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Improving digital accessibility at UMN

February 23, 2018


Imagine you're a Deaf student at the University of Minnesota and you're exploring majors on college websites. You encounter a substantial amount of uncaptioned video content. Do you request captions on the videos, wait, and come back when it’s ready? Or do you move on and possibly miss your calling?

Or, imagine you're a student who relies on speech recognition software to navigate the web. You’re trying to do your part of a group project that’s worth a large portion of your semester grade and you continue to find barriers to the information you need because the websites you visit make the information inaccessible to you. What do you tell your group members? How often is this a message you need to deliver? How do you feel delivering that message?  

These experiences are real and happen more often than they should. For a university that believes that our scholarship, research, and outreach are stronger because of our diversity, the University of Minnesota must commit to the accessibility of our physical and digital resources.

“We’re committed to improving equity and diversity at the University, and one important step is to make sure that we have resources, knowledge, and system-wide support to help each of us make digital accessibility part of our day-to-day work.” said Bernard Gulachek, Vice President and CIO. “We need to ensure we stay on the path towards creating a more inclusive campus in which we can all participate more fully”. 

Creating momentum toward digital accessibility: A charge

Over the past few years, working groups, units, and individuals have been focused on what the UMN community can do to create a more accessible digital experience for everyone who uses the University’s resources. To help facilitate and advance this effort, a Digital Accessibility Stakeholders group convened last year. With participation from over 30 units, this stakeholders group examined the University's digital accessibility landscape, defined the current state, named a desired future state, and identified and prioritized strategies that could be employed to close the gap between the two.

Creating a more accessible experience for individuals of all abilities has been the primary driver of the University's efforts. Simultaneously, recent compliance mandates from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are making accessibility a priority for higher education institutions - including the University of Minnesota. To help meet accessibility commitments, and continue the momentum created by the stakeholders group, Julie Showers, Interim Associate Vice President for Compliance, and Bernard Gulachek, Vice President and CIO, along with the Executive Oversight Committee for Compliance (EOCC), charged the Digital Accessibility Stakeholders Steering Committee to develop projects and strategies to address the following areas:

  • Facilitate collaboration - Create opportunities to share expertise and best practices. Pool resources and efforts across all online content creators to help ensure accessibility.

  • Training - Assess existing training resources while creating and offering online and face-to-face opportunities for the community to learn, practice, and master digital accessibility skills.

  • Captioning and audio description - Develop a strategy and recommendations for supported tools for video captioning and audio descriptions, along with resources to promote and support them through marketing, training, and networking.

  • Purchasing processes - Develop and share best practices for accessibility in technology purchasing processes and guidance resources to support those practices.

  • Work Plan and Governance - Facilitate the work plan of the above activities and present them to the EOCC for consultation, feedback, and prioritization. Continue the ongoing work of the Digital Accessibility Stakeholders group.

Call to Action

For the University to be a community in which people with disabilities can share their gifts, digital accessibility work must be an ongoing part of everyone's everyday work. Please consider contributing a couple hours a month to one of the workgroups named; contact Scott Marshall, Associate Director, University of Minnesota Disability Resource Center at for more information. If you can't commit to a working group right now, commit to learning and practicing one of the Six Core Skills of digital accessibility.