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Campus & Community

Harvard Digital Accessibility Policy revised, expanded

3 min read

As part of its ongoing efforts to ensure the accessibility of its digital systems and communications, Harvard University is revising its Digital Accessibility Policy so that all new digital content designed and developed by Harvard schools, units, and departments should aim to be accessible to people with disabilities. The revised and expanded Digital Accessibility Policy will go into effect June 1, University leadership announced today.

The change “ensures that all members of the community can teach, learn, work, and conduct research in an inclusive digital environment,” read a message sent today co-signed by Provost Alan M. Garber, Executive Vice President Meredith Weenick, and Vice President and University Chief Information Officer Klara Jelinkova.

“The University’s Digital Accessibility Policy has already helped to expand access to Harvard’s knowledge, information, and learning opportunities for people with disabilities. Improving the accessibility of our internally facing content and applications is an important next step toward making Harvard a more welcoming and inclusive place for everyone,” said Jelinkova.

“Prioritizing accessibility — both in person and online — is intrinsic to inclusion and equity,” said Sherri Charleston, Harvard’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “Many of our interactions have shifted online, and by updating our Digital Accessibility Policy, we’re helping to break down barriers to online participation in the life of the University. Digital accessibility ensures Harvard can draw on the broadest set of people and interact with all members of our community. That kind of inclusion is the source of true excellence.”

Starting in 2019, only Harvard’s public-facing websites needed to comply with version 2.1 AA of the digital accessibility standards established by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Beginning in June, the updated policy will cover new content for all internal webpages, which includes staff intranets, course materials, documents, PDFs, web-based applications, and web content protected by HarvardKey. The expanded policy also establishes the expectation that technology systems, platforms, and applications bought or built by the University should strive to meet the most recent web accessibility standards.

The Digital Accessibility Services (DAS) team, established by Harvard University Information Technology (HUIT) in 2019 and charged with implementation of digital inclusion at Harvard, has helped groups throughout campus create and improve content to meet the latest accessibility standards. Over the last four years, DAS has cataloged thousands of Harvard websites and worked with site owners to monitor and improve accessibility, caption videos, and develop strategies for creating content that is accessible from the start. DAS has also consulted on numerous website remediation efforts and redesigns, including harvard.edu, and developed a comprehensive training infrastructure to help others become more familiar with accessibility best practices. DAS also negotiates preferred rates with vendors for services like closed captioning, document remediation and accessibility services.

“We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to learn about how they can do their part, and we offer the appropriate training, tools, resources, and processes to help them do so, whatever their role,” said Kyle Shachmut, director of Harvard’s Digital Accessibility Services. “Everyone plays a role in building a welcoming, inclusive campus community, and digital accessibility is part of that.”

Over the coming months, DAS and the University’s Digital Accessibility Liaison network will work with Schools and units to provide resources and training for those who are responsible for creating and maintaining University websites and making technology purchases.  A special drop-in Q&A session will be held on April 13 in addition to DAS’ regular virtual office hours and policy trainings.