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Universal design means accessibility 

May 13, 2019

Smart classrooms just got smarter thanks to an innovative tool created by the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) team.

DoIT maintains over 120 smart classrooms and labs at NIU. When technical support is needed, an instructor can pick up the phone in the classroom to connect with a member of the DoIT support staff.

For some instructors, that is easier said than done. 

“If contacting support staff is done by telephone, a person who is deaf or hard of hearing won’t be able to get help in their smart classroom,” Katy Whitelaw, Information Technology accessibility officer, said. 

Whitelaw learned that two NIU instructors who are deaf or hard of hearing needed assistance in a smart classroom, and the standard wall-mounted phone was insufficient to meet their needs. As part of an ongoing effort to become a center of excellence for accessibility, Whitelaw reached out to Dale Thurman, manager of the DoIT smart classrooms.

In order to ensure that the faculty members have access to technical support when needed, Thurman created an online form that can be filled out quickly using a smartphone.

“The Classroom and Lab Support form is a way for instructors in smart classrooms and labs to quickly request technical assistance using their smartphone,” Whitelaw said. “The online form is an example of universal design; it provides access to a wider variety of people than the telephone on the wall.”

A dropdown list of buildings means faculty members don’t have to type in the building name. Similarly, another dropdown list offers several common problems to choose from and provides a comments field for the instructor to enter more information if needed.

“Universal design is a fundamental principle and is the answer to many accessibility issues,” Whitelaw said. 

Visit the Ethics and Compliance Office site for more information on technology accessibility.