New NC State IT Accessibility Coordinator Emphasizes Outreach

Crystal Tenan

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Since her arrival last month, Crystal Tenan has already been spotted around campus, “getting the lay of the land,” as she describes it. As NC State’s IT accessibility coordinator in the Office of Information Technology, Tenan says her first priorities are needs assessment and helping to educate the campus about accessibility.

Tenan knows her way around several campuses already, having served as the disability services coordinator at the Art Institute of Austin and as assistive technology specialist and then deputy ADA coordinator at Towson University prior to coming to NC State.

While earning her bachelor’s of science and master’s of science in education at Baylor University and master’s of science in applied educational technology at Towson University, Tenan also gained experience working with students with disabilities and with the Special Olympics.

Tenan acquired much of her knowledge and skills at her first position at the Art Institute of Austin, a smaller institution where she learned about assistive technology on the job and served many first-generation and low-income students who learned about the resources right along with her. She also learned that she loved the field.

Section 508 and ADA

Tenan’s position exists to help ensure NC State’s compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires federal agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 was recently revised to strengthen and update criteria used to ensure information and communication technologies are accessible for individuals with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public. Together, these two laws aim to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Leading the Charge

At NC State, Tenan leads the digital accessibility charge. She participates in the IT purchase compliance process, reviewing software, web applications and hardware purchases for accessibility. She provides trainings, consultations and administers grant funds for captioning and transcription of classroom audio and video. She sees herself as a resource available to the campus community, “more than willing to help with whatever I can do,” even if it means responding to requests from all over campus to assist and educate the campus community about digital accessibility.

“I think of digital accessibility as ‘curb cuts,’ she says, referring to the ramps in sidewalks that allow wheelchair access. Digital barriers might not be as apparent, but they have a similar impact. For example, some people need keyboard access rather than using a mouse to interact with their computer. So if you have a site that you can’t use without the use of a mouse, you have created a barrier for access.  Similar to how curb cuts are utilized by lots of people, not just wheelchair users, when you make your site accessible, it benefits everyone. Everyone is a keyboard user when eating with their mouse hand.”

Partners on Campus

Tenan is quick to clarify that she doesn’t do the work alone. Partners on campus include the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity, where NC State’s ADA coordinator, Vice Provost Linda McCabe Smith, resides, along with its Equal Opportunity and Equity unit, headed by Associate Vice Provost Robinette Kelley, whose team reviews employee ADA accommodation requests.

Another big partner on campus is the Disability Resource Office (DRO), housed within the Division of Academic and Student Affairs. Led by Director Mark Newmiller, DSO administers all student requests for accommodations and provides assistive technology and training for faculty. Tenan will collaborate with DSO’s Assistive Technology Coordinator Rebecca Sitton, to offer a series of workshops for faculty this spring.

Tenan also lists DELTA as a major partner due to the wide range of technology services they offer. She will partner with DELTA Instructional Technologist Christopher Beeson in the spring on an accessible course design workshop and training for faculty.

She also leads the IT Accessibility Working Group, a campus-wide group dedicated to accessibility concerns.

Looking Forward

Looking forward, Tenan anticipates more automated tools, improved automated captioning and more focus on audio descriptions. “As a society, we are embracing accessibility more, and we have moved to designing with accessibility in mind rather than patching accessibility barriers. The National Federation for the Blind calls this the ‘born accessible’ movement.”

When asked whether she thinks we will ever reach a point where all products will be universally accessible to everyone, she responds, “One can dream. I’m very hopeful, but products always have bugs, so there will probably always be flaws. But accessibility will be much more built-in and thought of from the start.”

She notes that accessibility can be done in many ways, but she wants to do it in a friendly way, recognize what people are doing well and help remove any barriers that still exist.

Tenan is open for questions about accessibility from the campus community and hopes to see a good turnout at the workshops next spring. You can find the workshops in Reporter under course prefix “OIT-Access.” You can contact her by email at cltenan@ncsu.edu or 919.513.4087.