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FINDING SOLUTIONS FOR HIGHER ED

We want to help you access the world of technology with any specific challenge your school is facing. With our current education partner, we’ve been able to collaborate and create a platform for disability management at the university. We are excited to apply the strategies we’ve honed with our partner to other organizations facing specific, complex challenges.

Our current university partner in Southern California is a pioneer in the realm of managing accommodations for students with disabilities.

The Challenge

Before we began working with the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) office at the university, they’d already established an effective process for managing and serving their disabled student population, but they faced a problem — they were drowning in paper. Every step of their process — registering students, receiving student requests for accommodations and exams, approving or denying those requests — was managed by paper forms. Maintaining the huge store of paper records required to serve their students was becoming a major challenge for the DRES office, so we collaborated with the university stakeholders to make their process paperless.

We set out to provide students with a digital replica of the resources they could access by going to the DRES office in person. Part of creating that digital experience was ensuring that all aspects of the system were accessible to uses with a range of disabilities. For all software applications, accessibility is important, but for the DRES office, which functions to serve a disabled student body, system accessibility was paramount. As we began to develop the project, we worked with the university to establish processes for designing and building new features, and we worked to maintain a focus on accessibility while doing so.

Our Process

When we began working with the university, we rooted the relationship in Agile methodology and a culture of collaboration.

We also worked to institute a process for auditing accessibility features in the application. Since testing in our two week iterations focused primarily on new features, we needed to make sure our goal of end-to-end accessibility was not lost in the shuffle. To meet this challenge, the university helped us leverage their resources and had their accessibility department conduct a thorough audit of the project. This audit helped us identify areas that needed accessibility remediation, and we began to resolve those issues as we continued to roll out new development.

STAND UP MEETINGS

We began holding a brief, “standup” meeting with stakeholders each morning to touch base on the state of the project, plan upcoming features, and discuss testing and deploying new code.

COLLABORATION

From the stand up meetings, we continued to collaborate throughout the day, coordinating design, development, testing, and deployment with our university partners.

SPRINTS

We worked in two week iterations, or “sprints,” to keep the feedback loop around the application tight and ensure that all new development was working towards a well-defined, mutually-understood goal. By iterating every two weeks, we were able to roll out new features and then flesh them out or alter them quickly based on user feedback.

The Solution

The result of our collaboration with the university was the Student Access and Accommodation System (SAAS) application, along with its companion applications, Shared Notes and Work Assistance. SAAS is a fully-featured student management system that gives students, instructors, and disability counselors a shared portal for managing academic and testing accommodations. Shared Notes and Work Assistance are separate web applications that work with SAAS to match students with notetakers in their courses and to provide students with assistance as they leave university for the work force. Since moving from their paper-based approach, the DRES office has made the SAAS, Shared Notes, and Work Assistance applications essential parts of day-to-day operations, treating them as a “digital home base” for disability management in the university.

Prioritizing Agile methodology and a collaborative spirit as foundational parts of our working relationship proved to be a fruitful strategy for the university as a client and for Reax as a solutions provider. Being Agile allowed them to transparently verify that their resources were being spent well, as they had constant access to new development through a testing environment. For Reax, being Agile helped ensure that we were providing maximum value to our partner by giving us almost instant feedback on how effective new development was.

Prioritizing accessibility features as part of our core development efforts was also a successful strategy. By working to ensure accessibility early and often, we were able to avoid a common pitfall - missing accessibility gaps by prioritizing new development. Having resources at the university who could provide us with an accessibility audit was a major boon to the project, and we plan to use what we’ve learned from remediating that audit to ensure excellent accessibility coverage in our future projects.