Last fall, Harvard’s Office of the Provost convened the first meeting of the University Accessibility Committee (UAC), a forum that brings senior leaders together to evaluate and promote accessibility on campus, and to share successful practices from across the University. In its inaugural year, the UAC focused preliminary efforts on initiatives that span the Harvard community, identifying three main areas for its work: the student experience, digital technology, and on-campus facilities.

“We have convened this critically important committee in order to provide an opportunity for University leadership to come together with those who are working assiduously to build a Harvard that advances accessibility across departments, Schools, and our campus as a whole,” said Provost Alan Garber. “I’m pleased that the UAC already has begun to make recommendations that have led to meaningful improvements, and I look forward to ongoing progress in our commitment to support students, faculty, and staff with disabilities.”

The UAC is designed to complement and bolster the efforts of University Disability Services (UDS) to promote an accessible and welcome working and learning environment for individuals with disabilities, while providing guidance for collaboration across the University. Its work also dovetails with the mission of Harvard’s Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, which was established in 2016 to identify ways to support the academic and professional success of all members of the University community.

“Our office has begun the years-long process of moving Harvard University toward a culture characterized by ‘inclusive excellence,’ and the work of the UAC is critical to these efforts,” said John Silvanus Wilson Jr., senior adviser and strategist to the president, who oversees implementation of the recommendations of the task force. “As a community, we are charged with building a Harvard that fully embraces the life experiences of people from all backgrounds. This includes ensuring that people living with disabilities have access to opportunities on campus that allow them to fulfill their potential and achieve their life goals. I’m grateful that leaders from across the University are so engaged in and committed to this work.”

The UAC has appointed three working groups of Harvard staff members with relevant expertise to consider various topics and propose recommendations related to student experience, digital technology, and on-campus facilities. Last June, the groups presented their first round of findings and outlined opportunities and potential next steps. The UAC’s structure, which allows senior leaders to benefit from the knowledge of practitioners from across campus, is intended to streamline the process for implementing new measures. As a result, many of the first round of recommendations are already being instituted. These include:

  • Cross-Registration. Students with disabilities must ask about accommodations when signing up for classes. For courses offered outside a student’s home School, or in a cross-listed course, additional steps and coordination may be required. This fall, the student experience working group helped implement updates to School, UDS, and local Student Disability Coordinator websites, and established best practices to better share information between home and host School registrars. Looking ahead, the group hopes to establish a “check-in module” within the harvard.edu online registration process to handle accommodation requests during cross-registration. It is also exploring centralized data collection to enhance communication between Schools.
  • Digital Access. The digital technology working group has focused its efforts on big-picture recommendations for improving access. A starting point involves expanding resources, similar to those on the Harvard University Information Technology’s online accessibility website, to help web developers and content creators put together and promote widely accessible materials. In the past two years, the User Research Center at Harvard Library and digital accessibility manager Kyle Shachmut have used grants from the President’s Administrative Innovation Fund to build a pool of assistants to test speech-to-text technologies in places such as Lamont Library and on HarvardX and to create a comprehensive database of all accessible technology purchased University-wide. The working group hopes to use this data to standardize and streamline how accessibility is built into procuring digital technologies.
  • The on-campus facilities working group has established two principal tasks: to enhance consideration of accessibility issues in the University’s construction projects, and improve “welcoming and wayfinding” with respect to its physical plant. The group is working to improve Harvard’s delivery guidelines for capital projects so they include accessibility considerations early in the development and construction processes. It also has made recommendations on how to help people with disabilities best navigate the physical campus, and has begun exploring products such as tactile maps and augmented reality technology for the visually impaired.

The UAC will meet again on Dec. 19 to hear a second cycle of recommendations from the three working groups, and to identify next steps.

“It’s an exciting time at Harvard, as we celebrate the diversity of our students, and find new and improved ways to serve the needs of a community that continues to change demographically,” said UDS director and committee member Michele Clopper. “We’ve taken a critical step forward in engaging senior leadership in creating a welcoming environment across the University, and I look forward to ongoing projects that enhance accessibility at Harvard.”

The University Accessibility Committee members are:

  • Shelby Acteson — Associate director of University Disability Services
  • Allen Aloise Dean for administration and finance, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
  • Bharat Anand Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; senior associate dean, HBX
  • Kristen Anderson Administrative dean, Harvard Divinity School
  • Tim Bowman Executive dean for Administration and Finance, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Kevin Casey Senior adviser, Harvard Public Affairs and Communications
  • Michele Clopper Director, University Disability Services
  • Charles Curti — Director of Human Resources, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
  • Charles Frizzell Dean for Administration and Finance, Harvard School of Dental Medicine
  • Michael Grusby Executive dean for administration, acting dean for Academic Affairs, and senior vice dean for Institutional Planning and Policy, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Marilyn Hausammann Vice President for Human Resources
  • Jack Jennings Executive dean for Administration, Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Jana Kierstead Executive director of M.B.A. and doctoral programs, Harvard Business School
  • Leslie Kirwan Dean for Administration and Finance, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • Doreen Koretz Associate provost for Social Sciences and Professions, Office of the Provost
  • Sanja Kugat — Director of Visitor Services, Harvard Art Museums
  • Alex Machaiek — Senior director of operations, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Stephen Maiorisi Chief campus planning and facilities officer, Harvard Medical School
  • Anne Margulies Vice president for Harvard University Information Technology and chief information officer
  • Michael Monaghan — Director of Risk Management and Audit Services
  • Nisha Mongia Executive dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
  • Lisa Muto Executive dean for Administration, Harvard Medical School
  • Robert Neugeboren Dean of students, Harvard Division of Continuing Education
  • Jane Pickering Executive director, Harvard Museums of Science & Culture
  • Heather Quay University attorney, Office of the General Counsel
  • Kyle Shachmut Manager of digital accessibility, University Disability Services
  • Laura Snowdon Dean of students; assistant dean for Enrollment Services, Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • Michael Stein — Executive director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability
  • Martha Tedeschi — Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director, Harvard Art Museums
  • Sarah Thomas Vice president for the Harvard Library and University Librarian; Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • Meredith Weenick Vice president for Campus Services