to get laptops. So, we gave out, I think about a thousand, maybe 1500 Chromebooks. Well, the software solution they were looking at, wouldn't run on a Chromebook. So, accessibility and economics came together in that situation.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

And that's access in a whole other dimension, around access to reliable internet, access to devices in general, which I know has been a really huge struggle for a lot of students during these times.

Lucy Greco:

Yeah. One of the big problems our students had, were students who needed attendant care didn't get the attendant care they needed, and got very limited attendant care for emergency services. But didn't have somebody, for example, to set up their laptop so they could go online and take the classes. It was just, when you've got one attendant who can only show up once in a day, you're going to need that for personal stuff, not to get into your classes, and adjust your laptop and put it on your wheelchair or what have you. It's huge issues. And I think that did have an impact on faculty, and it had an impact on administration, because those stories were shared, and people did actually get it. It was really hard for us to realize that all it took was a major world crisis, for people to understand that we had a community of people that could be very easily disenfranchised.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely. And just the speed at which this pandemic started up, and the speed at which universities have had to respond, to suddenly ramp up on distance learning has been really incredible. Heidi, I wonder if you have any thoughts on how distance learning has been, what the transition to distance learning has been like for students with disabilities?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Gosh, I want to acknowledge that reality, Lucy, that personal toll that it takes, to see that. I will say, we've actually been able to really good success in this area recently. And part of it is because we have a pretty good resourced program in Cincinnati. But what we're finding is when we can talk to the actual developers of the products that we're trying to buy, or that we have already purchased, and we can show them what we found when we've done our testing, what we found when we've done our scans, how we would fix it if we could, we've actually worked with a lot of third parties that have been really thankful for the feedback, and have made improvements within weeks or months, and then work with us on roadmaps that they're putting through. So, what we found is that we have to get past the lawyers and the sales people, and really get in touch with the technical folks.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

We're a public university, so we have a strong sense of community service and putting back into the world, our knowledge and research. And so, this really is a service. What we do when we're working with our partners or vendors, it would cost them tens of thousands of dollars to hire someone to do these types of reviews. And we're giving them information to make the product better, and more marketable. So, while I don't want to deny that reality that Lucy and Kyle are describing is true, we are also seeing some success in being able to really have thorough testing of the products. And then from our technical people to theirs, walk through how to fix it. Because in some cases, these fixes just aren't all that difficult to do.

Will Butler:

It is really important. As we've gone through this past year, and talked to a lot of different media outlets, and seen stories written about disability in relationship to the pandemic, there's a tendency to paint with broad brush strokes on, "X population is disproportionately affected by the pandemic," or something like that. And it is also important to realize that it's also revealed some hypocrisy that didn't need to be there, and some barriers that didn't need to be there before. I certainly appreciate that I don't have to travel for certain meetings at this point. As much as I would like to get outside more, yeah, it's important to acknowledge the gains as well, for sure. Did you want to follow that up, Heidi?

Lucy Greco:

Actually, I have a followup on it, in that we're starting to address things that should have been addressed, because of the pandemic now. So, we're starting to address, is it appropriate to demand that everyone have their camera on, or have their camera off, for example? How do you address the fact that some people don't feel comfortable having their camera on? And it's being addressed in the realm of disability right now, because students with psychiatric disabilities are the ones who are bringing it to our attention, but these are really appropriate societal questions that are being asked. It's just one example, how do you balance the rights of people who might have a need to do something a little differently, with the needs of the whole? And how do we become equitable, and communicate about these things, and ask the questions and talk about it? I think it's really fascinating to see where we're going, because I think we've made some really positive changes.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely. And having cameras on is a pretty nuanced topic as well, because I know for a lot of deaf students or hard of hearing students, being able to see someone, and be able to follow their lips while they're talking is really, really helpful for that kind of communication. So, it's been really interesting to follow along that whole camera on, camera off debate, as well as seeing how all of these online learning platforms are introducing captioning as well. Both auto captioning, as well as... Forgetting the word for it, human facilitated captioning.

Lucy Greco:

CART.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

CART, yes.

Will Butler:

Kyle, I'm wondering what have you observed this past year, about the shifts and the changes and the opportunities?

Kyle Shachmut:

I think first, the acknowledgement that we've all had to do, and Lucy was referencing it in one of her previous answers, that students and faculty are whole selves, and they bring their whole selves to their work, to their studies, whatever it is. And in many cases with individuals with disabilities, the technology access wasn't the greatest struggle they were facing. Whether it be isolation or physical or emotional wellbeing, physical health, and susceptibility to something that's been tragic for so many people. That we bring our whole selves to our work and to our studies and from a needs perspective, that digital accessibility is critically important, but we have all of these other layered issues and concerns. And especially for people with disabilities, whether they be physical, sensory, motor, whatever they are, there are lots of layered needs that our institutions are needing to address, to help serve students with disabilities.

Will Butler:

And I want to follow your lead on that, Kyle, because I think that's important that we also, for the benefit of everyone listening, take a step back from digital accessibility for a second, and really tell people what our learnings have been on taking the inconsistency of the experience across institutions, and across experiences within each institution into consideration. What advice do you give to students or faculty trying to navigate, whether it's dealing with professors, or teachers or leaders, or just setting themselves up for success in a general sense? I kind of want to leave this open-ended, just to give you an opportunity to share some of the advice that you find yourself dishing out on a regular basis. And I'd be happy to have any of the three of you jump in, if something comes to mind.

Lucy Greco:

I think for me, the one thing I like to tell students is try and connect with your own community. Do your best to find another person in your Zoom class that you could actually connect with. And it's harder to do now, and so that's really important though. Because I don't know if you remember, Will, but one of the things I say to every student when I meet them is, "You learn more outside of the classroom when you're at university, than you do now, than you will in any class." And I think the really hard part right now is for people to find that sense of community, and I think the sense of community is really, really important.

Lucy Greco:

And I've made new friends because of the pandemic through these meetings, just through random breakout rooms that are being thrown together. That is really valuable to hold onto those particular connections, it's really important. That's the one thing that's going to be key when you're starting at a new institution, when you're starting at a new job, when you're starting anywhere, is that you need to still stay connected with people, both like you and different from you.

Will Butler:

Do either of you have any other things that you just wish every person with a disability at your institution knew going into it?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I know that having to take everything remote has upended a lot of industries. And I say this with no statistics to back it up, but I would imagine higher ed has been maybe one of the most disrupted industries from this. Because it's forced us to do things in the scope of a year, that gosh, we've been thinking for 15, 20 years, like, "Oh, how would we ever engage students if they're not right in front of us?" And then we had to figure out how to do it. And again, I feel like it's this balance of, there are a lot of students for whom this is much more difficult. For our students who are deaf or hard of hearing, we have done hours of research, to figure out the best way to provide remote interpreting, and our CART services have gone through the roof.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

But then we're finding other students with other kinds of disabilities, who are finding the flexibility that they've been asking our institutions for four years. We are a pedestrian campus, we're 200 years old. We're on a great big hill, Cincinnati is built on hills, it's really hard to get around. I was talking to a student last fall who uses a wheelchair, and he's like, "This is the first semester I've not been late or missed a class, because I'm in my home and I don't have to deal with construction, and all those things on just a compact campus." Or think of just a regular urban city block, which is what our campus is.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Then we have students with mental health disabilities, or students with episodic disabilities that are saying, "I have these asynchronous classes and I can engage more." And it's not that life is easier for any of us, but what I am really looking forward to as we go into the future, is to see how higher ed is able to embrace these things we've been forced to do, that is going to open up the opportunity for education to students with disabilities, in a way that I just don't think we've seen, maybe since some of the passage of the Disability Rights Act started.

Kyle Shachmut:

Yeah. I agree, Heidi. This is Kyle. I think our institutions have support available to students in a variety of different ways, and everybody has been stretched in different ways over the past year. But going back to the people and the institutions, really are trying to meet the needs of students. And to not be afraid to reach out or to ask how things can be better or should be better, for us to provide better experiences for students, or faculty or staff that are having trouble participating because of their disability.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

So, do universities train their faculty on how to provide accessible experiences for students? Is this something that most faculty members know, or something that they kind of have to stumble across?

Lucy Greco:

I'll take that one. We all want to definitely do that, but none of us are resourced to the level where we can hit every single faculty member. And faculty, I think, are not unwilling to learn. For example, one of the pieces of wisdom somebody gave me early on in my role was, "Do not ever say to a faculty member, you're going to teach them how to do something." Because there is a perception that faculty are unwilling to learn. Faculty are not unwilling to learn. Faculty in fact, enjoy learning, that's why they're in academia, but it's really hard to reach out to faculty. Faculty are kind of at the top of that golden academic hill. And they do want to learn, they do want to know about this stuff, but we don't say, for example, having all hands for faculty, to talk about creating an accessible X or Y.

Lucy Greco:

We don't have the ability to go out to faculty and say, "You all want to use MATLAB, these are the five things you have to do to make sure that MATLAB is distributed in an accessible way." It's part of academic freedom versus academic understanding, and part of fear, that faculty are the top of the castle and we are just the people in the kitchen working below.

Will Butler:

So Kyle and Heidi, how do you successfully, not teach, but inform these faculty about all the opportunity to make things accessible? How do we do this?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Yeah, this is Heidi. When you put it that way, that puts a different spin on it for me. I think what I wish they knew, and I have a pretty strong compliance role, so maybe I'm tilted in this way. But I really want people to know what their rights are, what their paths of escalation are, what their responsibilities are, what the university's responsibility to them is. And I want them to be able to hear that from everyone at our institution, from their faculty, from their advisors, and not just from those of us who are in this field. But there are so many structures that should be in place at a university, that are there to address the barriers you're seeing, and advocate for access. And so, that's what I wish everybody would know, and I think is important in the work that I do, to make that as well known as I can make it.

Will Butler:

Kyle, I don't know if this is your purview or not, but how would a Harvard professor find out what an alt tag is?

Kyle Shachmut:

Yeah. Well, they would have a great team that could train them to learn what it is, for sure. I think about what Heidi and Lucy were saying, and I agree. So much of this is in how we frame it, and in how we try to inspire people to think about accessibility. And faculty have awesome jobs, and they're experts, but faculty are people too. And we often motivate people, by learning why we're doing the things that we're doing. All of us at our institutions probably have to take some-

Kyle Shachmut:

All of us at our institutions probably have to take some required training in how to secure data and how not to put all the students' social security numbers on the internet or something. Or if you have access to anything financial, you have to take a required course on how to not accidentally funnel all your institution's money to a bad actor. Accessibility can, and is somewhat compliance-related. Many of the greatest activists or people we know, or even companies that do really great work in accessibility it's often because they know somebody that needed accessibility and relied on it. That's the underlying reason, or that's what inspired. I think faculty comes that way too. The most inspired faculty I've come across are ones that said, "oh my gosh, I had a deaf student or a blind student or whatever the case might be in my class, and I had to tweak things and that's how they were able to have access. They were a brilliant student."

Kyle Shachmut:

It's those moments, again, that kind of spark people's intrigue and they say, "I can totally meet the student where they are." Trying to the greatest extent possible, to find those people that are saying yes, but to give them the "why" of accessibility and not starting with the alt tag, but starting, "why do you want to make sure students have access to the awesome images that you're generating with your groundbreaking research?"

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I love that, worry about the people who say yes and how you can best support them. That's fantastic.

Lucy Greco:

That's really all we can do is worry about the people who say yes and come to you. I feel we've made significant progress in the past year and that we are actually about to release a mandatory faculty training for the first time ever. I'm so excited to see it. I'm just thrilled. I shouldn't be thrilled about having something that should have been happening all along.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

We're very different because actually every one of our faculty does have to take a required accessibility training that's annual. It's amazing what you can get people to agree to when the department of education office for civil rights tells you to do it. Our responsibility has been to make this training really useful. We actually get a lot of compliments from our faculty about the training. It's one thing to sit down and do a training or share in your roles and responsibilities and see the tools. We actually do a lot of., right there with them working in their colleges. We do a lot of faculty training. It's another thing when it becomes real and a faculty member suddenly gets a call and says, " Hey, how would you feel about switching to this platform because it's better for the student with the disability?"

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I think how to make something accessible is not a mystery. This is not information that people like Lucy who are so technical are hiding somewhere for no one to find. Anyone can find this. I think what we have to do is provide., We have to make it so that faculty or whoever, want to sit down and run the accessibility checker on their PowerPoint. We have to motivate and then we have to help them prioritize.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I don't want faculty working on their PDFs because in the time it could take them to fix one PDF. They could fix all of their word documents. That's what I want them to do. I think our job it's motivate, prioritizing. I always tell people, don't worry about those people who want to say no worry about the people who want to say yes, and are you ready to give them the support and the training they need? Because if you are, you're going to get that bell curve distribution. You're going to get that swell, and people will be able to come along a lot easier.

Lucy Greco:

Kyle's right. Is giving people exposure to people with disabilities is the number one way of teaching people how to become accessible. I mean, I say this in all the talks I give as well. If you're not working with people with disabilities, your effort for accessibility is only token. It's nowhere near as effective as having a person with a disability, come in and look at your design and understand it and experiment with it and test through it. It's really very important. When we do give trainings and do awareness type events, it's really important that I'm standing there at the front of the room with a disability and being very public about my disability.

Lucy Greco:

My boss says she doesn't want me to go full-time remote when we're finished COVID because it's still really important to have me walk into the room as a person with the disability, but show how much a person with a disability can accomplish. Like Kyle said, the faculty that has students in their classes. They're the ones that I turn to, to get to the binds and to the motivations of other faculty, because they will tell those stories to their colleagues and their colleagues will learn from each other.

Will Butler:

So many of these big tech companies in the corporate world have accessibility evangelists now. I can't think of a better training ground for that than Higher Ed. If you can learn that job in Higher Ed, I think the tech world is probably more open to it and more open to that sort of iteration change than Higher Ed is so you guys have tough jobs.

Lucy Greco:

I have to say that a lot of these accessibility evangelists in the high-tech world don't have disabilities. I think they're missing the mark because of that. I look at companies like Salesforce, where you're working for deal. You have a lot of people with disabilities on your team and you bring those people out front and have them present for you. It's really a much more effective than a company that hires an accessibility evangelist who's a mid 40s white male that only talks about disability.

Will Butler:

That's a point well taken.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I had a really niche question related to something Kyle was talking about and I want to ask this, but I also don't want to ask it in favor of some of the more general questions that are also good.

Will Butler:

No, go niche Cordelia. Now you have to ask.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I have a really niche question that came from some of my professor family members, which is around, how do we digitize and make accessible certain resources in the humanities that are very, what's the word? They're really hard to decipher? I'm thinking old in the classics, for instance. These old handwritten texts in ancient languages that no amount of OCR adequately can capture it. Even if a person is trying to interpret it, they get lost trying to figure it out. I'm just wondering, and this is a kind of open-ended question. How do we approach the accessibility for these resources that themselves are so open to interpretation?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I'm going to answer it the non-technical way, coming from a person who, couldn't embarrassed to say, I don't have a lot of the accessibility technical skills, but, this is what I think is the fun and exciting part of our jobs in Higher Ed especially, is when we get to think conceptually about that very question and we work on the creative aspects of how we would do something like that. For me, I think that's where you have to really, it's like the art of accessibility. There's some really cool museums and art museums and history museums who've done these amazing online and accessible different kinds of displays. We do things like texture. I think for me, this is going to be maybe a non-answer, but there's all kinds of ways to be creative with it.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I think that's when we have the most fun. I don't know exactly how we would do it, but I can promise you that we get together and work on these things. I think the other big way to do it is by working with the people who need access to it. I can imagine that but I probably pick up the phone and call Lucy or Kyle or any of my staff who are visually impaired or working with some our deaf or hard of hearing people, or really tapping into the people with disabilities, who you're creating this access for. Lucy what do you think?

Lucy Greco:

Having taken a classics class or two in my time when I was in university, I can tell you what not to do

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Please do,

Lucy Greco:

Which is use the traditional means of accommodating. Kyle, I think you would probably remember recordings for the blind as it was in those days. At had volunteer readers, recording books on tape and having to read Chaucer that way was the most terrible, terrible thing that could ever, ever happen to me. The way I was accommodated through my Chaucer class was I worked with the faculty member and him and I would have one-on-one, study sessions. Where he read the material to me. When there was formatting things and design things, he described them to me very analytically and then gave his, emotional impact and then read from other people's emotional impact on the particular things.

Lucy Greco:

That's really where it comes down to being human and getting an interaction. I mean, that faculty member, it was interesting because he had a reputation of being the hardest grader on campus. It's like you could never get an A in his class. He was a terrible, strict, rigorous rule person. Whereas him and I had a really close relationship, he'd buy me a cup of coffee occasionally. Always had a dog biscuit for my guide at the time. It really was working together and coming up with solutions that met my situation and my needs. I mean, another student might not have been able to do that, but he wanted me to experience the material in the best way possible. When he heard the talking book of this really old woman trying to speak old English. I still have nightmares of hearing this woman's voice, read the book of her saying "one that [inaudible 00:58:03]." You are so much better than she was. She was more.,

Will Butler:

I think we found our answer.

Kyle Shachmut:

Cordelia on standby.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Cordelia reads the classics,

Will Butler:

How much do you charged for your services?

Kyle Shachmut:

I've had a little bit of experience with this myself. I minored in classics and undergrad back in the day. To Lucy's point, we didn't have all the technology we have today. Well some things, but I don't know how well OCR is going to handle a fourth century scroll from a monk either. In some ways there's probably not a lot of improvement with some of those but all work around those kinds of studies is interpretive. In some ways, I think it starts with a shared commitment to wanting to solve.,I'll call it a problem.

Kyle Shachmut:

In this case, wanting to work around it, like Heidi said, finding a creative solution and starting from that point with a faculty member and a student. I worked with a lot of my faculty members, yes, librarians and tutors and archivists and others to get those accommodations, to have readers. To have a reader that knew something about the subject I was working on, because you have to have someone qualified to accurately give the right interpretation or the right reading of something. Otherwise, it's not going to meet the need of a student or a researcher. It takes time and it takes money and it takes effort and a willingness to collaborate and to commit to doing so. I'm not aware of an easy app or quick OCR engine for middle-ages Latin. It comes back to the art of working on accessibility just as much as the science.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I love that and just this idea of, at a university, people are all so passionate about learning. It's about this collaborating to figure things out together. Thank you all for those excellent answers to my very weird and specific question.

Will Butler:

Here's what I'm thinking Cordelia being that we're all buddies here. Can we need a little bit at some of the questions that I don't know, just some of the more difficult questions?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

The question I'm dying to ask this group is about the differences between public and private universities. When it comes to accessibility, feel like you all might have some thoughts. We can get a little spicy here or not.

Lucy Greco:

Let me start by saying interestingly enough, it doesn't matter what university you're from. Those of us who deal with accessibility within universities, all work together. We all collaborate. We share, I have often called Heidi up and said something like, have you tried this particular product? Did you guys adopted it? If you have, what did you find? Was the accommodations needed? Et cetera. I've done the same to more to Stanford because they're in my time zone. And it's usually the end of the day that I ended up having to reach out to someone about something like this. It's really key to know that we all have the same priorities, be it private or public and so we share.

Lucy Greco:

Our website at Berkeley is available for every other university to use. We count on that, because we also will in exchange, ask for stuff from them as well. I'm getting a whole bunch of budgeting information from Heidi. It might not be as impactful for me to get it from Kyle, but he is one of the people I've turned to when I've surveyed people about, "how much do you spend on captioning?" We all have the same needs and desires and pointing at another institution is actually a really effective way of getting things done.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Kyle, what is your perspective coming from a private university?

Kyle Shachmut:

I agree. I think there are differences. No doubt. I'm sure. Some being resources to pick an easy one. I think again, there are probably way more similarities than differences working in higher education. We all have requirements to be accessible and to consider accessibility under the law. That's a 50 year precedent going back to the 1970s, the rehabilitation act. If any institution is accepting federal funds, they can't discriminate based on disability. That doesn't matter if you're a private or a public institution. Yes, there are for sure differences in how we handle things, but probably not as many when we're talking about approaching accessibility. I've worked across a variety of different institutions and we're all mission-driven. We want to share our., again, we're a large research universities. We want to share research and teaching with the world for the betterment of society.

Kyle Shachmut:

I don't think that's quite as much a distinction. Where I do think we might just differ, and this is less of a public private distinction, but in how we work together. Lucy said, sure, schools in the Bay area might work together on a lot of things. Or institutions in the greater Boston area might work together. Or another really common way institutions work together is around just their normal peer institutional affiliation. The Big Ten Academic Alliance, they work together and collaborate on a lot of initiatives across institutions. The Ivy League, the Ivy plus initiative will collaborate around different areas. I think it's less about finding those distinctions around a public institution or private institution, but it's finding interested partners that are willing and wanting to work on common issues.

Lucy Greco:

Actually, Kyle, you brought up a really valid point there. Then it's the collaborations end up working in those groups. The different groups and different natural structures that the universities have, like you said, The Big Ten, the Ivy League, et cetera, et cetera. It ends up being a very visible collaboration when it's funding, because we all want to use the same funding. The Big Ten, for example, have done some really excellent work when it comes to math accessibility. They've actually gone out and paid for a vendor to work on math accessibility and create tools that are much more accessible in general, and much more acceptable to the math community, that outside of accessibility that we all benefit from. I'm still going to turn to Kyle and Heidi for help in certain situations, but when it comes to other situations, I'll turn to Stanford or I'll turn to the Cal state system or any of those things, it actually is fun.

Kyle Shachmut:

You're spot on, and that's not unique to accessibility at our institutions. As much as there's a rivalry, people at Harvard partner with people at Yale all the time on various things. We do talk about accessibility with folks that work on accessibility there, they do a great job. There are kind of natural cross institution partners that work together all the time. Accessibility is just an extension of another area at the universities that work together.

Will Butler:

That's really cool to hear. I never would have guessed that accessibility programs have followed those pre-existing alliances and groups. Heidi, I'm wondering, from your perspective, in a field where innovation is so important, how do we share these insights with our networks?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Sorry, Can you say that [inaudible 01:05:31]?

Will Butler:

I guess, I wanted to ask about, we're talking about innovating these programs, and I just wonder what your perspective is on how we share information with each other and push forward for the collective.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I think we are, like Kyle And Lucy have said, we are really good at doing that with each other, sort of, maybe casually in some cases with more formal structures. The other thing that you see a lot in higher education and having never worked in the corporate world, I don't know what this looks like out in that space. We have a lot of professional organizations, which is how., I think both Lucy and Kyle, we do conferences at the state level. Our state schools in Ohio, like to talk to each other and each state sometimes has., every state looks different in their affiliation of public schools and private schools. We do a lot just on the side or just on our own. I think one of the ways where I'd like to see Higher Ed innovate a little bit more is in how we leverage that collective knowledge and experience.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

All of us have had this experience where you go to a company and say," Hey, what are you doing with accessibility?" And they go, "gosh, no one's ever asked us that before." When we all know very well that Lucy already asked and my friend, Peter Ohio state already asked it. We know. We all know that. I feel like one thing that we've been going around and around with, and I hope takes off soon. I think we're getting close is how we can more formally share this things.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

One nice thing about being a public institution is we're very public. There's nothing that you couldn't find out. Our emails are searchable. Anything you want to know in a public institution, you really can. So we can kind of lean on that to also be able to share our insights into some of our business practices and works we do. In a way that is, allowable and doable. I think that we have a little ways to go with that. I think we're getting very close to being able to leverage all of our collective knowledge and experience to go back to something Kyle said, it's not sustainable that we take on the burden of fixing accessibility problems for profit industries.

Will Butler:

I couldn't agree more.

Lucy Greco:

I wanted to emphasize one of the points that Heidi made there though, is that we really need to leverage the information that each of the institution holds much more effectively. I shouldn't have to go behind closed doors to Heidi or Kyle and ask, "have you used the latest version of X and Y and how does it rank and accessibility?" We are all doing some of the same reviews and some of the same accessibility testing over and over and over again. There's a huge fear in our industry of if we share that information across the industry, that we will be sued. I really think that fear needs to go away. I think we need to find a way to share that information factually.

Lucy Greco:

I can't just say because I disliked product X that it's not accessible, but share that it's not accessible and why it's not accessible and what I recommend to do to fix it, so that Heidi doesn't have to pay to do the review. Kyle doesn't have to pay to do the review. The 10,000 other universities around the world that want to use that product. Don't have to pay to do the review. It's really frustrating to all of us that we're all repeating each other's work over and over and over again. The vendors can say to us, nobody's ever asked for that. That is the first thing out of any vendor's mouth is "nobody's ever asked for an accessibility statement before. Why are you asking that?"

Will Butler:

I's wild. That's wild. Kyle, you had your hand up.

Kyle Shachmut:

Yeah, I was going to say, totally agree. There's definitely, I think accessibility practitioners, like we mentioned earlier, so often we are isolated at institutions. The three of us here have more than most. Some places are lucky if they have one full time, digital accessibility, professional. Groups like we talked about these academic alliances or traditional, or I work with the EDUCAUSE, IT accessibility group. We have monthly meetings where digital accessibility, higher education professionals can come together, share these issues, talk about experiences, but because of the kind of high stakes litigious nature of the accessibility issues that our institutions face, there can be a reticence to accept or widely share and distribute some of this information. There are big inefficiencies at a systemic level because of that. We're all asking the same thing of vendors, replicating testing work, because we all individually have an obligation to provide access to students that I think there is opportunity in the future to both work more collaboratively and more openly with vendors and third-party companies and each other, because many of us are trying to work in the same direction for accessibility for better inclusive technical

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

We've got a lot of industry people who listen to this podcast. So for our listeners take note. If someone is asking you for your accessibility statement and you're about to say, "No, one's ever asked for that." Maybe take a look and see if other people have done a lot of your work for you.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Can I say, also for anyone listening, I think there's something in it for the private industry as well, even if they want it to drive this transparency. Because none of us are looking for the perfect [inaudible 01:11:01]. We're all looking for the perfect product. None of us are expecting to find it right. What we're looking for are people who are going to partner with us and be responsive and want to work toward, making it better. That only could drive the marketability of the product that you're working on. We're here to help and I think a partnership would be great in that.

Lucy Greco:

One of the other things I wanted to talk about here, that relates to what we're talking about in a way, but it just rang to me that we need to talk about it. We make progress in all of our institutions when we share. One of the big problems we have is people are really scared to share the learnings that they have, especially when it comes to lawsuits and settlements and so forth. The one university that I know that made the most progress with a settlement and actually got cleared by DOJ, the fastest ever in history is the university that came out and said, "okay, everyone we've been sued. We need to do something about it." Most univers...

Lucy Greco:

Everyone we've been sued, we need to do something about it. Most universities when DOJ or OCR comes knocking, they hide that and they tell only the people that need to know because they're worried that it's going to affect their reputation and we can't let people know that there's legal discussions going on and it's terrible. Be open about it, be open about everything you do and why you're doing it because that's how progress happens. I don't know if either Kyle, you or Heidi remember when Boulder got their DOJ letter, within two days it was public that they had a DOJ letter and what that DOJ letter said. And they immediately had faculty on board helping them because faculty knew that there was a problem that needed to be addressed. And I don't know about you two but whenever we've had a DOJ letter it's always, "You can't tell anyone, you can't be told, this is secret, this is attorney-client privilege." And we're burying ourselves under privacy when that privacy is really part of the problem.

Will Butler:

Interesting.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I think all three of us have been part of some pretty public thrashing at our institution, it's not us at the public eye and I agree with that. We're pretty open and I think we've done a lot, we've made a huge investment as a result of this but I think you're right Lucy.

Will Butler:

Unless you want to add anything Kyle, I wanted to look at this issue of a lot of progress is made through legal settlements and without going into the specifics of a particular case and what causes these legal actions in the first place or a DOJ letter, what are the points where maybe we should say where students or faculty get frustrated enough to resort to legal action?

Lucy Greco:

It can be as simple as somebody not communicating to other person in a quickly and effective way. I've heard of cases where a student sent in a letter and the letter was not responded to within a week and that student filed and they're in their right to do that. But there are other cases where it's just complete lack of ability to respond because you don't know the answer so you don't respond and that puts you into a serious problem and a serious situation and it becomes combative, whereas if you immediately respond with, "I don't know but let's work together to find the answer," that really is where the cases stop. And it becomes collaborative and engaging in a learning experience.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

We were audited. And so our whole response was as a roofing audit and what I've heard from what you tend to see I think and in my role I'm part of our grievance resolution process across the university in general. And Lucy's right, it's time. It's when it takes too long, when there's too much of a gap, when a student is four weeks into the semester and they still don't have their materials and I'm not in this case reflect on anything that's happened personally that I've had to resolve but what you tend to across the board is, it is that time not responding, that is very common.

Kyle Shachmut:

Yeah. I think certainly students or staff members or members of the public obviously have a civil right to get equal access to their education or to their employment, right. And shouldn't be discriminated based on disability. I've certainly experienced that myself and taking different courses to Heidi's point of being frustrated at delays or inaction or how stinking hard it is sometimes to make something accessible or to get equal access so that I feel like I can participate fully. I completely empathize with the frustration that someone would experience and there are legal remedies. That's why I think it's important on a broader level for any institution to have knowledgeable people in this area, right. Nobody would expect if the first time you start looking for somebody to help address an IT security problem is after you've received an audit or a complaint and you're like, "Huh, maybe we should hire somebody who knows something about IT security."

Kyle Shachmut:

If that's the first time you're addressing it, you're behind the eight ball, you're already very delayed in how you can address these issues. So many of the things we've talked about today have longer lead times. A procurement life cycle can take years in higher education or have a long contract. And so it's incumbent upon institutions to have knowledgeable professionals even better if there's someone who's experienced disability that kind of knows how to work on these challenges when they come up because they will come up in large complex organizations and to have processes in place, sure formal processes for complaints and resolutions and matriculating through but in the same way that in any of our institutions I bet there are ways to put in a IT help issue if you're having a problem with your email, right.

Kyle Shachmut:

There should be something just as simple if you're having an issue with accessibility where you know where to go, how to point out an issue and it might not be able to be fixed in 24 hours, it might be a complex issue but you as a member of a community you should be able to report an issue and have some expectation that it will be worked on or you can get an accommodation if needed.

Kyle Shachmut:

And so your question Will was about how and why people might get frustrated. Sometimes those frustrations where legal complaints can be ref or can bring underlying issues to the surface, right. And so not speaking specifically about any issue but that's why it's important for institutions whether you're doing it in response to a legal complaint or looking at your neighbor who had a legal complaint and trying to proactively address it, is to think through the entire system that you have at a university and how you can start chipping away at the accessibility issues that might be present anywhere.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. Beyond obviously the legal requirements and baseline making things accessible like what do you really wish every academic institution set as their commitment as their goal for accessibility and inclusion?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

One thing I think is important too. We talk about compliance and it's so all these laws, the law is so important but as Will say around Cincinnati sometimes.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Is the law does not tell you how to be a good person it tells you how not being a criminal. It's the first step in the ladder. And so we have to focus on the higher level calling of higher education, right. And inclusion and equity and all of those pieces. And if that's missing, everyone says it's there but if that's not true in practice in your institution, if you don't have people driving social justice theory around disability and intersectionality and all those things that are so important, if people don't understand disability-

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Beautiful, yeah.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

And access as a part of inclusion and respect I think that is a systemic problem that then leads to things like delays bosses and faculty who aren't responding. So it's the functional piece but there are always these underlying issues too that have to be addressed.

Will Butler:

I love that quote. I've never heard that

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I did adapt it from a ethics training we did once. So I kind of made it my own but I loved it when I heard it and it stuck. And I think it's true.

Lucy Greco:

For me, I think the goal is that we recognize that accessibility is just part of community and that just recognizing that accessibility is a thing, it is a huge goal for me. And having people start to question themselves and start to think about how do they do better not how do they achieve perfect unity but how do we do better?

Kyle Shachmut:

I would certainly hope the goal is total equitable access.

Lucy Greco:

Exactly.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah.

Lucy Greco:

On an individual level, every individual needs to question themselves.

Kyle Shachmut:

That certainly what my institution aspires to and others do. And we've talked about that and publicized it, it can be really hard sometimes and we talked earlier about how the many different disparate data points that can be represented but I hope at minimum the goals and aims of an institution are to try to achieve that total equitable access.

Will Butler:

Yeah. And if we can't hit that high watermark tomorrow, what are some other goals we can set?

Kyle Shachmut:

So going from the high-minded aspirations of total access, Lucy made a great point just about operationalizing, right. There should be an executive sponsor for accessibility and someone at a senior levels of an organization, your institution that is accountable for and helping drive the institution toward accessibility. There has to be some level of financial commitment to work on it, right?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

100%.

Kyle Shachmut:

If there is an initiative at an institution and it has no budget and no staff and no executive sponsor, it's only in name. So there has to be institutional resources that drive towards it. Some combination of time, commitment, accountability to lead us towards it. And we referenced earlier that sometimes to someone who might be less initiated in accessibility, we can't hide from problems when it comes to accessibility. And we have to try to measure and monitor our progress towards improving accessibility, because if we're not and if we can't at least in some ways demonstrate our effectiveness and our improvement as institutions then we can't make effective change, if we can't demonstrate how we're improving.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Yes, absolutely. All of the above. I think Kyle what you said there made me thinking. Now, from the top-down it needs to be understood that this is not only like a lock the equity goal that we're going to talk about but it also does require you to do things differently. And that as an institution that we're going to provide you with the resources and support so that you can do those things differently and so I agree. If you don't have professionals there, if you don't have an operating budget, if you don't have an office and you don't have policies and procedures then you really, you have a special project, right. You don't have an incorporation into what you're doing. So most of us don't have the power to go tell our presidents where and how to spend money at the university. But I think that universities can examine other ways that they've instituted change and think about what was successful for those. And then think about how that can apply to accessibility.

Will Butler:

We've kept you guys way over but I want to ask one final question here. When you think about the role of higher ed in the greater accessibility community, what role do you all play in driving accessibility innovations? Can you think of any examples? Feel free to jump in any one of you if you have any thoughts.

Lucy Greco:

I think it's really important that we work, especially since all of us are a research institutions that we work with, people doing the research. Everything from the sociological research to the technology research to expose the people doing that work to the ideas of accessibility and the impact of inaccessibility on society. We have an obligation to inform those people. My biggest dream for Berkeley is that I get an in with professors in the school of engineering to have accessibility be part of their curriculum but it's not currently and I wish it was, but I also we have a school of information where all the people who are doing design work are graduating and going up into the field. I'd love to get them to learn more about accessibility and the students to learn about it and just expose people in general. That's really our societal burden to become more accessible at the place where we're creating the new people of the future.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Gosh Lucy, that's so true. Like we are the home and the hub of innovation and there are amazing things happening on all of our campuses and with our undergrad students and our graduate students, we had an undergraduate student organization that was made up of Allied Health students and engineering students. And few years ago, they were some of the first people that ever printed, 3d printed prosthetics for children which because they grow so quickly, it's so expensive and they started producing those things. So our students get it and they're in and they want to be part of this. I was able to work with somebody in our school of design and our school of graphic design to make it part of our student's capstone to incorporate accessibility into their capstone design project. We got to plug into the work that's being done and then let these people who are the innovative researchers and these future citizens show us what they can do. And it's going to be more than we could even imagine ourselves.

Kyle Shachmut:

I totally agree Heidi. I have two thoughts first, that yes, we in some ways maybe the cause of some and the solution to so many of these accessibility issues. Education is where many professionals in higher education is where they learn many of the skills and techniques that they're going to use to change the world with whatever it is they're doing. Many of our institutions right now are doing critical research about life-changing vaccines, about ways that we can help inform the public about how to stay healthy or solve real world problems in many ways. That's one very obvious example in the time of a pandemic, right. And yet if the tools and the techniques that we are teaching are inaccessible, we are limiting the potential of people with disabilities to have that impact on the world, to be embedded in doing that research that's going to change someone's life or invent the next cure or make great discoveries about a historic event or in humanities, right.

Kyle Shachmut:

And so helping ensure that our curricula and our research programs at our institutions are accessible to everyone is going to ensure that we have more inclusive research communities to make an impact on the world.

Kyle Shachmut:

The one other notion are we consider, right. You started by asking kind of how higher education can make a unique contribution or what it does. There are also a lot of opportunities to partner with private industry. We again are talking about many large institutions where yes, we do teaching and learning as kind of our core business. We work with students and faculty and staff but we're also like many cities. Many of our schools have post offices and theaters and sporting events and cafeterias and food service and radio stations or broadcasts. Some of us have museums and hospitals, right. All of these things in the same week someone might consult on making astronomy images accessible or electronic health records or audio description at a theater performance, right. And so as much as higher education has this kind of core teaching and learning effort, we also have a lot of crossover and opportunities to help work with others that might be in private industry or other sectors that crossover with the kinds of work we do in accessibility.

Lucy Greco:

I think I want to leave you with one kind of image to think about. What would have happened if Stephen Hawkings didn't have the assistive technology he was able to use and do his work on? Where would we be for physics today if he could not have accomplished what he did even after he needed assistive technology?

Will Butler:

Mic drop. I want to give you guys a chance to just tell us briefly, one thing you're passionate about right now that you'd love everyone else to know about whether it's a project you're working on, a campaign you've launched or a group you'd like people to join, whatever it might be let's just quickly go around and share. Lucy, do you have anything top of mind? Do you have a shameless plug Lucy?

Lucy Greco:

Well, my shameless plug is from my new project to try and create a review process for household appliances for accessibility.

Will Butler:

Oh, yeah. Is this your Holman Prize pitch?

Lucy Greco:

This is my Holman Prize, yes. So everything from washers and dryers to coffee pots to digital assistance. This is my pitch right now is that I want to not only inform people with disabilities the best way to spend their money because why should we waste our money on an accessible products but also give designers the ability to look at what we're reviewing and see how people with disabilities use their products to make them better.

Will Butler:

I love it. How do they find that Lucy?

Lucy Greco:

You're asking for a link now, can I give you a link for the show notes?

Will Butler:

Yeah. We'll put a link in the show notes.

Lucy Greco:

Perfect. But you could also see it on my YouTube channel, which is linked off of my Access Aces blog.

Will Butler:

Beautiful. Heidi, anything particularly you're just really passionate about right now. It doesn't have to be a... Whatever's on your mind.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I have this good friend who's doing this review for people who are blind and appliances, no I'm just kidding. Let's check out what Lucy is doing I think that's awesome. I don't have anything I think that I would put out there at this moment but I want to put in a plug for a newsletter that I subscribed to called... I think it's called Dear Good People but I'll confirm that as well. And the woman who writes it, she wrote this really amazing newsletter on ableism and accessibility. And it was like she was new to this research and honestly it made me kind of like jealous and angry when I was reading it that I had done this work for so many years couldn't write something so good and so I just want to give a plug for that. It's not mine but it's great and she's done a wonderful job of incorporating disability to equity and inclusion. So I'll a link for that too because your listeners should check that out.

Will Butler:

That's awesome. I thought you were going to say I burned PDFs and that was going to be your plug.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I did. No, I did burn PDFs also. So If you want to hear more, my first name dot my last name at UC time.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Ask her how she got away with burning PDFs.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Kyle, anything that you want to share with the listeners?

Kyle Shachmut:

I'll just say that people who work on accessibility and higher ed are really open, collaborative, welcoming community. And we're always looking for more people. Lucy and Heidi mentioned how they got started. Often people don't go to school to do the jobs that we do at universities and sometimes that can feel isolating or overwhelming and so we love to collaborate and work. So I mentioned a time or two but I co-chair a group called the EDUCAUSE, IT accessibility group. And we meet regularly and hear about innovative practices that folks are working on to improve accessibility on campus and it's a great resource, it's a freely serve, anybody can join and we'll put the link in the show notes and find areas to collaborate and to work with others. We have a Boston accessibility meetup, other areas do to where we can find people that work together to improve accessibility because we're all going to do better work when we do it together.

Will Butler:

That's great. And it wouldn't be fair Cordelia if I didn't let you plug something.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Oh, I guess I'll plug a website that I recently created with a friend called a11ies.info, A-11-I-E-S dot I-N-F-O. And it's a website where we're sharing transcripts for all those really great images of text resources that are being spread all over the internet and accessibly. So we're kind of curating transcripts for those for people who would prefer to or need to read the transcript rather than the image of text.

Will Butler:

Oh, wow. When did you launch that?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Earlier this month I think or maybe last month, yeah.

Lucy Greco:

I think it was only a week or two ago Cordelia.

Will Butler:

Been holding out on me.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I don't know what time is anymore Lucy. Will, what are you going to plug?

Heidi Pettyjohn:

I know is a flat circle, it's hard to know.

Will Butler:

Oh, no. I knew that was coming. I'll plug, The Be My Eyes Podcast through the other podcasts that we do because we relaunched The Be My Eyes Podcast or the next season along with the season of 13 Letters and we're doing a ton of giveaways.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

ooh!

Will Butler:

This season. So for any of the blind listeners, low vision listeners, there's some pretty fancy assistive tech is being given away. So definitely if you'd like 13 Letters and subscribe, especially if you have a blindness or low vision interest, check out The Be My Eyes Podcast on all the same platforms.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I just wanted to say, thank you so much to Heidi, Kyle and Lucy for joining us today. I think all three of you talked about the importance of community and collaboration and sharing knowledge to help make everything better. And I just really am so appreciative that you three took the time chat with us and chat to our listeners today so thank you so much.

Lucy Greco:

Chatting like this is collaboration to us. So you're helping us get our message out too Cordelia. Thank you.

Kyle Shachmut:

Thanks for having us, it was great.

Heidi Pettyjohn:

Thank you so much.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Scheduling was no easy task either. So all the time we put in, it's not easy to get five people on a podcast but I think what we have from this is an incredible document. So thank you very much.

Speaker 1:

Thanks everyone for listening to the 13 Letters podcasts, we've got more great episodes for you coming this season. Just keep track of us at bemyeyes.com/podcasts and click on 13 Letters. And we'd love to hear from you, if you have an idea for an episode of 13 Letters, shoot us an email to 13 Letters. That's 13letters@bemyeyes.com and we will get back to you. Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you in two weeks.