Last week, the University of Texas at Austin announced that they intended to close the Accessibility Institute, founded by Dr. John Slattin! This came as a big surprise to people both in the local community and many world-wide as well. The University of Texas has always been a leader in research and accessibility was no different. Dr. Slattin’s tireless efforts to open and run the Institute during his lifetime has really caused some giant steps to be made in the world of accessibility. Closing the institute would be a real setback, not only for accessibility, but for the University itself! As a graduate of UT’s School of Music, I am very proud of my University and would like to see great things continue to happen there in the industry of accessibility.
Below is a statement released by Sharron Rush to the press and public. I think her words and those of others she has included say it all.
512 305-0310 / 512 797-7351
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS ANNOUNCES INTENTION TO CLOSE WORLD-RENOWNED ACCESSIBILITY INSTITUTE
Decision opposed by technology industry leaders, disability community, academics
Austin, TX- August 29th, 2008 – The University of Texas announced last week its intention to close the Accessibility Institute, founded by Dr. John Slatin, a faculty member who passed away earlier this year. The Accessibility Institute was founded by Dr. Slatin in the early 1990’s as the Institute for Technology and Learning (ITAL), to research effective methods for employing technology in teaching and learning environments. His work at ITAL and the emerging dominance of electronic information technology led Dr. Slatin to research design methods and practices that would ensure that no one was left out of educational opportunity because of disability. His own progressive blindness was one factor, but Dr. Slatin’s passion for art, literature and the humanities led his commitment to include everyone as technology transformed teaching and learning. At the Accessibility Institute, John Slatin pioneered studies that helped an emerging industry frame its ideas for highly usable and inclusive interface design methods.
A colleague in the English Department, Dr. Peg Syverson, worked closely with Dr. Slatin.
“John was not merely an innovator; “ Dr. Syverson says, “He was a visionary. And he was not a visionary who merely saw into the future. He brought the future he saw into being. And the future he brought into being was dazzling and entirely unexpected. John saw … that technology could become a vehicle for liberation and transformation in the humanities.”
At the Accessibility Institute, Dr. Slatin built a staff of researchers and graduate students who integrated technology, accessibility, and learning for everyone through research, education, advocacy, consulting, training, and service to the campus community and state agencies struggling to comply with accessibility requirements mandated by the Texas legislature. UT’s example of incorporating accessibility into all educational research and development was one that is upheld as a standard all over the nation and the world. The World Wide Web Consortium invited Dr. Slatin to co-chair its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, a position he held in 2005 and 2006.
Because of the recognized leadership position held by the University of Texas, the closure announcement came as quite a shock to the campus community and to accessibility experts and technology industry leaders globally. As business, government and academic institutions all over the world strive to build inclusive information technology design tools and techniques, the closure of one of the nation’s leading research institutes in the field is baffling to many.
“I learned that UT’s decision was final on the same day I learned that Target stores had settled their accessibility lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind,” says Sharron Rush, accessibility expert and co-author with Dr. Slatin of Maximum Accessibility, an accessible design manual published in 2002 to great acclaim. “While John might chuckle at the irony, he would be bitterly disappointed in the short-sightedness of the University. We have invited the Provost’s Office to meet and hear our concerns and suggestions for transition, but they have so far declined to meet with us. ”
Ms Rush, her nonprofit employer Knowbility, and others in the disability, academic, and technology community launched an effort today to persuade the University to maintain and build on this important body of work. They have petitioned the administration to give serious consideration to requests to move the Accessibility Institute into the School of Information or otherwise provide continuity to a transition of Dr. Slatin’s work. The petition, addressed to Executive Vice-Provost Steve Monti, took just a few hours to garner more than 130 signatures from people all over the world, including representatives of Apple, Adobe, Google, IBM and numerous academic institutions and state agencies.
Dr. Jon Gunderson, University of Illinois: It is very important for the advancement of universal design that institutes like the Accessibility Institute at UT becomes an important part of the basic research agenda of the university. I urge you to reinvest in the institute to bring researchers to bear on the fundamental and applied accessibility of human disability and technology.
Dr. Terry Thompson, University of Washington: UT-Austin has long been a model for web accessibility. This tradition should be upheld, not just for the benefit of UT-Austin, but for higher education institutions globally who have turned to the Accessibility Institute for guidance and leadership.
Dr. Chris Strickling, Texas Department of Aging and Disability I am disturbed to discover that there are people at the university who do not recognize the value of the work and vision of the Accessibility Institute. Web accessibility, universal design research, and all of the projects of the AI are of immense importance to our communities, both academic and cultural.
Katherine Druckman, Publisher: As a webmaster for a major publication…I know that web media will only become more significant, and with it accessibility studies must continue. People in my field have come to know UT as a knowledge center, and as a Texan I would be quite saddened if that changed.
James Craig, Apple: The Accessibility Institute…started me and countless others on the road to helping thousands make accessible products and websites enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. The Accessibility Institute’s influence for the greater good cannot be overstated.
Matt May, Adobe Systems: As painful as the loss of John has been to the field of accessibility, it would be especially sad to also lose his institute, all within the same year. We need the work of the Accessibility Institute to continue, in order to benefit a constituency which faces greater and more complex challenges to access than ever before.
To sign the petition, read more of the comments from around the nation and the world, or learn more about the issues and the importance of this work, follow the links on the Knowbility homepage at www.knowbility.org. Just a side note, when this petition began, within hours we had over 200 signitures. Now as of today’s date, we’re at over 800 signitures. If you haven’t already, please sign!!