Access and Equity

Equalizing Access: a social justice imperative for open educational resources

Every semester, students cite the high cost of course materials as a stressor and major concern in both their academic success and their daily lives. We have numerous published reports of students deciding between basic needs like buying groceries and gas or purchasing a one-time-use access code for a required course. The cost of course materials has immensely outpaced inflation, and this has greatly disadvantaged students from lower-income backgrounds. For students who require accommodations to access educational materials, barriers to access go beyond financial burden. Students with print disabilities often need to formally request digital scans of physical materials through the college or university’s office of disability services. This process can be mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding, as well as time-consuming, meaning that students may not receive accessible materials until one or more weeks into the semester. These common realities are inequitable and unsustainable. We, as education professionals, have an obligation to address and remediate these barriers to accessible educational resources for the benefit of our individual students and society as a whole. Providing equitable access to learning materials is a powerful way to reduce the impact of structural inequity that hinders the attainment of higher education in the United States. Publisher-driven solutions, like Inclusive Access and digital rentals, are short-term solutions that temporarily bridge affordability; as e-journals did in the late 1990s. These solutions often remove flexibility and limit access thereby restricting students from having core materials long-term and preventing further reference of those materials throughout the entirety of their degree. Additionally, publishers’ solutions may not be fully accessible nor are they required to be, leaving alternative access options entirely in the hands of the publishers. This panel proposes that the widespread creation, dissemination, and adoption of open educational resources (OER) is one sustainable and effective method toward eliminating economic barriers to information access, as well as alleviating technological access constraints for students with disabilities. By creating born-digital materials following international accessibility guidelines and releasing them under open licenses, we can ensure that all students have access to all necessary course materials by the very first day of class. We acknowledge that the labor required of instructors to find and/or create OER is significant, and we want to explore continued barriers to OER adoption, and the efforts being made to resolve them, including the moral imperative, academic freedom, and OER incentive programs.

Preethi Gorecki (Grand Valley State University)
Annie Bélanger (Grand Valley State University)
Natalie Hill (The University of Texas at Austin)
LaQuanda Onyemeh (Texas A&M University)

Archival Conundrum: Promoting access and maintaining the integrity of a physical collection

As archives continue to embrace digitization, conversations arise around how to prioritize what needs to be digitized and how to do so in a sustainable and accessible way. One such conversation revolves around how best to use digital platforms to improve access to community records or materials pertaining to underrepresented groups. Often, the resources required to develop and maintain successful digitization projects are under-estimated. Effective digitization requires adequate time, money, and equipment; all of which are limited resources. Digital materials allow for a level of accessibility with which analog materials cannot compete. However, in order to make archival materials digitally available, a human effort must be made to developing online descriptions, images, and interactive features. While digitizing archival materials allows users to interact with the materials from anywhere in the world, it also has potential to introduce other barriers to access. For instance, if the image quality and descriptions for digitized materials are low-quality, they will not be accessible for users with visual impairments. Additionally, analog materials are anything but limited in scope, size, and subject matter, which invites another challenge for implementing a standardized set of practices for developing accessible digital materials. This panel examines the challenges inherent to promoting digital access to archival materials while maintaining the integrity of a physical collection by analyzing professional experience and relevant current events and projects. In particular, this panel will discuss challenges and opportunities for digitization in relation to aspects of the Transgender Oral History Project of Iowa, a grassroots project known also as Mukurtu, which was created with indigenous communities in mind and provides granular levels of access to records that community members manage. By exploring Mukurtu, our professional experiences, and analyzing digitization practices and standards across the globe, this panel seeks to provoke proactive conversations around increasing access to archival collections equitably and sustainably.

Preethi Gorecki (Grand Valley State University)
Arielle Petrovich (University of Notre Dame)
Melina Zavala (Grand Valley State University)