Systems Change in Higher Ed Digital Accessibility


Presented at 2:15pm in Colorado G-H on Wednesday, November 8, 2023.



  • Cynthia Curry, Director of Technical Assistance, CAST
  • Mark Nichols, Senior Director Universal Design & Accessible Technologies, Virginia Tech
  • Joanne Benica, Director, Disability Services Center, University of Southern Maine

Session Details

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


This session is for conference attendees who are seeking solutions to their institutions’ persistent barriers to achieving digital accessibility on a systems level. Learn strategies for developing a multidisciplinary leadership team; improving policies and guidelines; providing training; and collecting and using data for continuous improvement. Participants will engage with free resources, including an interactive study guide and self-assessment tool to begin a roadmap for their institutions.


While multiple indicators show a positive trend in the number of students with disabilities enrolling in higher education programs, disparities in outcomes between students with and without disabilities persist (NCES, 2019; NSF, 2019; Erickson et al., 2020). A range of complex societal and institutional factors contribute to persistent disparities in higher ed outcomes for students with and without disabilities. Based on the volume of related civil rights complaints brought forth by disabled students and disability advocates over the past decade, inaccessible course content and instructional technologies are undeniably among them. Clearly, institutions need to improve accessibility if they are to retain and effectively serve the increasing numbers of students with disabilities coming to their campuses and online programs. Vetted by experts in higher ed technology accessibility, the National AEM Center’s Quality Indicators assist institutions with planning, implementing, and evaluating systems for providing timely and high-quality accessible materials and technologies (National AEM Center, 2020). In this session, participants will be led through activities that demonstrate how the Quality Indicators can be implemented within their institutions. Strategies will be introduced for developing a multidisciplinary leadership team; identifying roles and responsibilities of administrators, faculty, and staff; improving policies and guidelines; providing training and technical assistance; collecting and using data for continuous improvement; and allocating resources. Freely available AEM Center resources, including an interactive study guide and self-assessment tool, will be demonstrated and used by participants throughout the session.


  1. Creating a system for ensuring high-quality digital accessibility requires multidisciplinary leadership.
  2. Quality Indicators for Providing Accessible Materials and Technologies facilitate higher ed systems change.
  3. Free resources are available for developing a roadmap to sustainable digital accessibility for all students.

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Accessible Educational Materials, Administrative/Campus Policy, Legal, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Cynthia Curry

Cynthia Curry is CAST's Director of Technical Assistance and Principal Investigator and Project Director of the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM Center) and Principal Investigator of the Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES). Both projects are funded by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. She leads a national initiative to create systems change across early childhood, K-12, higher ed, and workforce development to ensure that learners with disabilities who need high-quality accessible educational materials and technologies receive them in a timely manner. Cynthia has enjoyed diverse roles for promoting accessibility and Universal Design for Learning, including as a middle and high school science teacher, statewide technology integration mentor, trainer and technical assistance provider, teacher education faculty, instructional designer, and disability services coordinator. In her current position, she oversees CAST’s two technical assistance centers that build the capacity of education agencies to improve educational outcomes for learners with disabilities.

Mark Nichols

Mark Nichols is the Senior Director for Universal Design and Accessible Technologies at Virginia Tech. He works within the Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies (TLOS) unit within the Provost's Office. Prior to coming to VT in 2017, Mark spent 15 years working for Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia as the Supervisor for Assistive Technology and Division Level Administrator for Accessible Materials. Mark is an active member of the National AEM Advisory Committee, Past-Chair of the Virginia Higher Education Accessibility Partners (VHEAP), and Secretary/Treasurer of the UDL Higher Education Network with the UDL-IRN. Mark has a personal interest in the maker movement and connections to the field of Assistive Technology.

Joanne Benica

Joanne Benica is Director of the Disability Services Center at the University of Southern Maine.