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Higher Ed Demand Gen Podcast

Accessibility Mini Series Episode 1 : Accessibility and Inclusion: The Importance of Leading with Universal Design – Katie Grennell

Shiro Hatori
Hello everyone. Welcome to the higher ed demand gen podcast hosted by Concept3d. We have a quick message from our sponsors. So if your school needs an interactive map, virtual tour or centralized events counselor, please reach out to concept 3d dot com. Thank you. My name is Shiro and I will be your host. Today I’m speaking from our lovely Mountain Home in Silverthorne, Colorado. And I am very, very excited to introduce our guest today, Katie Grinnell. She is the accessibility strategist at Anthology and also an adjunct professor at Buffalo State College. Welcome to the podcast. Katie.

Katie
Thank you, Shiro thank you so much for having me. Happy to be here.

Shiro Hatori
And I love asking all our guests this. So I will start with an icebreaker on what do you love about higher ed.

Katie
Okay, so I would say it’s likely the freedom and the autonomy to teach more challenging concepts or isms, like ableism, racism and things like that, and to take it into a different level. So it makes me think particularly of a class that I took as an undergraduate student, I started my history degree, and actually, in social studies, and education, I thought I was gonna go and be a teacher for history. And then I took my first class as a college student taking an American History course. And it blew my mind in the best way possible. So it really made me think more about how I could potentially change the way that I teach and reach a different audience and really think about it within more abstract spaces. And so for me, it’s really about that freedom, to be able to use things like popular, you know, music or movies or, you know, literature to use that as a different medium to talk about certain types of themes and teach those themes. So I would say for sure, it’s the freedom to really be able to explore some of those different types of, you know, content items to push students, to also help them to kind of bring it back to how it connects to them. That was my very long-winded answer.

Shiro Hatori
No, I love it. It’s it creates a great transition for, for me. So you know, I’d love to learn a little bit more about your story, which you started to tell in your journey into, you know, why? Why accessibility? Why is this a passion for you? I know, it’s not just you know, your job. It’s something you’re passionate about. I’d love for you to go into detail there.

Katie
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s, it’s naturally a winding and serpentine story. So first and foremost, I identify as disabled, I have both visible and invisible disabilities. So for me, that has been a part of my life for for as long as I can remember, I was born with neuropathy in my legs, so I wear a brace. And the brace helps even out my foot. So I don’t, you know, drag my foot and things like that. And that naturally led to other complications as well that you cannot visibly see. So there’s always been this really weird juxtaposition of trying to manage that on my own, but then also, in a way manage how the rest of the world family and friends included see me as an individual with a disability or multiple disabilities. But as far as how I got into it as a career, when I started school, graduate school, I was going for my masters in history. And my my plan was to teach history and I was going to change the world. I teach history in college. And so I went for my PhD, and I, instead of going into a history program, I went directly into an American Studies Program, which, if you’re not familiar, it’s a pretty broad discipline, and you essentially, kind of pick your own ism or area, if you will, so like race, ethnicity, you know, could say you know, social, socio-economic, you know, different types of areas that you’re interested in, and you’re really kind of focusing on a different type of history or things like that. So I started it in looking at American popular music. And about, I would say, two semesters into my Ph. D. program. I learned about disability studies as an academic discipline, Cheryl, I had no idea that this even existed. So it was, it was life-altering, because it led me in a different direction, career-wise, but it also helped me kind of figure out and learn how to, you know, conceive of myself as a disabled person in a strong and empowering way. That’s continuous, you know, I would say conversation that and relationship that I have or aspect of myself that I’m constantly working on. But it really was able to open up so many different doors for me. And so from there, you know, I finished school and I had been adjunct dean at multiple different, you know, institutions near Buffalo, New York, which is where I’m based. And I started working for what was then called Campus Labs now called Anthology. And I’ve been with Anthology, which is a higher-ed tech company, I’ve been with the company for over six years. So it’s about six and a half years. And the most recent role that I am in now is the accessibility strategist. So what’s phenomenal with this role is I actually get to use a lot of what I learned in graduate school, in the work that I do on a daily basis with our clients that have our product called ally, so allies and accessibility tool, and that is what I consult on. So it’s been a really weird winding road. But I guess, you know, in looking back on it retrospectively, it should have it needed to happen that way. So I could, it could bring me to this, you know, space in my life now.

Shiro Hatori
Thank you so much for sharing that. And that’s yeah, an incredible journey that’s having a moment where you really changed. Directions is, you know, it’s it’s life changing. And so that’s very good insight. I’m curious, you know, we, in our previous intro discussion, we talked a lot about accessibility, right. And there needs to be part of the universal design of higher education. We feel like a lot of schools and quite frankly, the world is it’s just a checkbox. And you know, one of the strong points of view we have an I have is that, you know, websites, institutions, schools, businesses can really be leading with accessibility and creating that as a part of their universal design. And I know you have some, some comments around that as well. What are your thoughts on really improving that as a part of the fundamental design of education?

Katie
Yeah, so this is a great question Shiro, I think, first and foremost, what needs to happen is almost like a demystifying or debunking of this idea of accessibility or disability as something that we cannot talk about. And that is probably one of the reasons why it’s typically left out of those, you know, dei be so your diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, initiatives or conversations and efforts that you see within higher education in the US. It’s, you know, very similar to some of the other social constructions. If we think about disability, as in a social construction standpoint, it’s not so much about the actual impairment that the person has, it’s how society views them, and basically, you know, boxes them into a specific type of category or a, you know, identity, and then puts barriers up everywhere. So, we want to break that right, we want to demystify, that, we want to debunk that talking about disability and accessibility is not bad. And I say that as somebody living with multiple disabilities, I would much rather and in fact, I would openly invite anybody to ask me questions. And if I don’t want to answer it, I won’t answer. But for the most part, I want people to feel comfortable and engaging in that conversation, to help break down, you know, the barrier to even talking about it in the first place. So hopefully, it’s with that, that we’re starting to see that it becomes a more natural and organic conversation and component in those larger conversations. Because it should not be a separate, you know, thing that we’re thinking about or addressing, it needs to be integrated into every single aspect of universal design. And that that’s not just in teaching and learning. It’s not just in the physical logistics of an institution and how their campus is set up. It’s also in their Alumni Outreach, it’s also in their retention work. It’s also in their, you know, student success work as well, all those different types of initiatives, accessibility is a part of every single component. And so it needs to be more naturally kind of, you know, thread without, you know, these different types of efforts and institutions and departments in a way that isn’t putting it on this, you know, into the separate space that it needs to be about accommodation, right, it’s more equitable, if it’s something that’s kind of naturally ingrained from the very beginning.

Shiro Hatori
Gotcha. So really moving the conversation where you, like you said, are from just accommodations to being equitable and, and also creating a comfort zone. Yeah, okay. I don’t remember the exact word you use, but to to have those conversations to be more open, and transparent is Yeah, is one of the things you believe in. Yes. Gotcha. And real quick just for vocabulary. Since I think I told you how to do a quick Google search on D IB. I knew what the I was. But could you tell us a little bit more about the be the belonging part of it? Absolutely. And what, yeah, what it stands for what it means.

Katie
So I’m glad you asked this year Oh, this is, I think this is a perfect example of, you know, aiming to be accessible and equitable in our language. So I’m glad you’re asking. So I would say probably about five, six years ago, maybe even longer, you know, before that, we started to see higher education and coming up with these, you know, what I like to call alphabet soup, these different types of initiatives on campus. So it’s really about promoting diversity, which is the D equity, your E, I inclusion, and then be belonging. So this is typically thinking about how to make a campus and the learning environment, the teaching environment, more inclusive, more inviting of all different types of people more diverse, so making sure we have representation coming from different types of groups, particularly those that are marginalized or have been historically marginalized. And also, when we’re thinking of belonging, that’s so much about making it a safe space where people from all different backgrounds and coming from all different lived experiences, feel safe, to be able to voice their, you know, their opinions, their perspectives to be themselves, and to actually feel that they belong, and they have a place there. So it’s a hard thing to do, especially from a collective standpoint, to try to get everybody in an institution, you know, on that on that kind of page. So a lot of these different dei B offices. And sometimes, you know, justice will also be one of the letters in that alphabet soup, we’ve seen that with some other institutions. Typically, you know, we see all sorts of different programs and different types of trainings, you know, equity based training, having more, you know, diverse, I would say, scholars and instructors that are a part of, you know, the institution. So there’s a lot of different functions that that that actual type of initiative has. But what typically is left out of it explicitly is accessibility. And I mean, I have theories and ideas as to why but I think it’s that part right now. It’s, it’s more so it’s been that way for a long time, what can we do to move that forward? And to have accessibility part of those different types of initiatives from the very beginning?

Shiro Hatori
I love that. And you know what, I was just thinking, I met a digital accessibility specialist. I can’t remember her exact title. But she, they created a new role for digital accessibility in the Justice Department, I guess, I think I forget the exact name. I’ll pull it up in a bit. But yeah, she just was created a new role. And I think there’s some movement into merging it within the D IB, or d i departments within schools. But yeah, it’s a prime example of what I’m hearing because that position was just created, and it didn’t exist before.

Katie
Yeah, I’m glad to hear that it you know, a lot of schools have digital accessibility or accessibility specialists. And they are typically situated within the accessibility office or the disability services office, there’s, you know, lots of schools have different names for that office, the office that would be in charge of providing accommodations for students that do disclose as having some type of disability. So it’s great to see though, that there are positions like that, that are extending beyond that space. It’s not that they’re not needed in that space they are. But there’s other areas as well, in particular, marketing, communication, things like that, but also really need to have, you know, those types of specialists to make sure that the content that they are disseminating, and sharing with either prospective or current students, donors, alumni, that it’s accessible.

Shiro Hatori
So I am a marketer, and I have a business hat on, you know, half of the time and, you know, I’m thinking of the belonging aspect of the tip the be to really play a function in maybe student persistence or, you know, a student’s ability to continue their education, which obviously has the business side, which is, you know, the student retention aspect. But do you think that, that part that plays a role if you’re really focusing more on belonging, because I think, statistically, students with disabilities have a high dropout rate within the four years at a four year institution and more and so I’m just putting my business head a little bit in what does that mean?

Katie
Absolutely. So I, let’s, let’s think of it, you know, let’s, let’s come up with an example here. So let’s say you are a student that is visually impaired, and you go to access the website for the school that you’re considering, you know, applying to or attending. And you’re using a screen reader, if you are, for the most part, you know, for a lot of students that are visually impaired, you’re using a screen reader. And if the screen reader is not able to actually access the website, or it’s not keyboard, you know, navigable that is a red flag right there. So I mean, how, from that standpoint, if their very first interaction with the institution, from a business standpoint, right, is the fact that they cannot actually access their website? I mean, for me, if that was the case, for me? Absolutely not. It’s not even a question. Because if the very basic interface, that is the website is not accessible, what what does that probably mean for, you know, learning content and things like that, or getting around in a safe? manner? So, for sure, I think it’s, you know, a lot of times that the idea of making sure that your content was accessible or thinking about things in a more accessible standpoint, you know, it made business sense from a compliance standpoint. So it’s like, oh, we don’t want a lawsuit. So let’s just make sure that we, you know, we, you know, dot our i’s and cross our T’s. But it’s, it’s not just about compliance. So, it’s, and it’s not just about accommodation. So if we think of it, like, what is this ultimate trajectory, and goal of like, what’s the unicorn of accessibility, it’s that marketers that businesses are looking at this from a universal standpoint, where they really do want to reach everybody, it’s not just one specific type of person, right, with a disclosed or, you know, not disclosed disability. So it’s really again, making sure that the content that you are creating is accessible in multiple different ways to multiple different learners and users on multiple different devices. That’s another really big thing. You want to make sure that things are responsive if you’re using a mobile device or a screen reader. And I think, especially from kind of a business standpoint, if you if you are failing to even have that kind of basic level of accessibility. I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s pretty, you know, problematic.

Shiro Hatori
Absolutely. And I think, yes, I think we, we touched on this in our introduction call. And we actually are conducting our own research here at Concept3D on accessibility and digital accessibility. And we found a lot of admin and faculty are not sure where to like, find or send people or refer people to when it comes to a school’s dedication to accessibility, I almost guarantee like most schools have somewhere where the students dedication to accessibility, both from a physical and digital standpoint are stated, but it’s often hard to find, is that what you’ve also found in your experience?

Katie
Yes, um, so I would say, you know, from my experience as an instructor, that was something that I needed to kind of seek out on my own, so that I was making sure I was including that information for my students. I mean, every school is legally bound, they have to have an office like that you to, to actually comply and adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act, sections 504 and 508, you know, from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, like those are the guiding, you know, pieces of legislation that determine how public institutions and private institutions are providing accommodation and access for students. The thing that I have found is that, you know, unless it is, you know, unless the, the instructor or the student is already familiar with an office, so perhaps they do need accommodation and they’ve already been going there. It’s it’s something that everyone seems to kind of universally know, is there, but it’s not really openly discussed. And I don’t know if that’s necessary because it’s a taboo thing. It’s more of the, the direct, you know, immediacy or relevancy. If someone doesn’t use it, then they’re not necessary or they don’t, you know, they’re not good friends with or partners with somebody that is constantly needing or does need some type of accommodation. It just might not be in their, you know, at the forefront of their mind. So I think for what faculty really need to do is themselves to really learn about what types of accommodations the accessibility office at their institution involves, and get to know the people that work there. I mean, that’s kind of the great thing is that it’s typically students that are going in and seeking those accommodations. But a faculty want to get more interested and learn more about the different types of, you know, accommodations that are available, what the process looks like, perhaps they just want to know, what can they do to better support their students, make an appointment at that office, go visit the office, email, somebody that works there and ask for some suggestions. And from there, it’s a matter of making sure students are aware of that, right. So including that in their syllabi, putting, you know, a resource link on there, whichever LMS they use their learning management system, if it’s Blackboard, Canvas, etc, making sure that these places are, you know, visibly being called out so that students know where to go. It’s not that a student couldn’t necessarily just Google it and find it on their own. But it’s providing that additional layer. I think that also speaks volumes of the commitment that individual faculty members would have to their student’s accessibility.

Shiro Hatori
Right, and that, you know, I was gonna ask a question around, you know, how do you create that culture around, you know, for the faculty, and staff to, to want to go do some of that research, but I think you answered it, the next sentence, which is, as educators, you know, they want to, they should want to know, more ways to support their students in the classroom outside the classroom, because that is their job. And that is, you know, why they’re probably in higher ed is they want to help these students and help educate them. So, you know, if you answered my question before, I was able to ask it, that’s great.

Katie
I meant to do that. And, you

Shiro Hatori
know, I did, you know, yeah, and we were talking a little bit, you know, about the classroom and how, you know, accessibility is also something lacking there. We talked a little bit about website, which is, you know, when you first get introduced to the school, there’s elements there around digital accessibility, the physical campus meeting commendations, making sure all those resources are there. And then we talked a lot about, you know, as an educator, you have experience on the education side, the learning side, and I think you mentioned some gaps there are within accessibility and resources for each classroom, right, in each each class. And I think one thing you mentioned was around like, syllabus is not including accessibility options. You know, can you go into a little more detail there of what you’re finding? And what needs to change? Or where do you think the direction is going right now?

Katie
No, absolutely. So I think we’re, we’ve definitely seen a pretty big movement around syllabus, I would say creation and formatting. And over the last five to 10 years, we’re starting to see a lot more of those DDI be initiatives kind of make their way into the syllabi. And I think that’s needed. And it’s so helpful and incredible. But I think this is one of those opportunities that, you know, faculty have to set the precedent that accessibility and diversity and inclusion and belonging and their students well being matters to them. And I say all of this, as I know, there’s lots of memes and T shirts that say it’s on the syllabus. So I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this type of joke Shiro where, especially among faculty, you know, students are continuously asking questions and the answers already in the syllabus. And it’s this, you know, it’s this perception that students aren’t reading the actual syllabus. And, you know, we can’t control that, no matter how, you know, aesthetically beautiful and snazzy, and, you know, what have you, you know, that we make our syllabus, it doesn’t mean we can determine or guarantee that every student will read it. So, right, I like to, you know, and again, and that becomes kind of this like, comical joke among faculty. And I’m sure there is, there is yes, there is some truth to it, but like, Let’s push that. And instead of just assuming the worst about our students, let’s think about what else can we do from the very beginning to set that stage that they know that they are welcome, and that you’re going to do everything you can as the faculty member to make it an accessible and, you know, belonging and inclusive environment. So, the first thing I always do is I always include an accessibility statement on my syllabus. So a lot of institutions sometimes or departments within the institution might determine what a faculty member should put as far as like a policy goes about accessibility and their syllabus. So if I’m working at an institution that already has something like this I really then just continue to add more color. And I will talk about my individual commitment to accessibility in the class. And you know, I will always have an open invitation for students to come talk to me if they have questions about, you know, digital accessibility, or accessibility in general doesn’t only need to be relegated to digital. So I think it’s a lot of that type of language. It’s really important. I think the other part too, is it’s, it’s also about, you know, setting clear, you know, expectations from the very beginning. So one of the things that is also pretty common, especially when we think about first generation students, is the this idea of the hidden curriculum. Have you heard of this before Shiro? No, yeah. Yeah, okay. So um, so this is basically like different types of assumptions that a lot of you know, faculty members and administrators make about students, assuming that they know certain things coming into college. So like, in other words, you know, the assumption that everyone knows to say, you know, in an email, right, as far as like email etiquette goes to start with Dear professor or dear doctor. And so it’s part of that hidden curriculum, where it’s almost like these little, you know, you know, micro tests that you’re assuming the student knows how to behave a certain way, or how to conduct themselves a certain way. And especially for those that are coming, you know, if they’re, this is first generation, and they don’t have others to talk to you about how to do these types of things, how would they know? So we want to debunk that. So that’s one of the other things I think is really important in the syllabus, is really being very clear. of, you know, what I expect. And if there is some confusion, or you know, if students are, you know, really just not sure how to do something, then take the time to demonstrate that in your class, or demonstrate that based on how you as a faculty member, you know, communicate with them, you know, talk about when you know, and how often you are checking your email. So when they can expect a response, you know, if they have a question, should they email you? Or should they send a message through their learning management system, like, those different types of things that not everybody is going to come into, you know, the college experience knowing and we shouldn’t expect that they do.

Shiro Hatori
Right now, that makes perfect sense. And this whole topic on this, including the accessibility statement in the syllabus got me thinking, Now, if I’m a student, obviously, there are a lot of students who don’t know really what they want to major study in, but there’s usually at least a line to certain college, right? If they want to go pro, they’ll probably go arts and science, but I just thought of it. Another opportunity for adding this statement in is like, at each college level, are each college website, right, like having like that college engineering school saying, we are for all classes in digital screen readers, and we have a commitment for this. Just having that information up top, I think is a huge opportunity for admissions marketing, too, because they’ll know that all this all the other classes below and you know, that parents are going to be accessible, like right off the bat. And so yeah, absolutely. That was just something that made your syllabus idea got me thinking about. Yeah, yeah. And another thought is, I mean, with, obviously, the pandemic, and obviously, just, you know, digital tools increasing even before that a lot. Most classrooms and this is when I was in school, obviously, most of my classrooms have some integration with LMS, or some sort of online tool or program. But that’s probably more ingrained in every now. Now, right. And so this focus on the ability to take the curriculum, have a class and have accessible options is more important than ever, because most classrooms have a digital component to it now that may or may not have been accessible and a few years ago.

Katie
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the neat things about the tool that I really support at my work, or with my work at anthology. So li it’s a11y. This is an accessibility tool. And it does a couple of different things based on the audience type. So for students, what it does is it offers alternative formats for different types of content items. So as an example, let’s say you have you know, I write my syllabus for my students. I upload it to Blackboard, which is the learning management system we use. And it’s it’s originally formatted as a Word document. But let’s say I have a student that needs it as a Braille-ready file format because they use a refreshable Braille display well they can download it as, as this Has a type of format that they need. Or let’s say they are using a screen reader, or any other type of, you know, text to speech functionality. And they need to be able to have a tagged PDF, right? So when you tag a PDF, it means you’re, you’re providing these different types of tags or identification labels, if you will, to different parts of a document. So like the title, the heading, you know, begin a paragraph, so text to speech will read it aloud for that. So while yes, when we think about, you know, Ally and how it offers these alternative formats for specific types of learners, it also goes beyond that in a more universal design or universal design for learning standpoint in that, yes, it directly benefits are students that do disclose and have a disability and are seeking some type of accommodation. But it also helps all other types of learners, right. So if you can take a article that you need to read for a class, and you can convert it to an audio format, and on your way, driving to school, or driving to work, or folding laundry, or doing dishes at night, you can listen to that, that’s incredible. So really, again, it’s it’s beneficial for all maybe perhaps it was originally, you know, designed to address a particular type of impairment and disability. But it really then goes above and beyond that, if we’re looking at it from that universal design standpoint.

The biggest challenge for [Claremont Graduate University] was lack of a centralized map system entirely. Roughly 30 different maps existed on our website pre-[Concept3D], created by various departments to meet their own needs.

Claremont Graduate University
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Steven Lim, Marketing Vice President, Vantage Data Centers
Our residents are getting more savvy with technology and they will certainly appreciate a tool that guides them from location to location on our campus. Concept3D’s wayfinding capability was the immediate draw for us, but the map and interactive media have been valuable for depicting a bird’s eye view in print materials, or when scheduling an onsite visit. Residents, visitors and even staff find a lot of utility and functionality in Concept3d, and we often hear compliments about our beautiful map.
Mike Haber, Digital Media Manager, Shell Point
The CMS makes integrating our data feeds a simple, easy process. We can update our content feed once and it updates within the CMS and our map simultaneously.
Robby Sietz, Webmaster, Ole Miss

The new virtual campus map is particularly helpful to showcase our campus to prospective students and families who are not quite ready or able to physically visit campus. International students are a great example of a group who typically do not visit our campus before enrolling, but really value getting a birds-eye view of the place they’re considering calling home.

Admissions Director at Boise State
We saw the potential of Concept3D’s platform right away, and it was amazing to see our space come to life in a fully interactive 3D map. We know the platform will improve the overall guest and attendee experience, and we’re excited for all the ways that we can use it for both internal and external needs moving forward.
John Adams, General Manager, Colorado Convention Center

We want Rice to be a welcoming destination for art, music, lectures, food, athletic events, lectures – a great place to visit just to enjoy the beauty of our campus. [The Concept3D] mapping system will help people find those amenities and explore those opportunities.

Linda Thrane, Vice President of Public Affairs, Rice University

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