At the dawn of digital accessibility in the mid-1990s, Scott Chandler was completing his second of three degrees from Virginia Tech. His studies in the sociology of technology, instructional design, distance education, and more — followed by more than three decades of teaching Hokies — prepared him to help the university find its place in today’s device-driven world.

“When I started my career, a future in which technology and education would blend seamlessly felt distant but achievable,” Chandler said. “These days, the tech is omnipresent. Our charge is to ensure that every member of our community can access and benefit from it.”

Chandler has served Virginia Tech as the ADA and Accessibility Services team’s Section 508 compliance and digital accessibility officer in the Office for Equity and Accessibility (OEA) since September 2021. In the role, he works to establish and maintain equal access to the university’s electronic content. His expertise in the practical aspects of digital accessibility — from relevant standards to requisite technologies — guides his recommendations for designing resources that are more accessible. By evaluating policies and implementing best practices, he aligns institutional operations with federal, state, and university requirements.

Just in his first year, Chandler made immediate accessibility improvements to numerous websites, developed training and remediation programs to address concerns in essential communications such as email newsletters and presentations, and worked with engineering graduate students on research regarding blind pedestrians. He also led the process to update University Policy 7215: Information Technology Accessibility and worked with the university’s procurement teams and Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies group (TLOS) to establish and continuously improve processes for purchasing and deploying Section 508-aligned information technology.

His duties are hands on, and the scope of the work is vast — but not solitary.

“The success of our accessibility initiatives hinges on collaboration across teams and departments across the university. It's a collective effort that involves working closely with diverse talents, from developers to writers, to keep our digital spaces inclusive,” Chandler said.

In fact, the digital accessibility officer position is as a bridge between OEA and TLOS, which helps faculty develop successful digital learning experiences and provides technology-enhanced environments for flexible online learning. TLOS fosters digital fluency among instructors, partners with them to create innovative techniques for the classroom, and provides suggestions for continuity of instruction when in-person classes are not possible — support that proved especially valuable throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott Chandler, second from right, with Virginia Tech Enterprise Systems team members Brad Welch, Tim Belew, and Molly Arnold.

Scott Chandler, second from right, with Virginia Tech Enterprise Systems team members Brad Welch, Tim Belew, and Molly Arnold.
Chandler, second from right, with Virginia Tech Enterprise Systems team members Brad Welch, Tim Belew, and Molly Arnold. Photo courtesy of Scott Chandler.

During the 2021-22 academic year, Chandler collaborated with TLOS and other university partners on selecting tools to test websites, apps, and documents for compliance. He also taught a dozen seminars through the TLOS Professional Development Network, just a slice of the many targeted trainings and conference presentations on topics like accessible HTML offered to activate community partners as leaders in maintaining digital accessibility.

One of the university’s most notable cross-functional accessibility accomplishments is the new interactive Blacksburg campus map, which launched in August 2022. The two-year collaboration between OEA; the Campus Accessibility Working Group; Division of Information Technology’s Enterprise GIS; Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities GIS; Communications and Marketing; and Disability Alliance and Caucus led to the first significant improvements to the campus map's user interface and configuration in nearly a decade. Thanks to modern technology, the new map has a cleaner layout, real-time update capabilities, and user-friendly navigation.

More recent digital accessibility successes include:

  • Adding an accessibility review in the digital procurement process for high-risk purchases.
  • Modifying the university’s brand colors, including adjusting Burnt Orange to better conform to accessibility guidelines and adding Impact Orange as an accessible color for non-headline type.
  • Developing an accessible PowerPoint template for universitywide use.

ADA and Accessibility Services has also added a new team member: Lauren Shutt joined as accessibility developer this fall after four years as web manager for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“In this new role, I have the opportunity to make digital spaces more inclusive and to contribute to the evolution of digital accessibility at Virginia Tech. My aim is to contribute a fresh perspective and innovative solutions,” Shutt said. “It is a privilege to work with Chandler, the ADA and Accessibility Services team, and all members of OEA to make a positive impact on our entire community.”

Together Chandler and Shutt are enhancing the university’s testing capabilities, enabling developers to write better code to make content accessible without the need for difficult and costly remediation. The work provides a foundation for improved efficiency in meeting digital accessibility needs in the future.

“Chandler’s understanding of our university’s operations allows him to navigate complex institutional processes and collaborate effectively with partners across all areas of our community,” said Kelly Oaks, associate vice president of equity and accessibility. “He recognizes the needs of individuals with disabilities, stays on top of emerging trends and best practices, and helps ensure that digital accessibility remains a top priority for our institution.”

Earlier this year, the Virginia Higher Education Accessibility Partners acknowledged those efforts, tapping Chandler for a Spotlight Award from its board of directors. His nomination cites his “unwavering commitment to improving digital accessibility” and leadership in ensuring that every member of the university community can access and use digital resources.

“The journey at Virginia Tech has been about more than just tech advancements. It has been a collective effort toward inclusivity,” Chandler said. “I am immensely proud of the strides we have made as an institution, and I’m looking forward to the progress ahead.”

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