From Policy to Compliance: US Higher Education Faculty Concerns over Institutional Digital Content Accessibility Policies
Background and Purpose
While institutional policy development in higher education is an important step towards greater accessibility of digital course materials for students with disabilities, there is a gap in the evidence regarding buy-in and compliance of faculty with such policies. This study aimed to explore faculty needs and concerns in regards to institutional digital content policies and guidelines, as well as to gain a deeper understanding of how higher education institutions approach digital content accessibility improvement and what processes support and encourage faculty buy-in and compliance with these efforts.
Concerns-Based Adoption model (CBAM) was used to frame, analyze and interpret the study. A Web-based anonymous survey was distributed to higher education administrators and faculty via LinkedIn, as well as multiple nationally-based professional forums.
The results indicate that while improving accessibility of digital content is a growing priority at most higher education institutions in the US, the majority of the institutions might not be ready for successful implementation. Based on faculty perceptions, there is still a significant lack of tools, resources and support services needed to develop accessible content. The data also underscored fragmentation of institutional and support structures, and the need for centralization of efforts. While institutions are developing digital accessibility policies and guidelines directed at faculty, there seems to be a lack of awareness and buy-in within this group, with faculty prioritizing other tasks and initiatives over digital accessibility improvement. There may also be a disconnect between services available (such as professional development and technical support) and services needed to address specific issues (such as awareness and buy-in).
Implications of the Study
The major implication of this study is that having a digital content accessibility policy in place may not necessarily lead to a more accessible digital environment. To be effective, policies must go through continuous revision processes and contain mechanisms for assessment of compliance and evaluation of the desired effect. This study demonstrated CBAM’s applicability to assess faculty concerns over digital content accessibility policies and guidelines, as well as to assess levels of adoption and/or compliance. Although in this case the model was used quantitatively to take a single snapshot of faculty concerns and levels of adoption/compliance, CBAM could be used at regular intervals as part of policy planning, implementation and revision processes. Open ended questions or focus group conversations can be used early in the planning, such as for budget considerations, or later - to guide the design and development of facilitating processes, based on specific issues identified through faculty feedback. CBAM’s Stages of Concerns Questionnaire (SoCQ) allows to quickly assess stages of concerns for faculty as a group and can be used at the onset of policy implementation as a baseline, and then at different points in time throughout the implementation. Such assessment could be particularly useful when introducing interventions meant to facilitate adoption/compliance (e.g. adding staffing to support faculty in creating accessible digital content). The CBAM model could be used to gauge the impact of the interventions based on whether the positive change in the scores is observed and help shape what types of support systems are put into place to facilitate faculty adoption and compliance.
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