Print this page

Lucy Greco

  Accessibility in Education


The Long Road to Accessibility

Tell a Friend

In Part I of this post, UC Berkeley web accessibility expert Lucy Greco recounts the decade long advocacy campaign kickstarted by developers, designers and inclusive rights champions to establish a pan-University IT accessibility policy.

Part 1: Laying the Groundwork

August 27, 2013 was one of the proudest days of my life. This was the day when many years of hard work finally paid off and the president of the University of California signed the electronic accessibility IT policy. In this post, I am going to look back on the journey and hopefully give those of you who are still on this journey some insight into how we achieved this difficult goal.

When I first began work at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) in 2005, only two or three developers on campus had ever heard of ways to program for accessibility. Most developers on the UCB campus were what we in the UC Berkeley community had dubbed “accidental” web designers. Many of the people creating websites at UCB had never designed a website prior to suddenly being appointed a web master, and had never received any formal training in either web design or accessibility. Most of these designers were struggling with how to change their varied skill sets to create a website, let alone with how to make that website accessible.

UC Berkeley campus

Image: View from Memorial Glade of Sather Tower (The Campanile), the center of UC Berkeley.
The ring of its bells and clock can be heard from all over campus. Source: Flickr

Prior to my arrival, a small group of individuals had begun weekly meetings to talk about how Berkeley could address this extremely large population of incidental web designers and encourage them to create more accessible websites. I joined this group shortly after beginning work and realized that we had an extremely daunting task ahead of us.

This weekly group of individuals consisted of a few people from the IT policy office and two other blind staff members from the campus. Very early on, the IT policy staff realized that there was a lot to understand about how disabled users interact with websites before we could begin work on an ideal accessibility policy. The UCB team spent the next several years teaching ourselves how to make accessible websites and passed on the training to others.  

At the same time, another group of people across the University of California system were also starting to talk about having a policy to help create better websites. A working group was formed with members from all of the 10 campuses and the system-wide headquarters to write this policy. We began the process with an in-person meeting at the Berkeley campus. Almost all the UC campuses were represented at this daylong event. I remember sitting at the table with this very energetic group of people who shared a single thought. We all wanted to make UC websites more accessible.

However, each of us had very differing ideas about what this meant. The difficulty in doing this was that each campus was at an extraordinarily different stage when it came to accessibility. The people at the table all addressed the group, each giving a description of what was happening at their campuses for accessibility. We needed to bring the 10 different campuses to agree to one umbrella concept.

One of the campuses had an accessibility person embedded within their IT department and had done so for several years. Today, this campus has a team of individuals working within their web infrastructure to assure that many of their websites are as accessible as they can make them. A few of the campuses had representatives from their disabled students programs, such as myself, whose primary role was not web accessibility but to contribute once in a while to general accessibility on campus. A few of the other campuses had their Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) officers available to the campus to advice on what was or was not accessible. Other campuses just had an individual who was interested in accessibility and therefore the default accessibility go-to person on campus. The system-wide committee was formed from this diverse group of individuals from every campus to create a policy that would be effective across all campuses. We began meeting via conference call for the next few years to work on our draft policy for accessibility. 

Through the entire process one issue kept raising its ugly head. How could we have such a policy that required the university to implement accessibility changes without funding it? Everyone said that we are considering creating an unfunded mandate. Unfunded mandates are always very unpopular. This mandate became even more unpopular because most of the people seeing it as we went through the policy steps did not understand what accessibility was or how to implement it. This new concept was frightening because it came in without any funding from anywhere. Ultimately in 2007, the initial draft of that policy ground to its end when it was sent out for general comments to the entire UC system. The comments came back that this policy could not be enforced without any funding and/or infrastructure.

Lucy Greco at work with one of her clients

Image: Lucy Greco at work with one of her clients

The working group was not daunted; we regrouped and started again. We invited new people to the table and eventually formed a new formal committee to lead this cause. This widely diverse system of campuses is completely autonomous from one another but all report up to the same infrastructure. Many committees are formed in different subject areas with representatives from each campus to collaborate across the university.

The committee composed of the chief information officers at every campus is called the Information Technology Leadership Committee (ITLC). The ITLC was approached by the accessibility group and eventually formed the formal Electronic Accessibility Leadership Team “EALT” to work on a new draft for an accessibility policy.

Each of the members of the ITLC was asked to appoint representatives to this new working group. The EALT was now a formal working group with not only support from the ITLC but also support from the UC president. The then-UC president Mark Yudof had written a supporting letter stating the importance of electronic accessibility to UC

With our committee charter in hand and president Yudof’s letter as ammunition, we began our policy journey. Through countless drafts and monthly meetings, our new policy was born. As we worked through the policy, we also began to address the core problems facing accessibility at UC. We looked back at the questions asked during the previous attempt at establishing a policy mandate and tried to answer them.

One of our first big tasks was creating a website that had tools and resources that developers and managers could use for information about accessibility. We continued to develop useful information and resources to post on our electronic accessibility website
Look out for Part 2 next week: Making the Impossible, Accessible


Related Resources

Blog: The Everyday Life of a Blind Technologist | Read Lucy Greco's Blog
Publication: CRPD 2013 ICT Accessibility Progress Report | Developed by G3ict in collaboration with DPI | Read Overview  
Event: 5th International Congress on Design, Research Networks and Technology for All | September 23-25, 2013 - Madrid, Spain | View Event Details