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THE OCTOBER SURPRISE
Since turning 40, each advancing birthday seems progressively less a reason to celebrate. But my birthday this year gave me a most unique and unexpected gift: I was invited to the CUNY Women’s Leadership Conference to be held at Hunter College on October 28th. This program turned out to be a great cause for celebration.
EXCITED, BUT A LITTLE APPREHENSIVE
This CUNY-wide event was to include students from all 24 campuses, so I knew many of the attendees would be college aged and much younger than me. I wondered: “As a continuing ed student shifting professional gears mid-life, how relevant could this conference be? After all, it will surely be geared to young women embarking on their careers, not women looking to redraft a life story.” I had no idea what to expect.
To my surprise and delight, the numerous speakers and panels had messages that were not only inspirational, but also absolutely applicable to my current circumstances. There were so many wonderful segments, here is a mere sampling:
- The keynote speakers Rossana Rosado, NYS Secretary of State, and Letitia James, Public Advocate for the City of New York, both delivered emotional speeches about the empowering experience of community involvement. Their lives of public service are proof positive that we all have the power to affect change.
- From the Women in Technology (WiTNY) panel, we heard about the need for women in the digital world. The statistics are staggering: only 18% of computer science graduates are women and woman comprise just 26% of the tech workforce. WiTNY would like to see that change.
- WiTNY offers courses, scholarships, internships, and networking. For more info see: http://www1.cuny.edu/sites/women-in-technology/about/
- (My personal take-away here: job opportunity—beef up on some programming courses!)
- Perhaps my favorite aspect of this symposium was meeting some of SPS’ faculty and my fellow SPS students. Our SPS students represented our school with eloquence and passion: asking questions, raising issues, and talking about passionate causes.
THE ONGOING PRESENT
This could have been a very tough birthday: I’m job hunting and certainly not getting any younger.
Thank you, CUNY and SPS for this encouraging lift—I could pop the bubbly after all!
For more information about the CUNY Women’s Leadership Conference, or to learn how you can attend a future conference, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Designer, single mom, and ongoing student, Lisa Sheridan is busy juggling life, work, and academics as an undergraduate in the Communication and Media department.
Part 5: Perceptible Information, the fourth principle of Universal Design
by Antonia Levy, Christopher Leydon & Chris Kchao
This month we discuss the fourth principle of Universal Design (UD), Perceptible Information, meaning that “the design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.”
Guidelines for adherence to this principle include:
- Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) of presentation for essential information.
- Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
- Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
- Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
- Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.
Practical examples for this principle are tactile features on numeric keypads for blind users, which usually include a dot on the 5 key, a tactile circle on the enter/confirm button and a tactile x on the cancel/clear button. Consumer devices such as thermostats or infrastructure such as pedestrian signals now employ a combination of tactile, visual, and audible cues to be accessible to all.
In education, this principle calls for providing essential information in a variety of modes (e.g., written, symbolic, tactile, verbal) thereby ensuring effective communication with all users regardless of their sensory abilities. This includes making all (online) instructional materials accessible to users of screen reading software as demonstrated in this video.
For an expert account of how screen readers, we turned to guest contributor Chris Kchao, who handles assistive technology in the Office of Student Disability Services here at CUNY SPS.
Screen readers, sometimes referred to by the general term screen access programs, allow blind or visually impaired users to gain access to written information on electronic devices. Text is typically either read aloud by a synthetic voice or output to a refreshable Braille display. The function of a screen reader is not simply to render any text available on screen, but to facilitate interaction between the person and the user interface. In practical terms, the screen reader doesn’t just voice the text, but also provides contextual information about the item being read (whether it’s a menu, button, checkbox, link, etc). For instance, here’s the output from the NVDA screen reader when a user presses the Windows start key:
Start menu, Search Box, edit: Search programs and files.
By way of these prompts, a user is informed not only of what the screen says, but also how to proceed. Among other things, we’re told that a menu is present, and that we’re focused on an edit field in which we may begin entering text.
When a screen reader encounters a document embedded on a website or posted in a Blackboard course site and the user opens it, that document also needs to be accessible to the screen reading software in order for a visually impaired person to access the content. PDF documents, for example, are only accessible when text contained in them is searchable. They should include other “hidden” features, called tags that are added for accessibility purposes only and have no visible effect on the PDF. Such tags include descriptive text for images (called Alt Text) or structure tags (called headings) added to titles, subtitles, etc.
Note that most PDFs created using a scanner are considered inaccessible because they are simply images of the page, which means that a screen reader cannot recognize any of the text. For various ways to make PDF documents accessible to all, see our quick guide or video tutorial with detailed instructions.
PDFs may also be created by conversion from another type of file, such as Word or PowerPoint. If you follow accessibility guidelines when creating those source documents, and then “save as” a PDF, the accessibility features such as headings or Alt Text for images will carry over into your PDF document. See our Accessibility Resources Site for additional tutorials explaining how to create accessible Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents as well adding captions to your YouTube videos.
This article is part of an ongoing series introducing the concept of Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each installment covers one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next time!
This post was written by Maria Lewis, a recipient of the CUNY School of Professional Studies ACE Scholarship.
I applied for numerous scholarships throughout my life only to come away empty handed each and every time. When I got the email informing me that I had been selected for an ACE Scholarship it felt surreal; all I could do was stare at my computer screen and read it over and over again. They say good things come to those who are willing to wait and the Lord knew that I had waited. I received my ACE Scholarship at a time in my life when it was needed the most. It was a godsend to me financially; my father went home to be with the Lord two weeks into the spring semester. My world came to a grinding halt and my financial situation changed overnight. The ACE Scholarship allowed me to finish school and complete my Bachelor’s Degree, something that I had been trying to accomplish for twenty years.
What made the scholarship extra special was the meaning and significance behind it. I was being recognized for my academic accomplishment and I was also going to have the opportunity to be a positive influence in someone else’s life. I have always aspired to be the best at whatever I attempt and to have it recognized was so heartwarming. I worked hard and there were a lot of times that I really felt like giving up but I’m so glad that I didn’t.
The scholarship came with the requirement that I mentor another student returning to school, just as I had done. I met a beautiful young woman who identified with me on many levels which got our relationship off to a wonderful start. Even though this was my last semester we are still in touch with one another, my scholarship came with a new found friend that I will cherish forever. I am ever so grateful to the benefactors who make the ACE Scholarship possible. I plan to attend graduate school in the fall; the sky really is the limit.
Maria Lewis is a recipient of the CUNY SPS ACE Scholarship, a scholarship program designed to support high-achieving undergraduate students Achieve College Education (ACE). She will graduate from the Urban and Community Studies degree program in June 2016.
This post was written by Noelitta Tailiam, a recipient of the CUNY School of Professional Studies ACE Scholarship.
Reflecting back on my first encounter with a higher education institution, I vividly remember feeling secured and my professors always reassured and motivated me to believe that there was no room for failure. This gave me the drive to obtain my Associate’s Degree in Science from the Borough Of Manhattan Community College.
Unlike my fellow ACE scholarship recipients, I never took time off from school. I immediately transferred to Hunter College. There I felt overwhelmed, unsure of myself, and my drive slowly reduced. I felt like a fish in an ocean full of sharks and stingrays. My professors were intimidating just as much as my classmates were. I received no support and no reassurance that I could do this and excel. I remember crying for the first two weeks because I felt so lost. After a year of not wanting to be there, I received an impromptu email from the CUNY School of Professional Studies and I figured, “what would I lose by attending the information session?” I remember running from the number 1 train to the 3 train from the Upper West Side to get there. I made it in 15 minutes before the session ended. I vaguely remember Director of Student Services Z. Lobley being there and she handed me all the information I needed. She encouraged me to attend a one-on-one evaluation session with an advisor and apply in person. This has been one of the best life changing decisions that I have ever made.
Many tried to discourage me to not follow the path of online learning and I am very happy that I am not easily swayed. Having two jobs and working 50-60 hours a week gave me little time to sit in a classroom setting. After my first semester at CUNY SPS, I felt the same way I did at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. I felt safe, encouraged, and the support of my advisor and professors were just what I envisioned my learning experience to be. The professors had the same motto that “failure is not an option,” which they showed. It varied from emails, phone calls, and the Blackboard messages they bombarded us with on a weekly schedule. Being selected as the recipient of the ACE Scholarship validated for me that all of my late night studying and heavy consumption of black coffee did not go unnoticed.
While on the scholarship, I am currently giving back to my fellow students by being a mentor, which is another life changer. Now that I am so close to completing the requirements for my degree, I hope to use everything I have learned to continue working in my community, either in a non-profit organization that advocates for disability rights or in the education field.
Thank you, CUNY SPS, for this opportunity, and for supporting me and my fellow students in our future endeavors.
Noelitta Tailiam is a recipient of the CUNY SPS ACE Scholarship, a scholarship program designed to support high-achieving undergraduate students Achieve College Education (ACE). She will graduate from the BA in Disability Studies degree program in June 2016.
Part 4: Simple & Intuitive, the third principle of Universal Design
by Antonia Levy, Christopher Leydon & Julie Maybee
Simple & Intuitive, the third principle of Universal Design (UD), refers to the use of any product being “easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.” Guidelines for this principle include:
- Eliminate unnecessary complexity;
- Be consistent with user expectations and intuition;
- Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills;
- Arrange information consistent with its importance; and
- Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.
General design examples for this principle include the moving sidewalks found in airport terminals and other public spaces, or the kind of lavatory faucets that make their operation readily apparent and relatively easy.
Remember instruction manuals that either use overtly technical terminology or visual instructions that are impossible to follow? Instructional materials would be readily accessible to more people if they take into account the principle of simple and intuitive design, for instance by combining plain language and drawings alongside the text. Avoiding unnecessary complexity and jargon applies to any instructions—including those created by university offices for use by staff, faculty, and students.
The design of our campus facilities should facilitate immediate understanding about the purpose and utilization of each design feature. Moreover, its means of use should be intuitively obvious so that it operates as anticipated by the user who can, therefore, use it spontaneously.
For a faculty perspective this month, we invited Julie E. Maybee, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Lehman College and Adjunct Associate Professor of Disability Studies here at CUNY SPS, who suggests a number of ways to apply this principle to the design of online and hybrid courses in Blackboard (Bb).
To make course navigation more simple, I aim to minimize the number of clicks required for students to figure out what work they need to do each week. I create a folder for each week in a content area on Bb called “Weekly Modules” or “Weekly Folders.” The folder description includes the date range for each week, as well as special due dates (such as for essays, or drafts of the final paper)—hence, the “Weekly Folders” section almost serves as a course calendar as well.
Each of the folders contains all the work the students have to do for that week. Moreover, in the interest of simplicity, each folder has the same structure:
- An item introduces the week’s topic and study questions or learning outcomes;
- A list of assignments students have to complete during that week—i.e., what to read, what work to submit, etc.;
- A list of the week’s readings; and
- Links, with assignment instructions, to the specific Bb tools students will use to submit their work, e.g. a link to the relevant discussion board (or blog) or to submit an assignment.
Each folder is thus a completely self-contained place where students can go to complete all their work for the week.
There are also a few ways to make the course design more simple and intuitive. For one, providing multiple access points to the same items can help your students to navigate the course site more easily. For example, aside from the links in the Weekly Folders, I provide shortcuts to the discussion board or blog on the course menu for faster access. In addition, I create a link to the “Help with Writing the Final Paper” folder both within the “Assignment Information” section (for students looking for information about the assignment) as well as the “HELP!” section of the course (for students who think in terms of needing help with the paper). In other words, whichever way they might think, students will find a link to the information they are looking for in either place.
Also, limiting the variety of tools you assign is an easy way to simplify the design of your course—for both the instructor and the students. Each feature in Blackboard works a little differently; e.g., replying to a discussion forum is different than commenting on a blog or editing a wiki, and using the assignment tool is different from taking a test. So, instead of trying to use them all, I give similar assignments from week to week, or at least in multiple weeks. For instance, in some of my courses, students do the exact same discussion assignment for weekly readings: students must post four posts to the discussion board, some of which must answer study questions I provide on each of the readings, and some of which must respond to my or other student’s posts.
Making your assignments repetitive also helps to convey your course expectations to students. When an assignment is the same every week, students will find it easier to learn what they are expected to do, and they also have multiple opportunities to learn (and respond to) your expectations for that kind of assignment. If you then grade the discussion every week—preferably by using rubrics, which Blackboard makes fairly easy to do—you will also be providing consistent feedback to students that helps them to understand what these expectations are.
Last but not least, assigning different levels of writing assignments helps to accommodate students with a wider range of literacy and language skills. Since I do not typically grade discussion posts for grammar and style, I use the discussion board as a place where students can write more informally. Short blog/paper assignments can be helpful as a scaffold for the final paper by giving students lower-stakes opportunities to practice skills they will need when completing the more significant assignment later. In my own discussion posts and in grading feedback, I encourage students to provide citations to back their claims, to interpret quotations in their own words, to offer scholarly evidence from the readings for their views, and so on.
These are just a few ideas about some of the ways our courses can be more simple and intuitive—and hence more accessible—for students.
This article is part of an ongoing series introducing the concept of Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each month we cover one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next month! Questions or feedback? Email Antonia Levy or Christopher Leydon.
My name is Yolanda Ransom, and for the past two semesters I have had the pleasure and opportunity of being in the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy CUNY Corps group. During our group retreat last December, we brainstormed to come up with our idea of how to honor and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day. We decided to create an event that we called “A Piece of Peace.” Since a huge part of Dr. King’s goal was to bring about peace among people, rather than racial and ethnic division, our aim was to bring a ‘piece’ of Dr. King’s message of peace to a group of young students.
Some of our members are current students at City College or former students of the A. Philip Randolph High School. So we decided to launch our 1st annual “Piece of Peace” event there. We focused on selecting students that had shown leadership skills and worked with their administrators to invite these specific students. Although we originally planned to do the event in January when Dr. King’s birthday is legally celebrated, that was not possible due to scheduling issues. So when we were offered the opportunity to hold it in March instead, we jumped at the chance.
So, on March 11, 2014 we held the first “Piece of Peace” with about 100 or so eager students. We started off with lunch and provided a delicious spread beforehand (no one wants to learn, or do anything on an empty stomach, right?). Afterwards, we introduced our group and its purpose for being there.
Next, we did an exercise designed to help the students become aware of and recognize how automatically we stereotype one another based on physical differences and/or labels. All of the students formed 2 long lines facing each other. While one student held a label (which they couldn’t see) up to their forehead, the partner facing them would ask them questions associated with the label assigned to them. For example, one student had the label “CEO.” Based on the perceptions, stereotypes and assumptions that automatically come to mind, the student facing the ‘labeled’ one would say things that either did/did not result in the ‘labelee’ figuring out what their label was, and whether it is generally viewed positively or negatively in society. The students really enjoyed doing the exercise.
We wanted the students to gain a greater understanding of Dr. King and what he was all about. So we gathered many of his lesser known quotes to share with the students. Most of the students admitted that they know Dr. King for his “I Have a Dream” speech, but not much else. Here, I and my fellow Malave members are introducing this part of the event:
The quotes were shared in small groups where the students read and discussed them. They described how the quotes applied to them, society, and their futures as leaders. Both the students and Malave members were deeply engaged in the discussions.
Then, each group selected a spokesperson or two to present their collaborative ideas to everyone.
For the final part of the event, we explained to the students that they were the first group ever to participate in the “Piece of Peace.” To commemorate the event, each student would place their thumb in paint and ‘sign’ a dove image that we had brought. The artwork would then be framed and displayed at the A. Philip Randolph High School as a collective symbol celebrating Dr. King and our shared experience that day. This is when all the students got super excited and began cheering, whooping and clapping! They all gleefully lined up to ‘sign’ the dove onstage.
Each student and everyone in attendance also received a colorful wristband that read “I Have a Dream” and “A Piece of Peace” on it to take as a gift and reminder of the day we all spent together.
Here is the ‘Piece’ of Peace Dove that the students will proudly display at their school:
It was a wonderful day for both the CUNY Corps group and the A. Philip Randolph High School students. We gave and took from one another in a positive spirit of learning and up-building and everyone left very happy. The students shook hands, hugged and thanked us for coming. And we returned the love and thanked them for letting us spend a few hours with them. This first event got off to a great start, and it can only get better from here!
My name is Yolanda Ransom and I am a junior majoring in Sociology at CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. Last year I was nominated to become a member of the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy consists of two groups that develop leadership in different areas. One group called Student Investment Advocates focuses on political networking and relationship development, and the other is called CUNY Corps which focuses on community volunteering and service. I am part of the CUNY Corps Program which meets twice a month on Fridays. Sometimes we meet more often depending on the projects we are working on or if there are leadership conferences (which occur frequently). As soon as I became a member I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the CUNY Women’s Leadership Conference in October 2013. It was an empowering and hopeful event.
If one has a flexible job/school situation Malave membership is very workable. In December 2013, I had the amazing opportunity of going on a retreat with CUNY Corps. The beautiful resort was Honor’s Haven Spa & Resort with features like body massages, hot tub, pool, movie room and exercise classes. The purpose of the trip was for the group to bond to help us work better together going forward. Six female students and six male students, along with the Ernesto Malave coordinators Kisha Fuentes and Denis Nolasco all rode up to Catskills, NY to spend an activity packed and enjoyable weekend right before finals week. We shared three delicious meals each day from the buffet, had group meetings where we got to know more about each individual’s personality type and communication style, and organized our Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day event. We used communication building tools to help us understand how to find the best way possible to relate and interact with one another as well as others outside of our group.
It wasn’t all ‘work’ however. We had a few free hours each night for personal time, so we could hang out in each other’s rooms, watch TV/movies, have coffee at the café, swim, soak in the Jacuzzi, get a massage or just catch a nap. Kisha organized a treasure hunt and we searched all over the hotel to find the items. Team spirit was very strong as some members shared the location of what they found with others even though only one person could actually win. We also had pizza night and watched a comedy on Netflix that we all voted for in the movie room on our last night there. It was fun. I LOVE watching movies and we had our own little movie theatre.
I was hesitant at first about attending the retreat because I didn’t know how well I would connect with others in the group. It takes me a bit of time to feel comfortable around those I have just met. But by the end of the retreat I felt like I had grown to know everyone much better and felt at ease. Everyone had a positive and willing attitude which helped foster trust and mutual respect. This pic is of our group on our last day before leaving—minus the CUNY Corps directors Kisha and Denis (I’m all the way to the left standing up).
Through the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy CUNY Corps Program I have been inspired to be more actively involved in helping society. We are doing an eyeglass drive on behalf of New Eyes for the Needy. At various campuses we are collecting all types of glasses until May 2nd, 2014. Please drop off your old prescription, reading and sunglasses and frames so that they can be used for those who need glasses. I will be collecting them at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. Contact Anthony Sweeney in Student Services if you want to donate your old eyeglasses. Best wishes to you for a successful semester and 2014!