Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Step Backwards for Accessibility: UT Accessibility Institute Closing

From Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility:

"As news has spread of the closing of UT's Accessibility Institute, many have asked for a simple way to register their objections. Knowbility has created and posted an online petition and we welcome all the support you can bring. Below is background (thank you Mike Moore for a great summary) if you want to distribute to other networks and here is the link:"

Petition to Save the Accessibility Institute

From Mike Moore, accessibility specialist for the State of Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Center for Policy and Innovation :

1. The Accessibility Institute at the University of Texas will be closed effective August 29th 2008.
2. Proposals to move the work to the College of Information and/or the College of Computer Science have not been accepted. Although those institutions are capable of conducting the research there are no specific funds, faculty, or researcher positions to support this work.
3. The two primary researchers from the Accessibility Institute are no longer available. The founder and Director, John Slatin, PhD passed away last spring and Kay Lewis, PhD has accepted another position.
4. The University’s IT department has few resources dedicated to accessibility. Two systems analysts are assigned 15% of their time each to oversee accessibility for the University’s 1M+ web pages.

It is very disappointing that the University has made this decision. The University of Texas has the stature, funding, reputation, and experience necessary to attract researchers and faculty needed to continue and build the Accessibility Institute. All that the University’s administration seems to lack is the interest.

The UT Accessibility Institute through Dr. Slatin was able to considerable influence on the development and implementation of accessibility standards world-wide. This included the formation of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative and the WCAG 1.0 and 2.0 as well as the US Access Board and the Section 508 standards. Although I have tremendous admiration and respect for John, I do not believe that he would have been as influential had his advocacy not been backed by the solid research conducted at the Institute and the prestige of the University of Texas. The loss of the UT Accessibility Institute is a loss for the University, the State of Texas, the nation, and the world. Most importantly it is a loss for millions of disabled people who have benefited from the research, education, and advocacy that was conducted through the Institute.

The University runs promotional commercials during sports broadcasts where Walter Cronkite, speaks about the influence of the University. “The University of Texas, what starts here changes the world.” This was certainly true of the Accessibility Institute. By closing the Institute, the University of Texas is signaling that accessibility is not a priority anymore. I can only hope that this decision does not change the world.

Today I am ashamed of my alma mater.


The Accessibility Institute
is a research organization located on the UT Austin campus. This institute has focused on research of accessibility issues and offers training and consultation services to promote all aspects of Web and software accessibility for the university community. The initiative demonstrated and projects by the University of Texas served as a model to others nationally and across the globe, including The University of Wisconsin at Madison's Trace Center, as well as The University of Washington who called "A Promising Practice in Web Accessibility".

With the move to provide more educational content on the Web, a Student Web Accessibility Project was developed specifically to support accessibility of instructional resources on campus. The project had several components, including assessments of online instructional resources against Section 508 standards for Web accessibility, development of resources to support the creation of accessible online course materials, and assistance to developers in integrating accessibility into project planning and design of instructional sites. Findings were published in EDUCAUSE Quarterly in 2007.

The Accessibility Institute also ensured 508 compliance through reviews for entities such as the Government of Victoria, Australia; and its own UT portal into the Texas Digital Library.

From a personal standpoint, I find the tutorials very useful when I work on developing web pages for my state agency. I hopet the state of Texas, the international community and its affected populations don't lose this valuable resource. As A UT alumnus, this event will be the tipping point on whether I will be willing to contribute money to my alma mater.

I am most saddened that the legacy of John is ending so abruptly.

I am inspired by John, and other people who struggle with disabilities whether temporary or permanent. I'm reminded of the call to action to Beth Finke made to the accessibility community at the 2008 John Slation Access U.

"I can't get the technical stuff! CSS - What's that?! Cacading Spread Sheets? Thank you for the work you do, and keep doing it!"

"For most people, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible." - President's Council on Disabilities

1 comment:

JLF said...

Below is my email and the response from UT:

Dear Ms. Frazier,

Thank you for your comments. Dr. Slatin was both a friend and a colleague and a unique talent whose research interests and expertise were the basis for the formation and operation of the Accessibility Institute. All of us were most fortunate to have had the benefit of his efforts. Without him, however, the fundamental core of the Institute is gone.

Although we will not have a research Institute at UT, we will certainly continue our commitment to web accessibility.
Thank you again for your comments.

Steve Monti

> Dear Dr. Monti:
> As an alumnus and a member of the instructional design community, I'm extremely disappointed to learn of your decision to close the Accessibility Institute. Many of us believe that UT should continue to support inclusion of all minds in intellectual pursuits and access to knowledge. As a former designer for a state agency here in Texas, I know the mere presence of the institute helped to ensure that accessibility was addressed in the creation of web sites for the public.
> Please reconsider. We need the research in this growing field.
> --
> Jill Frazier
> Informed Learning