Bascom Hill photo with the Universal Accessibility icon

Enhancing usability with the Digital Accessibility Policy

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicates that 25% of adults in the United States identify as having a disability, while the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 20% of undergraduates and 12% of post baccalaureates report having a disability.

In comparison, only 10% of our student body is affiliated with the McBurney Disability Resource Center formally, and 4% of our employees have openly disclosed a disability. This implies that there is a significant number of individuals at the university who have not self-identified as having a disability.

As a university, we have a legal and ethical obligation to provide equal access to university resources for all. One way we can do this is by ensuring our digital resources are accessible.

In 2023, UW–Madison took a significant step toward becoming a more accessible institution by adopting the Digital Accessibility Policy. This set of guidelines and processes aim to create a more accessible, inclusive and supportive digital environment for everyone within the university community.

Our goal at UW–Madison is to ensure that all people, regardless of their ability, can use all of the university’s public websites, applications, digital documents and experiences. In doing so, we create an environment in which all students, faculty, staff, and program participants feel a sense of belonging and can thrive.

Working with your digital accessibility liaisons

Our digital accessibility liaisons play a pivotal role in this digital accessibility initiative. Modeled after successful practices at other universities like Harvard University, the University of Iowa and the University of Michigan, these liaisons serve as communicators, connectors and advocates within their respective units.

The primary role of the liaisons is to help prioritize accessibility work in alignment with the policy. Liaisons are encouraged to advocate for accessible best practices and to consult with the Center for User Experience and other groups that support accessibility and inclusion at UW–‍Madison when accessibility barriers are identified.

In the current phase, we are asking liaisons to focus on facilitating improvements to their unit’s digital document accessibility, including identifying important documents for review and providing education and resources.

The liaison directory lists the contact information for who is serving in that role. You should contact your liaison to get help and resources if you have a need relating to:

  • Found or reported digital accessibility barriers
  • Digital accessibility related topics or questions
  • Accessible technology, tools or resources
  • Accessibility evaluations prior to procurement of digital tools

New program manager: Al Nemec

Last month, we welcomed Al Nemec to the role of digital accessibility program manager at the Center for User Experience. Al comes to us from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, where he most recently served as web operations manager and digital accessibility program manager.

Throughout his nearly 12 years at UW–Madison, Al has collaborated with university partners to enhance the college’s online presence through improved design, development, accessibility and overall digital identity. You may be familiar with Al from his roles as a guiding presence in UW’s Digital Accessibility Community of Practice and as chair of the Accessible Technology Advisory Group.

Al will be working closely with the university community, liaison network and university leadership to further digital accessibility policy implementation and support.

Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility

It’s not one person or one department’s responsibility to make UW–Madison more accessible. It’s a shared university responsibility. Each time you create digital content, purchase or build a digital tool for your team, develop a new webpage, or create documents for Canvas, you must consider accessibility as part of your process.

If you don’t know where to start, try connecting with your liaisons and others across UW–‍Madison to learn more about what digital accessibility entails and how you can help make our digital community more inclusive.

By working together to make our digital content accessible, we create an environment where UW–Madison community members can fully, equally and independently participate in university activities without accommodations or assistance.