Meet Nazely Kurkjian
Open SUNY COTE is pleased to introduce you to Nazely Kurkjian, Coordinator of Disability, Diversity, and Nontraditional Student Services, Office of University Life.
What is your role at SUNY?
As the Coordinator of Disability, Diversity, and Nontraditional Student Services, I provide support and guidance to campuses related to campus services for students from various backgrounds including students with disabilities, post traditional learners, international students, LGBTQ+ students, and any other students from diverse backgrounds.
Although I do not directly work for Open SUNY, I work closely with OS leadership and professionals to provide information about best serving these student populations. I’ve helped advise OS on accessibility principles for the OSCQR rubric, and continue discussions on improving accessibility for online learning.
What is your professional experience prior to SUNY?
Prior to joining SUNY Administration, I was the Adaptive Technology Specialist in the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office at Binghamton University. During my time at Binghamton, I was very motivated to educate and advocate on behalf of students with disabilities, primarily in regards to accessing technologies and electronic information. I worked closely with a number of departments to ensure students had access to their coursework and other relevant information, including the Libraries, the Center for Learning and Teaching, and the Educational Communications Center. I provided various trainings for both faculty and staff to ensure their content, websites, and services were accessible to all. Further, I’ve presented at several conferences to share how others can strive to enhance and institutionalize accessibility within their organizations.
Why is accessibility such a critical issue in higher education?
Accessibility is a critical issue for both academic and non-academic enterprises. Our world is increasingly technological. Technology has made powerful waves for those whom physical access to information and places remains challenging. However, unintentional design can close doors for many users with differing abilities. For example, acquiring an e-learning platform that does not enable keyboard access for a screen reader user excludes this student from a course. Or, providing a hyperlink to a video that is not intelligibly closed-captioned excludes access to information for hearing impaired individuals. Poor and inattentive measures have led to increasing lawsuits across higher education institutions. Individuals with disabilities and disability rights organizations are pushing to be included in an environment where, intentionally or otherwise, they are excluded from equal access to participation and engagement that others without disabilities do not face.
Why do you think addressing this issue is often met with resistance or hesitation?
With the increasing use of technologies in higher education – a plethora of systems for applying, registering, accessing online courses, library databases, and so on; decentralization of purchasing; and flexibility to design – everyone needs to play a role in ensuring accessibility. Traditionally, disability/accessibility services office have been viewed as primarily responsible for providing access to students who have self-identified as an individual with a disability. This needs to change: ensuring accessibility across campus systems and services requires cooperative oversight and shared responsibility. Change is often met with resistance. People like to do things the way they’ve always been done. Accessibility awareness and planning requires considerable time and effort. It is easier said than done ensuring everyone is informed of and planning for accessibility. Faculty and staff may not be aware of environmental barriers that impact individuals with differing abilities, but we have a legal and ethical obligation to uphold accessibility at our institutions. Campuses should develop a plan to address accessibility across living and learning environments. This will take time, but the impact is significant.
Where would you suggest a campus start to address accessibility?
Awareness is the first step – train the campus community about accessibility barriers and principles. This could be facilitated through an online course, in-person workshops, or meetings with Deans and Departments. Newer faculty teaching online courses tend to be very receptive to accessible design, in my experience. Engaging with faculty early in their course design and development, and providing accessibility workshops and resources is critical. There are plenty of resources freely available online, including video tutorials and step-by-step directions.
Prioritization of accessibility should begin with newer courses, followed by improving accessibility of courses that are required or repeated each semester, and those courses with the largest enrollment. These are where campuses will have the greatest impact.
Beyond online courses, I recommend simultaneously addressing accessibility in traditional face-to-face courses because many of these courses incorporate electronic content, digital tools, and websites for teaching and learning. Similar training provided to online educators should be provided to face-to-face educators.
Finally, institutions should include accessibility as an integral part of curriculum, most especially for students seeking to become future professors (T/GAs), social/health care workers, educators, business, communication and marketing professionals, computer scientists, and engineers.
What are some challenges campuses can anticipate?
Shared responsibility: Accessibility requires cooperative oversight. Departments and divisions will need to coordinate in order to provide accessible solutions. Campuses who do not have an assistive technology specialist or instructional designers may not know where to learn about accessibility or find resources. Cross-institutional collaboration may be necessary to help one another achieve mutually shared goals. Campuses may wish to determine roles and responsibilities for overseeing accessibility initiatives.
Procurement: Additional challenges include advocating for and securing accessible solutions upfront from publishing and technology vendors. Faculty and staff may not know what questions to ask vendors, and may receive push back from companies who know little about accessibility. Keep in mind, accessibility is our responsibility, not theirs. Work with them to conform to the institution’s accessibility standards. Consult Disability Services, IT, and Purchasing office. This process is very important because it can save money, time, and resources remediating content and coming up with alternate accessible access.
Cost: Campuses will need to explore ways to provide digital solutions that meet their business needs; are affordable, accessible, and user-friendly for all faculty, staff, and students.
How can Open SUNY support campuses in this effort?
The OSCQR rubric is a great starting point to get faculty and IDs to organize and design accessible content. Accessibility criteria is included in this rubric. Additionally, OS offers professional development workshops targeted at the issue of accessibility. Further, they showcase relevant faculty/staff presentations and campus initiatives through COTE and SUNY-sponsored conferences. Finally, OS provides networking opportunities to connect faculty, IDs, and other professionals.
Do you have resources you could recommend?
The following resource provides an introduction to relevant terminology:
The following resources cover a broad range of information to enhance accessibility:
- WebAIM: Web Accessibility in Mind
- DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center
- Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners (self-paced MOOC)
- Questions to Ask Publishers – Portland Community College
Is there anything else you would like campuses to know?
Accessibility is an ongoing process. It’s not a check box. You can’t fix everything all at once. Many institutions are both reactive and proactive. You can be reactive but you need to plan ahead and be prepared to provide independent, meaningful, and timely access.
Nazely is an Open SUNY Fellow in the Interested in Online-Enabled Education role.
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