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Thanks to Tonu Mikk and Phil Kragnes from Disability Services for providing today's blog post! If you'd like to contribute to The Beat, send an email to

The University of Minnesota has a new Web resource on accessibility  The September 29, 2010 UMN Brief describes the site as follows: will be a "one stop" for creating accessible documents, presentations, and multimedia; taking a universal design approach to teaching with centrally supported technology; developing web content for users with a variety of learning styles, devices and adaptive technologies; seeking information on accessibility-related federal and Minnesota state laws, U policies, and international web guidelines; and satisfying curiosity about adaptive technologies.

The accessibility Web site is also referenced in the September 30, 2010 OIT Tech Brief newsletter and the October 4, 2010 Tech Brief. 

The impetus for the Web site is to provide University faculty, staff and students a centralized information resource regarding the accessibility of electronic materials.  Although the site's primary focus is on creating accessible materials for users with disabilities, the information and best practices promoted by the site benefit all users -- users with different learning styles, users of hand-held and other devices with small displays, users whose equipment does not support all features, users searching for information and those who update information to name a few.  This universal design approach is reflected in the statement on the site, "advancing access for everyone."

 What are some examples of things that can be done to help to ensure equal access to educational materials?  Some are simple, such as creating documents with logical headings created by applying styles; providing descriptive alternative text for images; avoiding the use of color or font attributes alone to convey information; and others.  The Web site offers step-by-step "how to" instructions for completing such operations.  Some tasks are not so simple or straight forward, such as captioning a video or converting a textbook into an audible format.  In these cases the user is provided with contact information for individuals with expertise in the area or unit providing the service.

The accessibility site also offers extensive information and resources on Web accessibility from the University of Minnesota Accessibility of Information Technology (AIT) Web standards to an annotated list of Web accessibility assessment tools.  Although such automated tools are a good starting point, they cannot address the functional accessibility and usability of a Web site.  Although reviewing of a Web site using adaptive technology is the best assessment of functional accessibility, a link to a Web Accessibility Self-assessment Utility is available from the accessibility site.  The utility is in the form of a series of questions designed to help identify accessibility issues and document their resolution.

As more and more education delivery happens using online tools it becomes increasingly important for instructors to be aware of the accessibility limitations of these tools.  The accessibility barriers and best practices for some university centrally supported technologies are outlined in the "Learning Technologies at the U" section of the site -- topics include Moodle, Google Apps, MyU Portal, UMConnect Meeting, Clickers, UMWiki, UThink and Wimba Voice Tools.

In addition to creating accessible documents, multimedia, Web sites and learning activities, the accessibility site also covers Federal and state laws, university policies, and web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the World Wide Web consortium (W3C) that pertain to equal access to education and electronic information.  The final section of the site, "Adaptive Technologies," lists various adaptive technologies, describes their function and use, and identifies those supported at the U.

The accessibility site is a resource for all students, faculty, staff, and members of the community.  Capabilities and features of current and emerging technologies, differences in learning styles, faster easier materials updating with fewer errors, and accommodating users with disabilities are just a few good reasons to follow accessibility best practices.  The accessibility site is here to help to limit barriers and promote inclusion.  Visit today!

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