Creating a Sustainable, Decentralized Model for Accessibility


Presented at 9:15am in Colorado F on Friday, November 10, 2023.



  • Noelle Bareswilt, University of Cincinnati
  • Heidi Pettyjohn , , University of Cincinnati

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Interactive/Discussion
  • Expertise Level: All Levels
  • Type of session: General Conference


In 2016, the University of Cincinnati formed the Accessibility Network, a fully cross-functional team of accessibility staff from three different vice-presidential areas, by creating new positions and utilizing existing positions to align the university’s accessibility goals. In this presentation, leaders of the Accessibility Network will share why they chose a decentralized approach and how they use it to build a shared sense of responsibility for accessibility and engagement with leadership.


When the University of Cincinnati started to work toward implementing accessibility at a large scale, leadership realized that the most effective and efficient way to do this would be to leverage expertise and efforts across all major units that touch our electronic and digital landscape. At a large (47,000+ students), research one, urban university with 13 colleges, three campuses, medical and law school, and a growing online program, this type of structure had been used for special initiatives or priorities, but not for on-going, sustainable work. This presentation will talk about their journey from this lofty goal to the creation of the Accessibility Network at UC, which is a sustainable, impactful, truly cross-functional and matrixed team of 17 accessibility professionals, as well as a steering committee and university accessibility liaisons. Attendees will learn why the university chose a decentralized approach and how they use that approach to build a shared sense of responsibility for accessibility and engagement with leadership.

The presenters will cover the most asked questions we get from other universities about our model, such as, what is our budget model? How did we decide which units to include and which positions to create? How has the work evolved and what has been the university wide impact?

But the question most often asked is about how we worked through resistance, so the second half of the presentation will include guided group discussions about this topic and how to see resistance as part of the process, rather than a sign that it is not working. We will focus on identifying and sharing strategies for creating buy-in at all levels, and attendees will leave with a new perspective on how to leverage their campus communities and engage with faculty and staff to move this work forward, regardless of their campus’ model or maturity level with accessibility.


  1. Decentralizing allows for engagement and support from leadership and builds a sense of shared responsibility.
  2. Resistance is part of the process. The biggest wins come from focusing on those who want to say yes.
  3. Prepare to provide guidance, tools, and training people need to share in the work of accessibility on campus

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Administrative/Campus Policy, Faculty Development & Support, Other, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Noelle Bareswilt

Noelle serves as the Program Director for Accessibility in the department of Digital Technology Solutions, University of Cincinnati's central IT group. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing the accessibility review process for all of UC's third-party applications, websites, web applications, and faculty/staff facing documentation. Noelle manages a team of full-time and student testers and works with them on process improvement and continuous education.

As a co-chair of the Accessibility Network at UC, a cross-functional team of accessibility specialists across different roles, Noelle works to collaborate on different accessibility initiatives across campus and to create and communicate best practices for achieving accessibility.

Heidi Pettyjohn

As Executive Director, Heidi serves as the university’s Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) Accessibility Coordinator, as well as the ADA/Rehabilitation Act Coordinator.

She co-created and co-chairs the Accessibility Network at UC, a cross-functional team of offices that support and enhance the university’s capacity to deliver accessible electronic content.

Heidi has oversight of the Accessibility Resources offices on all UC campuses and the Communication and Digital Access Team, which provides ASL, CART, interpreting, accessible technology and other digital based accommodations to students, employees and guests.