Blackboard Accessibility Interest Group

Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services (CITES) and Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES)

University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign

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Teleconference Details

Date: 2007-04-02

Time: 2:30 PM EDT; 1:30 PM CDT; 12:30 PM MDT; 11:30 AM PDT



WebCT Accessibility Interest Group 04/02/2007
Scribe: Terry Thompson

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Robert reported on efforts to get contacts in the QA and Technical Support groups at Blackboard involved in our group, so that key multiple parties are involved in accessibility, rather than relying on all accessibility issues to be filtered through him. First, the Technical Support Group loves the idea of being involved with this group. They fell short of dedicating someone to come to every meeting, but welcome a collaboration of some sort. However, the QA group was less excited. QA at Blackboard relies on third party for accessibility testing. They have very little knowledge internally of accessibility testing techniques. Robert encouraged them to at least do some basic things during the course of their tests, but at this point they don't seem to be eager to take that on, perhaps out of discomfort with their lack of knowledge. Robert has had no contact with the third party. He believes it's TechAccess, but is not in the loop with that arrangment. Blackoard also has a friendly relationship with EASI/Norm Coombs.

Phil said that he might be able to have some influence in the near future, as Blackboard is sending a whole contengent of people to the University of Minnesota, whose license is up for renewal. Robert encouraged Phil to bring up accessibility in those meetings and to stress the desire to have QA more actively and direcly involved in accessibility.

Regarding involvement from the Technical Support Group, Jon suggested that we talk during our next meeting about what we want to talk about to a support person. Then the meeting after that, invite the actual support person for that conversation.

There was discussion regarding the merging of WebCT and Blackboard Accessibility Interest Groups. Currently there are separate accessibility groups. Robert said it makes sense to eventually pull the two groups together, since the two product lines already share some of the same processes and resources, e.g., both product lines go through the same QA. Jon suggested merging into a single group, with subgroups of interest.

Terry is involved with the Product Development Partners (PDP) group for Gradebook, and requested an overview from Robert of where this fits within the current organiational structure. Robert described the PDP groups as groups of product managers and developers responsible for specific features. Blackboard is looking at new technologies such as Web 2.0 applications, with no client representative having a voice in accessibility. PDP groups are a good fit for having an influence at early stages in product development, and hopefully will share resources, code, techniques, and lessons learned across groups. Robert is on the Gradebook PDP, and on others, and he can be sure the accessibility messages get communicated across groups, and don't just exist in relative isolation.

Jon noted how critical it is to support ARIA in Web 2.0 apps, even if not fully supported by all current browsers, because adding accessibility will be much more difficult as a retrofit than if it's built in early. Terry reported, and Robert confirmed, that the current approach leans more toward developing accessible alternatives of a feature, rather than trying to develop a single version of a feature that fully supports accessibility.

Phil reported on a letter he has written to the Deputy CIO at UMN, asking for his assistance in conveying an accessibility message to Blackboard executives. Phil acknowledged that in its current form the letter is directed to his Deputy CIO, not to Blackboard.

Jon has also written a letter, which is directed to Blackboard, including five recommendations for expanding the partnership between Blackboard and the Blackboard/WebCT Accessibility Interest Groups. Questions arose concerning (a) who we should be directing this letter to at Blackboard, and (b) who should be signing it so that it gets peoples' attention at Blackboard.

Robert recommends sending the letter to Vice President of Product Development, Jessica Finnefrock, who oversees all the development groups. (Ed will be having a teleconference with Jessica tomorrow.) Robert also though it might make sense to send it to product marketing (David Yaskin), who tends to be highly involved and influencial since they have an interest in ensuring that Blackboard/WebCT products include the features that the market is asking for. Another possible contact would be Mark Nadeaum, head of QA. The recipient of the letter may depend on who signs it, and who the signators have relationships with at Blackboard.

Jon said the first signator should be someone who not only endorses the proposal, but who can speak to the issues. He asked Ed to be that first signator. Ed said he would be glad to sign it, but reminded us that high-level support of IT accessibility has come from Minnesota and Purdue as well.

Terry asked about logistics: How do we get signatures? Electronic signatures? A print letter that gets circulated? After some discussion, the group decided on the following process:

  1. Individual institutions would print the letter on their own letter head
  2. They would collect the necessary signatures interally, then send the signed letter to Jon
  3. After Jon has collected all letters, he will forward them on to the designated party at Blackboard.

Action items

  1. Jon will post an announcement to the discussion list right away requesting final comments and feedback on the letter. The letter is located at:
  2. Jon will synthesize input from others and finalize the letter in two days.
  3. Phil will share his letter that he's written to his deputy CIO, as well as any further letters that are generated as part of that communication.

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