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KURT HEIMBIGNER: Hi, this is Kurt Heimbigner, and I’m the senior director of integrated marketing and web communications at Gonzaga University, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 336 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on November 3, 2017.
Today we are going to hear from a new friend over at Gonzaga University about their experience with the web accessibility. We have some free AT webinars for you. And also a story about software that improves captioning for students with hearing challenges. In our friends over at BridgingApps talk to us about an app called Can Tunes.
We hope you check out our website at www.eastersealstech.com, give us a call on our listener line at 317-721-7124, or send us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project.
From our friends at the Assistive Technology Act Technical Assistance and Training Center, or AT3 Center, there’s a whole list of free webinars on assistive technology happening in November. Everything from using accessibility checkers in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel; how to use apps for increasing self-regulation; and productivity at home school and work; and even one on cortical visual impairment, assessment, implications, and adaptations for successful augmentative and alternative communication use; one called “Pew pew, we want to play too; making video games accessible; technology for dyslexia, navigating high school and beyond; and one about how school districts can use the quiet methodology.
There are a dozen or more in the article I’m looking at on the AT3 Center blog. I’ll pop a link in the show notes. Maybe you can find yourself a webinar.
From our friends at RESNA, we learn about a thing called Scribe out of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. What it does is it is working at creating more cost-effective captions, primarily for college students who rely on captions for lectures and things like that. The concept is instead of paying a caption writer, they hire several non-expert captionist to transcribe at the same time, and then they are using an algorithm to compile a set of captions based on the commonalities from those different, maybe less-than-accurate transcripts. It’s a fascinating thing. We work a lot with signing which interpreters and actually have a captionist who helps us with this show — hi, TJ! This is interesting for what that might mean for the captionist and caption writer industry. I’m fascinated to know what the accuracy looks like and what the turnaround looks like and more about that.
There is an article I will put in the show notes from University of Michigan website that goes into some level of detail about how this works. They freely admit that there are still some accuracy issues there working out, but it might be a starting point for doing crowd sourced captioning. Fascinating stuff and I’m interested in learning more about what this might mean for students with disabilities. I’ll pop that link in the show notes.
Each week, one of our partners tells what was happening in the ever-changing world of apps, so here’s an app worth mentioning.
AMY BARRY: This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps, and this is an app worth mentioning.
This week’s featured app is called Can Tunes. Can Tunes provides an extremely simplified away for people with a range of cognitive disabilities to select and play music on an iPad. Can Tunes promote independence, builds confidence, and reduces the need for caregiver interaction by enabling people with disabilities to control and enjoy their own music. It eliminates the complexities of typical play, stop, pause, and shuffle buttons on regular music devices.
Can Tunes is a free app that allows you to locate and play music with just a simple tap. The app displays up to 20 albums on one page, and with one tap your favorite album is playing. This app is simple and provides so much freedom for individuals with cognitive delays to take ownership of their music.
Some of the key features of the Can Tunes app are that it is so very easy to use, does not require understanding of a traditional music player button. We really like the clean, visual interface with minimal use of text. The app has a completely customizable interface. We really like the ability to display between two and 20 album covers per screen, so you can make that choice on your own to display as few or as many as you would like. Users can add or remove on the screen controls such as volume control, page buttons, and access to settings. There is also a sleep mode to shut off music after a specified time. And one of the top features is that Can Tunes is voiceover compatible.
This app is available for free at the iTunes Store and is compatible with iOS version 7.0 and later devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit BridgingApps.org.
WADE WINGLER: We have a lot of college students who listen to our show. A lot of those students use as accessible technology. As somebody who teaches online, I’m always interested in making sure that that educational space online is accessible. I was so excited to hear that a well respected university, Gonzaga, is working on this issue. Plus, I went to Butler University. For people who know anything about basketball, a few years ago there was this Butler-Gonzaga thing.
I’m excited to have this conversation today with Kurt Heimbigner who is the senior director of integrated marketing and web communications at Gonzaga University. Welcome to the show.
KURT HEIMBIGNER: Thanks so much. It’s a pleasure to be here. I think one of the heartbreak moments for a lot of ‘Zag fans was — I think it was at Butler a few years ago – with that we had the game sewn up, and an errant inbound pass led to a lay-up on the other end, and Butler got us right at the buzzer. That traumatized some fans around the world. Great rivalry.
WADE WINGLER: I’m not a huge sports fan. I don’t follow a whole lot of sports, but I know about that one. Thanks for being on the show today. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role and how Gonzaga became interested in accessible web stuff.
KURT HEIMBIGNER: I’ve been at Gonzaga for about seven and a half years. Throughout my 20 or so year career, I’ve held various marketing roles at everything from startups to fairly large corporations to advertising technology agencies. I’ve done a lot of different things and that time, with a common thread throughout my career is having always worked with the web in some capacity. That goes back, if you do the math, to when the web was in its infancy in the mid- to late 90’s.
Being here at Gonzaga, one of my focus over the last few years has been on our web presence. We identified a need to redesign our current website they can find at Gonzaga.edu. One of the things we identified early on that we wanted to improve was the accessibility, make sure our content, especially our public website – which is my area of focus – making sure that was accessible to people of all abilities.
WADE WINGLER: Talk to me a little bit about that process. What was that like? What brought about the realization that there was a need with regard to accessibility and then to go ahead and take action on that?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: We have a small but mighty marketing team here. Several years ago, as we worked with the content on our site, we realized we had a content management system – as most universities do – and a lot of content editors from all parts of the university, adding content to our site. We realized we didn’t have some basic safeguards in place for making sure that content that was going on the site was meeting some basic accessibility standards. One example is making sure there is alternate text for images. We said this is something we need to improve with our new site, so let’s make that one of the main objectives of the redesign.
We went into the process with that mentality, and as we selected a partner to help us with our web redesign, I give them credit because they identified, hey, this is an important need and pushed us farther and saying we think you guys should shoot for meeting the WCAG 2.0 AA standards. Accessibility for online content is the next important wave of change we see coming in the web industry. I think being inside higher Ed and focused as we are on our students and the educational process, it is easier to lose sight of the bigger needs of something like this that is coming. I give them credit on helping us identify that. It’s been something we baked into the process from the very beginning.
WADE WINGLER: I want to come back to the process and your partnering cow what that looked like. Were there really specific issues you are trying to address with this process? Are talking about a complaint or some event that brought this process around?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: Like I mentioned, we knew this was something that was going to be important to us. I think part of that is that Gonzaga was founded on our Jesuit humanistic mission of being a person for others. I think realizing we had certain audiences that we weren’t serving as well is we could was one of the big things.
Also a few years into our redesign process, we are focusing on improving our accessibility. The University received last spring and accessibility advocacy complaint from the Office of Civil Rights, which is under the Department of Education. We’ve been working with their representatives to address some of those needs. They’ve been fantastic in working with us to say, we know you guys are going through and extensive website redesign process. You’re going to be launching a new site soon. One of the steps in the process is making sure we audit the content on the website. They’ve allowed us the grace to say you can audit that content with the new site as opposed to focusing on the current site which we know would fill those accessibility standards.
WADE WINGLER: That makes sense. Let’s talk about the process. What has the assessment been like? Who did it and what all was involved? And he will get into some of the findings as well.
KURT HEIMBIGNER: I think we are in a bit of a unique situation from other universities. With peers I have talked to or other situations I’ve read about, we’ve been able to focus on our new site and to assure from the foundation up that it is going to meet some of the basic things we can bake into how the website is built. We haven’t spent a lot of time assessing our current site. It’s been more about are we putting the foundational elements in place. And also, are we training our content editors in an appropriate way to make sure they understand what needs to happen from an accessibility standpoint. How do I ensure that my content on my page is accessible? In my adding the correct alternate text to where we need to? The PDFs that I am uploading to the site, how do I remediate those existing ones to make them accessible? Or how to ensure the new document we might post online are accessible?
I really expect that once we launch our new site and we go to the formal audit process, there will be things that are found that we need to address and can improve on. But I think we are going to be in a lot better shape being able to audit our new site as opposed to if we were auditing our current site.
WADE WINGLER: You mentioned partners. Is this mostly an internal project or do you have outside partners as well?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: Through a couple of years of early stages and main development phases of the process, we had a couple of partners we were working with. We are also building Gonzaga’s first ever Intranet site. We were running those on dual tracks for a while with a couple of different partners. Now our team has taken over all of the development and final content migration phases of the project. We are really taking a lot of the burden on our team right now.
In terms of helping us check what we’re doing with the site, we have some tools we’re using. One of them is a software tool called site improve that we recently purchased and are using. Our number one goal for using that right now is to help check the accessibility of various webpages. It does a nice job of reporting on the issues it finds as compared to the WCAG 2.0 standards, whether they are single-A, double-A, or triple-A issues, and sort of the level of effort or type of role that would need to address those, whether that be a developer, a content editor, etc. That’s going to be an invaluable tool for us and something we are excited to learn about how to use more, not just to ensure the site is accessible when we launch, that we can maintain and re-audit that on an ongoing basis over time.
WADE WINGLER: That’s a great approach. What kinds of things are you finding and focusing on? Have there been any surprises in this process?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: Yeah. I think we are definitely focusing on the two-pronged approach. As I mentioned, making sure the code and foundational things, things we can address from a development perspective, a lot of the behind-the-scenes things in terms of ensuring that the website and pages are navigable, the menus are navigable, the forms have the appropriate hooks in them for screen readers and things like that. The other prong is working with our content editors. Many of them, as is the case with every university I run into, have a lot of other jobs. Uploading content to the web or maintaining their pages is just one part of it. I think it is great that we are in an educational institution, something we do well, but the effort involved in training those people to understand why this is important and sort of what buttons to push and what things to consider as they make their content accessible is important.
I think in terms of surprises, I think the amount of PDF’s we have on our current site and the effort it is going to take to remediate those is something we are learning just how much work is going to be there. I think another thing is we sort of knew intuitively, but to have to come down and account for it when we were thinking of rebuilding our site, is the number of third-party vendors whose software or tools plug into our site and for all intents and purposes make it feel like a part of our site, but it is really a software platform or tool that we can’t really control the accessibility of. Making sure that we have a process in place for working with those vendors to understand what is possible from and accessibility standpoint. In the going forward, ensuring that future contracts or renegotiations address that so that it is not just, well, that vendor doesn’t have an accessible tool right now. What can they do to address it or do we need to perhaps look at other options to meet our accessibility standards.
WADE WINGLER: As a deal with universities – and I do all the time – there is public facing content and stuff that faculty and students and staff deal with. Are you doing just public facing accessibility, or is there LMS, student-only stuff going on as well?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: There is definitely stuff going on on the student or internal side of things. My focus is on the public website, but we do have another WorkStream going on with our learning management system. We use Blackboard at Gonzaga as well as a number of other tools. Our faculty is getting training and their administrative support is getting training on how to update their course material and anything that they are putting into Blackboard or other systems to ensure it is accessible as well.
WADE WINGLER: My next question is how big of a deal is this? I guess my more specific question is not everybody thinks immediately about the accessibility of a website, but web presences are going for everybody. What kind of staff or resources is Gonzaga allocating to this whole project? How big of a deal is it for you guys?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: We have a core team that is working on our new public website, Gonzaga.edu, and our new Intranet. That’s about 8 to 10 people that are working with the development or content side from a core level. We have many content editors throughout the University. This summer, we had weekly training on electronic information, online electronic information, how to make that accessible. We trained over a hundred people over that time. Those trainings are going to be ongoing. And then there is an effort to train faculty as well, which I mentioned. We have a core team. We are training our content editors.
The University has also hired a new electronic information technology accessibility specialist. Say that three times fast. She’s been a fantastic addition to our team. We are sort of in the mode of trying to get all of our content migrated can’t do some basic checks to make sure things are accessible. She’s been able to come in and pinpoint things that need to be fixed, either the quick fixes or the longer-term things that we need to address from a more foundational level.
It’s really a team effort. Anybody who is listening who has worked at a university and on a website knows how widespread and how many people can have involvement in getting a university website or content online for the learning management system. It’s really something that is going to grow over time for us but is a university-wide effort at this point.
WADE WINGLER: What advice would you have four other universities who are interested in looking at their online accessibility?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: I think it is important. As we look back, I wasn’t here when our current website was built. I came on board not too long after maybe a couple years after that. I don’t think the awareness of the importance of making online content accessible was there. I also think from a technology standpoint, some of the tools in terms of HTML standards from WCAG and the W3C, those things have gotten better over time and I think increasing awareness. I think understanding why it is important so that all persons and audience, whether they be fans or the public or parents or alumni or donors got all of those people are able to access the content on your website. It is the number one information source for prospective student all the way through our alumni and those that have moved on from the University.
I think that is the key. And I also think the amount of learning that the University might have to do from a team perspective, like their web team understanding what this is. In some cases, what we found is that we were lucky that we identify this is the point we were doing a redesign. I think it may be harder to retrofit existing technology to do some of the foundational things from the code perspective. Don’t underestimate the effort. I think one of the things we found was the number of supplemental information that might exist in a PDF or other type of document online. From a web team perspective, some of the fixes we can make are pretty apparent, but a lot of our effort over the next several months will be how we remediate those PDFs and make sure they are accessible.
WADE WINGLER: We have touched on this a little bit in terms of tools that have been important or resources. Are there other resources or tools you found particularly helpful to this process?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: As someone who is personally trying to immerse myself in understanding what all we need to be doing from a web perspective to ensure we maintain a standard of accessibility, WebAIM.org has been a great resource for my team and me. I think you have some articles in the articles section of their website that has a great introduction to web accessibility. Articles on specific topics like alternative text. I think the article on what makes appropriate and good alternative text is one of the best resources I found to understand some of the nuances, when it is necessary versus when it may not be, what are appropriate types of alternative text.
Another site I found helpful is called SimplyAccessible.com it has an article section as well which are more conversation or blog style, but really make a lot of the content approachable and engaging and informative as well.
And I mentioned Site Improve. They have a free – it may be chrome-only — browser plug-in that anyone can download or add to chrome to scan any page on the website and identify some of those accessibility issues. I believe there is an organization that creates a tool called the wave tool that does a similar thing. I think starting with some of those resources to help educate yourself on what can be done from a web perspective to make your online content accessible is really helpful.
WADE WINGLER: Wave is from WebAIM, and we use that. It’s really good. I know you’re not done yet, that there are still some things to happen. What does success look like for the project?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: Our team has been working hard on this redesign of our public site and new intranet for a few years now. We are in the very final stages over the next few months. At this point, just getting it launched is going to be huge for us. We are nearing the summit of the mountain. The air is getting thinner and it’s getting harder to breathe as we get up there copper we are excited to get there.
From an accessibility standpoint, I know that a year from now, we will be looking back on some of the fundamental changes that we made and be really proud of the strides he made in making sure our content online is accessible to everyone. I heard this probably a couple of weeks ago – I don’t remember if I read it somewhere or if somebody said it to me. They said, “Accessibility is a process, not a project.” I think that has been a helpful perspective for our team. I think sometimes we felt like there is so much stuff that we need to do, so many changes we need to make, so many PDFs we need to remediate. How do we do this? I think understanding that, even if we get to 100 percent accessibility compliance, the next time someone uploads a PDF or as a new piece of content, there is the opportunity that it may not be accessible. I think understanding that this is a continual process. If a one-time process that you do and thus things off when you’re done with it. I think success for us is going to just be able to live with this new website and understand how we can improve things more overtime.
WADE WINGLER: That is excellent insight. If people want to learn more about your project or your process, or if they want to reach out to you, what kind of contact information would you like to provide?
KURT HEIMBIGNER: We have a little bit of information that is geared towards our internal audience. It is publicly available so anybody can check it out if they wanted to learn more about what our new website is going to look like and how it might function. They can go to Gonzaga.edu/webredesign. There is some information about our project. I’m not super active on social media which is probably career suicide for a web and digital marketing person. Email is always a great way to reach me. I invite any in the audience reach out if they have questions or insights for me. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
WADE WINGLER: Kurt Heimbigner is the senior director of integrated marketing and web communications at Gonzaga University and has been a great guest on our show today. Thank you so much.
KURT HEIMBIGNER: Thank you for having me and producing this podcast. I think what you’re doing is really important. I really enjoyed becoming a subscriber and listen to some of the back episodes. Great job and keep up the great work.
WADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.
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