The University of Nevada, Reno, is unveiling several new projects in an effort to achieve full accessibility.
The university will be aiming to make technology more accessible to those with hearing and visual impairments. These are to include braille textbooks and teaching materials, braille on all buildings and a more accessible university website. The university is requiring all websites to be fully accessible by March 2020.
According to the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act, discrimination on the basis of disability is inherently illegal.
“On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the ADA, a comprehensive civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability,” the Enactment of the ADA and Issuance of 1991 Regulations reads. “The ADA broadly protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in employment, access to State and local government services, places of public accommodation, transportation, and other important areas of American life. The ADA also requires newly designed and constructed or altered State and local government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial facilities to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that during the 2011-12 school year, 11.1 percent of students reported having a disability. University President Marc Johnson feels working to ensure every student can access an education is necessary with a percentage so high.
“What we want is full accessibility for the sight and hearing impaired,” President Johnson said. “So the first line of defense in those regards is the Disability Resource Center we actually do braille translation of textbooks and teaching materials for sight impaired, which is very individualized support. We do some guides on campus so people can get around campus better. We are just working all the time to work on our websites and teaching materials so everyone will have access to an education, whether they are sight impaired or hearing impaired.”
Both the DRC and the Office of Information and Technology are integral parts of ensuring disabled students can have access to education.
“Learning disabilities, dyslexia, color blindness, etc., we all use the Disability Resource Center to help guide us on those things,” Johnson said. “However, we have a lot of IT work that needs to be done.”
In an effort to make the university’s technology fully accessible, a new and improved unr.edu will be debuting on Wednesday, Feb. 20. The project began in March 2017 and will feature more accessible features, like compatibility with screen readers.
In addition to rolling out a new website, the university funds the DRC to ensure students with physical, visual and hearing disabilities have support when navigating the university and their classes.
“The purpose of the Disability Resource Center (DRC) is to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from all university programs,” the DRC’s Mission Statement reads. “Our goal is to act as a catalyst for the elimination of both attitudinal and architectural barriers that present themselves throughout the university community. The DRC directly supports students with disabilities in achieving their goals — strengthening a climate of campus diversity.”
DRC Director Mary Zabel says the DRC provides services to help student success.
“The DRC provides a variety of services including Braille materials, electronic textbooks and alternative testing,” said Director Zabel. “We provide a myriad of accommodations and services. These include but are not limited to alternative testing, sign language interpreters, note taking assistance and electronic textbooks. All of these accommodations allow students with disabilities to have access to and benefit from their educational experience here at the university.”
There have not been many complaints regarding visual and hearing accessibility, according to both President Johnson and DRC Director Mary Zabel. However, an Office of Civil Rights complaint regarding the university website was filed, according to President Johnson.
“We did respond with a response plan to the Office of Civil Rights,” Johnson said. “The person we have leading that is Steve Smith, our primary IT guy. He’s taken over leadership and he’s reached out to marketing and communications around the campus to pull together a response plan to that OCR complaint.”
The university works with people with visual and hearing impairment to test software and point out areas of improvement. DRC Software Tester Jeanine Mooers is completely blind and finds this to be an effective way to pick out flaws in software that may impact a visually impaired person from using the software.
“I test the software from a user standpoint, rather than a computer-programmer standpoint,” Mooers said. “I go through and try out different functions of the software and I report as I’m doing the testing of each function and I write down the issue and try to explain it as specifically as I can for each issue and then I supply a possible solution. Then, I submit a report to the Graduate Assistant who is cited and does testing as well.”
Mooers tests out various things on the software, such as edit fields or picking a date on a calendar.
“The website has, for example, an online form that you fill out,” Mooers said. “Here are various types of things you might run into, such as edit fields where you might type information like your name or address. That’s a kind of function I would see that is accessible or not.”
Software tested by Mooers can range from new pages and components of the university technology or from potential software partnerships the university may enter. The recent Adobe Creative Cloud partnership between the university and Adobe is an example of a software Mooers tests for the Office of Information and Technology.
Accessibility became a discussion at the university after a tool from ProPublica revealed that the university had seven open civil rights investigations — six of them relating to lack of accessibility for those with disabilities. According to ProPublica, all pending investigations against the university have been open for two years or more.
The six pending investigations regarded accessibility, procedural requirements, treatment of postsecondary students, disability harassment and academic adjustments.
In addition to the pending investigations, one investigation was resolved and required corrective changes to be taken due to violations. The case regarded “accessibility of an online course, distance learning, website, [or] remote application”.
To receive accommodations with the university and the DRC, students are urged to submit an application at unr.edu/drc/student-application.
Olivia Ali can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.