Preliminary results from a survey to measure the benefits of Accessibility and Universal Design Topics in Course Curricula

Howard Kramer, University of Colorado Boulder, AHEAD, hkramer@colorado.edu

Abstract

This paper discusses the preliminary results from a national survey conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder to gauge the student benefits of taking accessibility and Universal Design topics in post-secondary courses. About a dozen programs and schools with a focus on Computer Science, Digital Media, Environmental Design, or other technical or design-related programs, agreed to distribute the survey to their current students and recent graduates. To date we have received 114 responses. Students who had taken these topics overwhelmingly rated these topics as either crucial (48.3%) or very valuable (31.7%). The results of this preliminary survey support the idea that including courses with these topics has notable work or career benefits, including finding employment. 42% of those taking courses with these topics reported some type of benefit in the area of work. Five individuals (or about 10%) of individuals who took these topics mentioned either that it specifically helped or possibly helped them to obtain a particular job or that it directed their career path.

1. Background – Change in Attitude Towards Accessibility

The last decade has seen a significant shift in the way that the business and the tech community regard web accessibility; shifting from an attitude of indifference, at best, and at times, hostility, to an approach that is much more proactive with regards to the creation of accessible websites and other electronic information systems used by the public. This change has in large part been due to court rulings that have interpreted the coverage of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) to include digital environments and the actions and policies of the Department of Justice to include websites and other electronic information systems under the scope of the ADA.

This change in outlook has led to an effort by businesses, particularly tech companies, to hire more individuals with accessibility knowledge. This was demonstrated in a 2015 press release by tech firms such as Yahoo, Facebook, Dropbox and LinkedIn stating that they will develop standard language that lets applicants “know that having accessibility knowledge is ‘preferred’ to land a job” [1].

Although it now appears that having accessibility skills is in greater demand, there have been no studies measuring the career or other benefits of taking courses with accessibility topics while attending post-secondary institutions. Furthermore, there have been no studies obtaining feedback on the accessibility topics students have found the most useful.

In order to address this knowledge gap the project for Promoting the Integration of Universal Design into University Curricula (UDUC) developed and began distributing a 24 question survey in January of 2019 to obtain information on the benefits, in both employment and other areas, for students and graduates who had taken accessibility and Universal Design topics in postsecondary courses. About a dozen programs and schools with a focus on Computer Science, Digital Media, Environmental Design, or other technical or design-related programs, agreed to distribute the survey to their current students and recent graduates. During the first two rounds of solicitations 114 responses were received. This article reviews some of the findings from the survey to date.

1.1 Survey instrument

The survey consists of 24 questions asking respondents if they took classes with accessibility and Universal Design components while they were at their postsecondary institution; the prominence of these topics – i.e. were they the main focus of the course, a large component or a small component; the topics or lessons they found most beneficial; their subjective feedback on the importance of learning about these topics and whether their study in this area provided specific benefits in areas such employment or academic work.

Interested in taking or disseminating this survey?

Visit https://www.uduc.org/survey-invite/

1.2 Students viewed Accessibility topics as valuable and of high Interest

About a third more respondents answered yes to taking accessibility topics as those who did not. About 10% or 12 respondents were not sure if they took these topics. (Note: a definition of Universal Design and accessibility were provided in the survey for anyone not sure of the definitions).

A large degree of interest in taking these topics were shown by the 34 individuals who answered that “they did not take courses in this area because they were not offered.” All indicated interest, 21 “very much so” and 12 “somewhat.” None of the 34 indicated no interest. (The question was not asked to the four individuals (9.3%) who answered previously that “classes with these topics were offered but I was not interested”).

Of those who took courses with these topics, 48.3% rated the topic “crucial.” About another 32% rated the subject as “very valuable” and 15% “worthwhile.” No one rated the topic as having “no value.” (See figure 1)

See table below for data values.
Figure 1. Crucial: 48.3%, very valuable: 32%, worthwhile: 15%, some value: 5%.
Table 1. Respondents rating of the value of taking courses with accessibility or Universal Design topics.

Value

Percent

Responses

1 - no value

0 .0 %

0

2- some value

5.0%

3

3 - worthwhile

15%

9

4 -very valuable

31.7%

19

5 - crucial

48.3%

29

 

Totals:

52

1.3 Topics Rated as highly Valuable & Useful

About 72% of those who took accessibility and UD topics identified specific topics and exercises that they found particularly useful. One of the most frequent answers were live demonstrations and simulations, for example, “using voice commands to complete tasks.” Other answers included learning and using evaluation tools such as “WAVE,” color contrast evaluators, or tools to examine “accessible web design ‘in the wild’, e.g. inspecting an element and looking at its aria tag” or “[s]howing the proper markup on an HTML page,” “[u]sing web accessibility tools to assess accessibility of elearning websites” and “[h]euristic evaluation for universal design.”

A sampling of other responses include:

A few responses mentioned the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) aspect and/or as insuring accessibility in curricula and course creation:

One individual mentioned that watching the documentary “When Billy Broke His Head” was ranked by the class as the “most valuable teaching moment” of the course. Finally, two individuals mentioned assessing website accessibility using the WCAG 2.0 requirements.

1.4 Benefits in Employment, Academic Work and Other Areas

70% of the individuals who took courses with UD and accessibility topics reported that they had found learning this material to be valuable to them in employment, academics or other areas (fig. 2). 22 or 36% of the respondents indicated specific work benefits such as “Understanding what [WCAG] Level AA accessibility is for my job” and “I'm working on an accessibility auditing contract.”

See table below for data values.
Figure 2. – Respondents response to whether they found topics on Universal Design or accessibility benefitted them in specific ways.
Table 2. Respondents response to whether they found topics on Universal Design or accessibility benefitted them in specific ways.

Value

Percent

Responses

1 - Yes

70%

42

2 - No

25.0%

18

 

Totals:

60

Three individuals indicated that it had helped them or likely helped them obtain a job position:

Some again spoke of the UDL and teaching benefits of applying the topics to the classroom:

Other responses included:

Since only 10 or 17.5% of respondents had yet graduated, a 36% positive response rate (22 of the 60 respondents who answered the question: Since taking the class, have you found the material on Universal Design or accessibility to be valuable for you in specific ways?) indicating that these topics helped in employment speaks to the possible overall career and work benefits of including these topics in technical, computer science, design and other programs. It is reasonable to expect that this number will go up as individuals graduate and seek employment.

1.5 Other Findings

To read about other findings from the report, including respondents’ Future Plans for Learning about UD and Accessibility, Coursework and Academic Benefits, Miscellaneous Information about Courses & Schools, visit the UDUC website at: https://www.uduc.org/

1.6 Help Us Disseminate the Survey

UDUC plans to continue collecting data until the end of 2019. If you are interested in disseminating this survey at your institution or elsewhere, follow the directions at this URL for asking a school or program to send out the survey invite.

1.7 Contact Us

If you have any questions about this report, the survey or anything about the UDUC project, please contact Howard Kramer at hkramer@colorado.edu. The UDUC website is at https://www.uduc.org/

Acknowledgments

This work is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (#1742007019) and support from AHEAD, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, Microsoft, AccessibilityOz, 3Play Media, Interactive Accessibility, Disability Services at the CU-Boulder and University of Colorado Boulder.

References

  1. Tsukayama H (2015) This small change could make a big difference for accessible technology.

About the Authors

Mr. Kramer has worked in assistive technology, disability, information systems and accessible media for more than 25 years. From 1997-2012 he worked with Disability Services at CU-Boulder, establishing the Assistive Technology Lab, which serves students with disabilities needing specialized access. He is founder and coordinator for the Accessing Higher Ground Conference: Accessible Media, Web & Technology, and teaches courses on Universal Design at CU-Boulder and the PI for a grant project in increase the teaching about accessibility in course curriculum. Mr. Kramer has a master’s degree from CU-Boulder and is working on his PhD at the University of Denver.