Report of the Pennsylvania State University on the Accessible Technology and Information Initiative, October 2013

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Executive Summary

Penn State is committed to making its information technology resources accessible to all users, and meeting the requirements of its settlement with the National Federation of the Blind. This document reports on the activities of Penn State from October 15, 2012 to October 15, 2013 to make its websites, applications, business processes and learning technologies accessible. It should be read by anyone with a stake in making education at Penn State available to everyone.

The Accessible Technology and Information (ATI) Committee has been the organizing force behind Penn State’s initiative to improve accessibility of its web resources and information systems, and to integrate accessibility standards for its procurement process. The ATI initiative has touched every academic, campus, business and administrative unit in the Penn State system.

Progress continues to be made toward compliance with the terms of Penn State’s 2011 settlement with the National Federation of the Blind. Substantial resources have been committed to making websites, applications and Library resources accessible. Language requiring software and information technology (IT) to conform to widely accepted standards of accessibility are a part of contracts and requests for proposals for enterprise systems.

Training and awareness-building continue apace with special focus on faculty as well as the communities of instructional designers, and content providers. An initiative we call “The PDF Problem” focuses on the stubborn problem of employing inaccessible PDFs as a convenient alternative to HTML and other more accessible document formats.

Teaching and Learning with Technology (a unit of Information Technology Services) has created the new Accessibility Team (TLTAT). TLTAT has three full time employees and is charged with testing websites on request, including human testing with a screen reader user; supporting the Assistive Technology needs of students that have disabilities; and providing consulting services on accessible web development and design, site remediation and accessible document formats (e.g., EPUB).

I. Accessibility Audit

Compliance Sheriff Audit Tool

HiSoftware Compliance Sheriff website testing software has been in production for almost 2 years. To date, there are 236 accounts issued to web staff in all Penn State organizations. ATI also has held training sessions for unit web staff to collect and manage audit data for the websites they administer.

TLT Accessibility Team

TLTAT has provided testing and consultation services to over 40 web development and service delivery units, including those that develop and maintain the highest traffic and mission-critical websites that serve students.

The ATI Committee has also sponsored training events on using other tools to evaluate accessibility, such as the W3C standards validator, WebAIM WAVE and FAE, as well as general usability testing techniques.

II. Policy Statements

Policy AD69 “ACCESSIBILITY OF PENN STATE WEB PAGES” was published August 2, 2011, in compliance with the settlement between Penn State University and National Federation of the Blind, and as discussed in the Penn State Report to the National Federation of the Blind (October 2012).

Policy AD69 is posted on a public website at It requires conformance with W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0, Conformance Level AA, the current international standard for web accessibility.

Penn State continues to maintain a comprehensive information resource for web accessibility at and is the central source of information for policy, remediation planning and techniques, as well as content and coding best practices.

III. Procurement

Penn State Purchasing Services has developed language to be inserted into RFPs and contracts, which requires software applications to be compliant with WCAG 2.0 Level AA recommendations.

TLTAT provides support to Purchasing Services and stakeholders to evaluate vendor claims about the accessibility of their products through responses to RFPs and Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).

IV. Library Services and Library Websites

The Libraries continues to use HiSoftware Compliance Sheriff for our automated scanning and works with the ITS Information Technology Consultant on Accessibility on screen reader tests of Libraries web pages, content and applications using JAWs and other screen reading software. The CMS Development Team continues to be responsible for accessible development of the templates and components within the Adobe Content Management System. The team is on a weekly development cycle. All new code development goes through a quality assurance process which includes automated and manual accessibility testing.

The Libraries has recently created a new Web and Accessibility Specialist position as part of its ongoing accessibility efforts. The Web and Accessibility Specialist is responsible for web content oversight and works with CMS authors and web reps to interpret the results of accessibility scans and to ensure that new and existing web content continues to be accessible. Beginning in October, the ITS Assistive Technology Specialist will be holding monthly "accessibility office hours" in the Libraries to assist in ongoing manual testing of web pages, applications and development projects.

Adaptive/Accessibility Interest Group (A2IG)

The Adaptive/Accessibility Interest Group is made up of faculty and staff from across the Libraries who have an interest in accessibility issues. The group was formed in 2012 as a forum for discussion and questions and meets monthly to make recommendations for programs, policies and processes related to accessibility in the Libraries.


The Libraries is kept informed of accessibility efforts and the importance of accessibility via the weekly employee newsletter, LFO Forensics, Libraries-wide emails, presentations at monthly Tech Updates and regular reports.

The Libraries host a number of regular meetings and presentations including monthly accessibility updates for (broadcast to all campuses), accessibility updates at monthly author forums also broadcast to all campuses, and the Libraries Faculty Organization Forensic, "Accessibility: what everyone in the library needs to know".

V. University Websites

Accessible website and application development at Penn State is supported by numerous training events, hands-on clinics, a very active social communication platform, and provision of HiSoftware Compliance Sheriff website testing software. The ATI Committee provides overall governance for these activities. Project implementation is directed by the unit Web Liaisons as well as the practice groups of the ATI. Practice groups include: Web Accessibility Review and Implementation; Web Accessibility Training; Accessibility Web Site Practice Group (; Accessible Online Learning; Captioning; Assistive and Adaptive technology, Accessible Instructional Materials, University Libraries Accessibility Initiative, and Faculty Support for Accessibility.

Technical support for ATI activities is provided in part by the TLTAT unit through its testing and consultation services.

TLTAT analysis of the top 100 websites, which includes qualitative human testing with a screen reader as well as technical consultations, have far fewer accessibility problems than originally measured. Some mission critical websites such as eLion, registration and course scheduling sites have had several iterations of test and repair; and the Penn State webaccess login page is both accessible and usable on all device sizes. The new Penn State home page is also accessible, according to our tests.

Web Liaisons report a higher level of confidence that that websites under their management, as well as their general procedures for authoring and posting content, are improving in accessibility. They report that website and digital content are scanned in a repeatable and somewhat consistent manner; web staff are trained to create accessible websites and online content, also in a repeatable and consistent practice; and most Web Liaisons are consistently communicating their web team’s progress to administrators in their units.

Still, much remains to be done to ensure accessibility extends to all websites and digital resources. We are focusing on remediating the high impact / high traffic sites first, and will fall back on attending to accommodation requests for the more obscure sites.


The vision of the ATI Initiative is to make universal design an integral part of the culture of the information technology organizations at Penn State. Effective communications among ATI, Penn State organizations and communities of practice is crucial to the success of the initiative.

The ATI committee relies on the Web Liaisons in order to communicate our goals and strategies to our academic, research and business organizations. It is the responsibility of the Web Liaisons to send ATI communications to web staff of all types: content providers, developers, designers, media specialists, and marketers, among others.

To create a culture of universal design and to communicate its goals and techniques, we use a core, shared language. The language is both colorful, and effectively communicates the barriers and goals of the initiative. The language is used consistently in training, presentations, events, documents, and other communications.

Hence, we talk about the “Blockers” (“bugs” in the code and content of web pages and documents for which the screen reader user cannot compensate) and the frequently used slogan – “Fix the Blockers First!”; “Triage”, the term most often used at Penn State to describe is the process of prioritizing problems and allocating scarce resources; “The PDF Problem” (i.e., the barriers typically presented by PDF format documents, and the complexity of fixing them).

We have in place an intranet with dedicated “groups” for ATI planning, Web Liaison communications, discussion forums for general accessibility topics, users of Compliance Sheriff, and the various communities of practice.

The PDF Problem

The ATI Committee is currently focusing on the problem of hosting PDF documents on websites. PDFs in practice are rarely accessible, and are used in many cases for which alternative formats are preferred.

Face-to-face presentations and webinars have been given, and will continue in the future, to raise general awareness of the problems presented by PDF documents. Activities included a series of presentations at the Penn State Web Conference 2013 where both critics of the format, as well as tool providers (Adobe and Commonlook) met in a fascinating exchange of ideas.

We are focusing our training and awareness efforts on two audiences that have long embraced the simple PDF workflow – staff assistants providing web content, and faculty who author course content and post it in our Learning Management System.

The TLTAT generally advises organizations to discontinue use of PDF documents with the exception of specific use cases, such as archiving legal documents and documents sourced from organizations outside Penn State. Continued use of the PDF format will require considerable and necessary effort to make the documents accessible.

For those situations that require PDF documents, the ATI Committee is piloting CommonLook software, designed to make tagging PDF documents easier that the typical methods provided by Microsoft and Adobe.

VI. Course Management Systems

Blackboard made a commitment to Penn State to remediate the ANGEL LMS to be fully accessible by December of 2012. The ATI committee created a list of major accessibility issues in a report provided to our LMS team here at Penn State. From that report, our LMS team broke the report down into tickets that it submitted to Blackboard. We began a second report in January of 2013 outlining remaining issues and lower priority issued that were not major barriers, but rather inconveniences, that we hoped to have addressed by the end of 2013. It had become apparent at that time that not all prior reported issues had been addressed. The second report was placed on hold so that we could focus on the major issues that still exist. Any secondary issues that were uncovered to this point have been reported as well, with priority still placed on the most important “blockers”.

As of today, roughly 50% of the original issues reported to Blackboard have been resolved. Blackboard’s commitment to remediating the ANGEL LMS factored heavily into our decision to extend our contract agreement on ANGEL last year. Our LMS team is helping resolve as many issues as we are able to, and push back the rest to Blackboard so that they can implement the fixes within ANGEL. We are able to apply those fixes directly to our installation of ANGEL as well. Overall, 33% of issues that were identified have been resolved and implemented between Blackboard and our internal team.

VII. Classrooms

Penn State has modified the podium design to allow for instructors to access the podium without the need to unlock. This new style of podium was put into place in approximately 60 of our classrooms and will be phased in to other locations as rooms are updated or added. In addition, Braille identification is being added to the touch panel functions buttons.

We have made programming changes to our Crestron podium control systems that will allow a user to bypass the touch screen log-in procedure. Programming has been completed (and tested by a visually impaired staff member) to allow voice confirmation when a particular function is selected on the Crestron control system. This programming will be activated in rooms on an as-requested basis.

VIII. Clickers

i>clicker ( is our standard student response system that is supported by Information Technology Services (ITS).  All i>clicker products are ADA compliant.  

IX. Bank (ATM and Website Accessibility)

This issue has been addressed and reported on in our 2012 report.

Appendix 1: Training

From August 2012 to October 2013, the TLT organization taught, sponsored, or co-sponsored over 50 accessibility training events, including multiple webinars broadcast to multiple campus locations. This number does not include the variety of targeted sessions and consultations held with different Penn State departments and campuses.

Training focuses on tools and techniques for authoring web documents and on techniques for creating accessible documents with commonly available applications like MS Word and PowerPoint. For the faculty and learning designer communities, sessions are offered to create accessible course content for the ANGEL learning management system, and a half-day mini symposium devoted to the state of the art in accessible instructional materials for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In addition to these sessions, Penn State’s World Campus began offering OL 1800 Accessibility, a free, asynchronous, online faculty development module. The purpose of the OL 1800 course is to prepare faculty to address six common accessibility issues they may encounter when teaching an online course. The course, designed to take approximately three hours, addresses the following topics: the process for students to receive considerations for academic adjustments, the letter of accommodation, academic adjustments for a student who is blind, academic adjustments for a student who is deaf, difficult behavior that may or may not be related to a disability, and best practices for accessibility in online courses. To date, almost 200 instructors have completed the course.

For web developers and multimedia specialists, an accessibility track was featured at the annual Penn State Web Conference (2 days, with 500 attendees) where topics included testing, ARIA and PDF accessibility. Featured speakers included Matt May (Adobe), Glenda Simms (Deque Systems), Jeff Singleton (HiSoftware) and Angela Hooker (Cascades Technologies).

The ATI Committee has also sponsored training events on using other tools to evaluate accessibility, such as the W3C standards validator, WebAIM WAVE and FAE, as well as general usability testing techniques. A hands-on series of clinics for developers and content providers allows the web communities to share problems and work out solutions collaboratively.

A pilot project based on the Mozilla Open Badges standard will begin soon. Badges are a way to recognize and verify the skills and competencies of the holder. The pilot at Penn State will award badges to those who create and remediate accessible Web pages and documents.

Appendix 2: Survey of Students and Staff with Visual Disabilities

As part of our agreement with NFB, we agreed to survey the Penn State faculty, staff, and students who are blind or visually impaired.

The survey participants helped identify those web-based applications at Penn State that are, and are not, accessible . Those identified as having relatively poor accessibility, and whose code base is University owned, are currently being actively remediated.

The majority of students responding to the survey use mobile devices with accessibility enhancements; all use computers with accessibility enhancements; most use at least some of their own devices for coursework. The student’s greatest frustrations are with applications used for coursework that cannot be used with assistive technology.

One person seems to have best expressed the faculty/staff group’s concerns: that they must remind their peers in the workplace of their requirements. For example, in discussions of new office equipment, they have to remind people that certain innovations, like touch screen controls, are not accessible.

Appendix 3: Collaborations

Penn State engages in a collaborative relationship with the Committee on Institutional Collaboration (CIC) which includes the Big Ten universities plus the University of Chicago. Collaborative projects include: Procurement and Vendor Delations; Media Captioning; Web Accessibility Tools and Best Practices; and Course Material and Academic Adoption. The Media Captioning and Web Accessibility projects are receiving funding from Penn State and other member institutions.

TLTAT staff also work with colleagues in the EDUCAUSE Accessibility Constituent Group to promote accessibility to the IT communities universities and colleges throughout in the U.S. and the world.

In some notable relationships with vendors, staff in the ATI have worked directly with vendors including Microsoft,, VoiceThread and Adobe to improve the accessibility of their application interfaces.

Penn State is also collaborating with the Association of Research Libraries, hosting a National Digital Research Resident (a project sponsored by the Library of Congress) to develop a toolkit to assist research libraries make their digital assets and services accessible.

Appendix 4: Members of the Accessible Technology and Information (ATI) Committee

  • Pat Besong, Educational Technology Services, Information Technology Services (ITS)
  • Brett Bixler, IT Training Services, ITS
  • Mike Brooks, World Campus
  • Joe DeLuca, Eberly College of Science
  • Anita Colyer Graham, World Campus
  • John Harwood (ex-officio), Associate Vice Provost, Information Technology Services
  • Keith Jervis, Office of Disability Services
  • Binky Lush, University Libraries
  • Wendy Mahan, College of Health and Human Development
  • Tony Neiderer, Classroom and Laboratory Computing
  • Elizabeth Pyatt (co-chair), Educational Technology Services, ITS
  • Jeff Stine, Commonwealth Campuses
  • Christian Vinten-Johansen (co-chair), Accessibility Team, ITS

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