Monday, June 09, 2008

Creating an Accessible IT Community of Practice

How can we work together as a community to create information technology that is accessible to people with disabilities? On many campuses, this question is being addressed by creating a "Community of Practice" which uses various forms of communication and sharing (blogs, software libraries, bookmark lists, wikis, shared development projects, etc.) to support efficency and synergy in achieving and maintaining accessibility in IT.
  • What tools would help us share the load?
  • What accessibility related activities would you find worth participating in?
  • What resources can we build to support our work?
  • Where do you find the most useful information about accessibility?
  • What challenges and issues loom large in your situation?
  • What tools, sites, or services are most useful to you now?
Let us know what you think will work here at the UW!


Dan said...

I think a major upcoming challenge is the push to use "free" solutions as substitutes for standard productivity. Things like Google Docs,, are going to be attractive to some administrators because they're perceived as low or no cost replacement software. However most features of these products are not available to a large number of computer users with disabilities.

In a similar vein, looking at social networking products such as Facebook should be a priority. I understand there is pressure to consider these tools as avenues to reach out to students. However again there are some fairly severe shortcomings in many of these products when it comes to accessibility.

Terry Thompson said...

I think we face three challenges related to the products we deploy, whether or not they're of the "free" variety:

1. We need to convince those making procurement/deployment decisions to consider accessibility as a criteria in choosing a product.

2. We need to thoroughly document the accessibility features, accessibility problems, and their workarounds, of any products that we ultimately deploy.

3. We need to pressure vendors to create accessible products, and work collaboratively with them to ensure their products meet our criteria.

Getting back to Rick's original question, the challenge is identifying who within the university has the time and commitment to contribute to these efforts. In theory the UW's Accessibility in IT SIG is a good venue for this, but since it's inception there hasn't been much activity there. Why is this? Apparently creating a community requires more effort than "If you build it, they will come". I don't think MediaWiki (our official SIG environment) is necessarily the problem, given the resounding success of Wikipedia and similar projects. But I'm puzzled as to how to get more active participation, especially when this isn't explicitly required within folks' job descriptions.