Director of Customer Relations & Principal Strategist for Accessibility, Blackboard
I started my adventure in learning about accessibility pretty much at birth. At the age of 4, I began my career as a sign language interpreter for my parents and friends, providing communication over the phone and in every type of day to day setting. This exposure led to a formal career after college in various roles with local education & agencies, state departments & universities and on federal initiatives, all centered around creating inclusive environments for individuals with varying abilities. It was in 1998 when I accepted a full-time position as a Department Chair that I began pouring into students who also wanted to impact accessibility in their communities as a sign language interpreter. Due to the demand and desire to create an even greater impact, within my first year I decided to transition from a brick and mortar to an entirely online program.
While gaining knowledge about designing for online delivery, creating an inclusive learning environment by applying universal design principles was a must. It was another way to expose my students to inclusiveness while creating a better learning environment for all. After joining the Blackboard team 15 years ago, I had an occasional opportunity to speak on the topic of accessibility in online delivery but for the most part it was a topic only a few were interested in. While the interest was low, I continued to infuse opportunities in an attempt to build awareness. Over the last several years though, with an increasing demand from students as well as high profile lawsuits, the interest has dramatically increased.
Unfortunately, much of higher education is still operating under antiquated information such as the notion that accessibility is the responsibility of a single office or individual on campus or that accessible learning environments don’t need to be provided until a student self identifies as a student with a disability. When made aware that it only takes one student and one inaccessible document to launch an investigation, institutions scramble to figure out what they need to do and how to change the culture at their institution so that everyone assumes responsibility for creating an inclusive learning environment. My role at Blackboard as a principal strategist focused on accessibility enables me to partner with institutions to first review their current state of eLearning accessibility throughout a student’s lifecycle from registration through graduation and to jointly design an eLearning accessibility plan. We can also perform an eLearning course accessibility audit. This course audit reviews content and pedagogical approaches used in the online course environment providing an individual course report as well as an institutional report identifying trends for further faculty development.