Dynamic Duo drives accessibility at WKU

Laura DeLancey
Laura DeLancey, Electronic Resources Librarian
Shaden Melky, Accessibility Specialist

Laura DeLancey, Electronic Resources Librarian at Western Kentucky University (WKU) and Shaden Melky, Library Technology Consultant (Accessibility Specialist) work well together.

Their teamwork, along with a University-wide accessibility initiative, produces better and richer inclusion for students with disabilities on campus and in their distance learning programs.

Laura, who received her library degree from Indiana University, and then moved to WKU several years ago,  says that what draws librarians into the field is that “people are passionate about providing quality information resources to everyone, from whatever economic background. Public libraries are free. This (working on accessibility) is a logical extension of that.”

“There is a whole population born with disabilities and then there are the many who are aging and their eyes aren’t working as well. I had to redo my own glasses prescription recently at the ripe old age of 32!”

Shaden was practically raised into her current position. She was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky to a family who had immigrated from Syria. Her mother, Huda Melky (now retired) was the long term ADA Compliance Director, Equal Opportunity Director & Title 9 Coordinator at WKU. Huda developed the policies and procedures for ADA compliance that are now the backbone of a university wide initiative for accessibility. Shaden says “my mother started ADA here with Section 504 in the early 90’s, then we updated to Section 508. It’s taken us 20 years to get here.”

Laura chimes in, “It’s almost like ‘why shouldn’t we work on this?’ We work tirelessly to provide access to every other patron group!”

Shaden has merged two life long interests, health care, which consumed her earlier career, and technology.  “One of my biggest things is I like to help people. That’s why I went into health care. Technology is my strength.  By incorporating the two I found my niche.  It’s wonderful for me! I’ve been doing this for 3 ½ years. It’s always a challenge, but then we work it through and meet the challenge.”

An early experience with her gymnastics coach still resonates with her. “I was a gymnast when I was a kid. The coach had gymnasts with Down’s Syndrome or something like that. I still remember watching the smiles on their faces, showing how much they could accomplish. It sticks with me until today.”

University Wide accessibility Initiative

The university wide initiative for accessibility has objectives that cover three main areas:

Librarians and others

  1. OU Campus™, a WYSIWYG CMS (Content Management System) purchased through OmniUpdate. Like over 700 other colleges and universities, WKU uses OU Campus™ to communicate with students and potential students
  2. Library Databases. Like most universities WKU purchases and leases many databases from multiple vendors to allow students and faculty a rich and searchable fountain of knowledge
  3. Distance Learning. WKU has online degrees and individual classes that serve past the borders of the physical campus

The accessibility team which includes the university attorney,  a website ADA consultant, someone who works on the WKU version of the OU Campus™ (@ 700 higher education organizations use this CMS) and a WKU Distance Learning representative, as well as Shaden.

Part of her contribution is to share accessibility reports she has generated using HiSoftware. This is also a time for her to advocate for adding resources like the graduate student they hired through Student Accessibility Resource Center (SARC) who was blind and helped enormously with testing using JAWS screen reader.

“If Distance Learning didn’t have Sam to help with that they wouldn’t have discovered several issues. We’ve incorporated everything he discovered into distance learning and into the library.”

Why use HiSoftware?

Adverse legal actions at another universities prods similar organizations to take concrete action. When Penn State reached a settlement against a lawsuit which claimed lack of access for blind students in multiple software areas, WKU took notice. This led to the decision to include a university wide scanning tool. There are a number of tools on the market which can be used to automatically scan many webpages at a time and provide accessibility audit reports.

“We looked at Deque, which we thought was the best option, but that was out of our price range (at $150K annually). HiSoftware owned by Cryptzone won out. At $20K to purchase plus $1500 annually to update we decided we could work through some of the kinks.”

“In all honesty,” says Shaden, “HiSoftware has been good to us. We run scans on the library databases. We do a mock queries, taking each database, search for the term and locate the resources with the most varied content, like PDFs, video files, etc. If anyone asked I would say that doing a local scan is easiest for databases. We did go through a lot of trial and error with both Firefox and Internet Explorer (IE) scanning systems. There were a lot of glitches and we even got viruses. HiSoftware had advocated for using Selenium, but their own scanning system used through IE proved to be the best. We then went with local scanning as IE is being deprecated.”

Even good software has glitches

HiSoftware generates detailed summary reports which Shaden shares with both the WKU accessibility committee and with vendors to explain the issues with existing software. When she first sent the PDF reports to the vendors they sent back notes. “We can’t open the file!”

After opening a ticket with HiSoftware, both Shaden and the company spent 6 long months testing and trying repeatedly to understand why the reports she could see on her computer were not translating properly to the vendor.

“It turned out that the reports were browser based and needed a special API in the HiSoftware package so we could share the PDFs!”

With that API in place all is well, except… that, because the reports are so technical and detailed Shaden has to produce another “light weight” version for some of the vendors who do not have technical staff on hand to fix the problems.

Laura adds, ” Some vendors would be thrilled if you tell them the line of HTML code they need to fix. Others will have no way of using that information.”

The good news — over time the reports have shown a lot of improvement in the software WKU uses. So, the HiSoftware investment, with Shaden’s inputs and modifications, has really paid off.

VPATs – something to chuckle over

VPATs (Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates) are documents tied to Section 508 compliance. In short, a vendor may be asked by a procurement officer, or within an RFP, to add a VPAT for their software products when bidding on a contract. This VPAT should have resulted from the vendor testing their software against the 508 standards and reporting whether or not the product successfully meets them.

Sounds easy, right?

“Some of the VPATs are very entertaining,” says Shaden with a grin. “When I’m having a bad day I just pull them out and have a look at one of them.”

Laura adds, “It’s really obvious that some of the vendors have a team that works on these, like EBSCO and Elsevier. They are actually familiar with the concepts. Others don’t have a clue as to what we are asking for. I really do think their sales reps fill them out!”

A couple of years ago Laura and Shaden collaborated to check the library database software products against the VPATs provided by vendors. In an extensive and well researched article she shared the results with the library community. Shaden used HiSoftware to check databases against 17 separate VPATs.

Analysis was done (16 out of 17 VPATs proved to be at least partially inaccurate in their self-assessment of their products.) Laura published an article in Library Hi Tech in 2015 with all the details.

“I’ve also compiled some VPATs I have gotten permission to post publicly on a website for Library Accessibility. We are looking for a more permanent home and soliciting up-to-date VPATs to add so that the whole library community can see how the vendors are faring in this area.”


Laura’s responsibilities have changed over the past three years she has been with WKU. While she still participates in accessibility issues, this primarily means that she is involved in procurement, budgeting, consulting with Shaden and presenting at a couple of conferences every year.

“Every year I train librarians on the subject at one or two conferences. We talk about what we are doing here at WKU; what they need to be doing. There is a LOT more interest than there was even a couple of years ago. More people sign up for my workshops. More people stop by after the presentations. And I am not the only one presenting on the subject. There might be 4 or 5 different people involved,” says Laura.

“A great example is the Kentucky Convergence Conference. A couple of years ago we sent in a proposal, which was not accepted. This year the whole conference theme is: ‘Making Higher Education Accessible.”

Another conference Laura presented at this past April was the Electronic Librarian Resources (ER&L) Conference in Austin, TX.  “We did a 4 hour hands-on workshop on how to make resources accessible in the library. I was so happy that there were 3 other programs on accessibility at the conference. It was great that they were librarians that I’d never even met! People are working on this!”

Librarians who have Electronic Resources or Distance Learning responsibilities and titles are the center of the action right now. Very rapidly this is becoming a sought after skill set throughout the library eco-system.


The long term WKU accessibility efforts show how complex the effort is to ensure inclusion for all students at university level with regard to software accessibility. It’s pricy, it’s an ever fluid target and it takes a dedicated team to do it right.

Fortunately WKU has two excellent advocates in Laura DeLancey and Shaden Melky! They are leading the way, building on 20 years of ADA compliance and efforts at the school. And there is no end in sight.

Amy Netzel, Accessibility Technologist

Amy Netzel

Amy NetzelAmy Netzel is amazingly cheery and positive; definitely the kind of person who evokes a feeling of well being. She is an Accessibility Technologist at Wake Technical Community College (WTCC) in Raleigh-Durham area for the past several years. It’s been a busy time as she works directly with faculty to create accessible documentation that can be used in class and online.

I interviewed her and asked some pointed questions about how she started out in accessibility. The path she traced started in education, went into instructional technology, currently works as co-lead on a large community college eLearning initiative. She will be seeking another Master’s Degree (Instructional Design + Media hybrid) soon even as she continues her work with Wake Tech.

“I started out as a classroom teacher in public school. Most of my accessibility knowledge was limited to the peripheral view that a person gets when they participate in IEP meetings. But, I always had a technical bent. People would ask me to help them with any new technology that we came across and I was happy to do that. When I decided to leave classroom work and work in tech I went to an educational website.”

Alt Text as a beginning

“Six months into that job we were working on alt text. The big push was to make the materials accessible for screen readers. As I dug deeper I realized that we didn’t even have an in-house copy of the screen reader software. By the time I figured out just what the alt text was supposed to do I was hooked, because we were doing this for people. Was it correct? What else did we have to do?”

Gradually, like any good puzzle solver, Amy put the pieces together to identify how to not only support the alt text, but also to caption videos and apply great UX concepts to her work.

Videos that explain “How to…”

When she moved on to Wake Tech she was pressed into service to train the faculty. This was often fun, sometimes frustrating, and resulted in some very exceptional videos which would be useful for anyone looking for simple, straightforward information on how to make materials, videos, PDFs, Word Docs accessible. To view them go to the YouTube playlist for Wake Technical Accessibility videos. Main takeaway is how to explain tricky accessibility concepts so simply that they are teachable to anyone, even those who were originally resistant or had no experience with accessibility whatsoever.

The video captioning program at Wake Tech has grown so large that another team member coordinates the work of multiple work-based learning students. Amy’s tasks in 2016 are focussed on co-leading a college-wide eLearning intro for students.

Amy has moved on (mostly) from directly creating the instructional materials herself to being a co-leader for the college wide program for eLearning for students. Of course the explanatory videos are captioned!

Faculty Training

Another part of her eLearning responsibilities is faculty training.  She uses the accessibility training materials. It gives Amy a chance to support faculty directly. The day we interviewed she had just received a PowerPoint that a faculty member was going to use for a classroom presentation. In this role Amy will sit down with the faculty person and show them what does and does not conform to the Wake Tech accessibility standards.

Amy has seen a shift in resistance over the years. “Wake Tech rolled out accessibility in 2009. At that time the resistance came from faculty members not wanting to do it or thinking it was just ‘too much work’.”
Both resistance trends continue with additional statements like “Why are we spending so many resources on this?” Because the college is very much behind the initiative to use Universal Design and make sure that all course offerings are accessible to all it means that Amy is on solid ground in answering these objections. Hard to argue with the top ranking officials!

Interestingly enough, the original impetus towards accessibility has been “a grassroots efforts. Each big accessibility change has come from a faculty member asking a publisher ‘Is this accessible?’ We do try to teach them that in eLearning support — to question the publishers. From there it bubbles up to a department head. Then I hear about it and try to get clarification on what the issue is.”

“Right now, at the top, the college is doing a risk assessment to see where we stand, where are some of our problem areas. There’s going to be a game plan laid out from there. They are our biggest supporters right now.”

NCCCS five year accessibility initiative

“North Carolina Community College Systems is smack dab in the middle of a five year initiative around accessibility. This started in early 2014.”

“At one time I was traveling around to provide training to other community colleges. It was a lot of fun! We have one of the three VLC (Virtual Learning Centers) at Wake Tech which is a central location for accessibility resources. One of my colleagues heads that up and with it, the traveling around.”

“We want a repository through the VLC of ‘How To’ documentation so all around the state faculty and staff can easily figure out how to make materials accessible. I’ve been asked to contribute to that. Someone else at Central North Carolina Community College has been asked for their input on web accessibility. This is going to be great if we can get this together!” Amy concludes with a lift in her voice.

Amy still does presentations. She mentions that “Four or five times lately I’ve finished the presentation and had someone quietly seek me out and say, ‘I’m so glad you mentioned color contrast and color vision deficiency. I can’t see green and I’m so glad you included it.’ This is a hidden disability. That’s why we talk about Universal Design so much. We create for everyone. It makes it easy. Teaching the faculty how to more easily use Word and PowerPoint makes them happy because it makes their own job easier and more efficient.”

The Future!

Next steps? Blogging. Further Education. Book.
Ambitious – nah!

Blogging: Amy has a lot of ideas for blog articles. One is how to roll accessibility into the planning process of the document, course, assessment instead of looking into it after the fact.

Further education: Part of her plan to help people design courses includes earning an ‘Instructional Design and Media’ hybrid Master’s Degree.

Book: She wants to write a book about accessibility which would cover a lot of practical topics gleaned from her years of experience. I want a first copy of that one!

Speaking: Engagement in October, 2016 at the North Carolina Community College Distance Learning Conference. Speaking about eLearning Intro, not accessibility. On her own time she is speaking at a local Girl Develop It – RDU local Meetup.

Human face of accessibility

Joseph in wheelchair

joseph in wheelchairThe key reason to plan website and other software accessibility is to enable all people to have equal access to tech. This slide show walks various personas through a popular HR recruiting site. It concentrates on the Assistive Technology devices they use.

A simple thing like using only a keyboard and not a mouse can make it difficult to navigate through a webpage.

If you are using a screen reader because you can’t see the screen and hit an error message which is silent, how do you know what just happened?

If page design is not logical is it more difficult to find what you want on a page when it is blown up to 800% of the designer’s expected size?