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Forums held for IT finalists

New IT director to improve services for students with disabilities

By Brennen Kauffman, For The Miami Student

Following a discrimination lawsuit, Miami University will add a new position to its IT department starting next week. The position will work to make Miami's online content more available to students with disabilities.

The three finalists for the Director of Accessible Technology will be discussed in open forums, and the official recommendation will be announced next Friday.

The new director is tasked with making Miami technology more accommodating to students with disabilities, which includes anything from phone number readers to website redesigns. Miami currently has around 850 students who would be directly affected by the changes, which is a record high for the university.

According to Alan Fennerberg, the associate vice president of the IT department and the head of the University Search Committee, Miami plans to lead other colleges in this area.

"We want to go so far beyond what we have to do," he said. "New tech will always come out, so this will be an ongoing challenge."

The position was created in response to a lawsuit filed against Miami in January. Aleeha Dudley, a 21-year-old former student who is blind, accused Miami of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for not providing her with appropriate technology.

According to Dudley, several resources Miami provided for her were incompatible with her Braille-encoded screen reader, and she found it difficult to navigate Niihka and the degree audit system. The Department of Justice agreed that the university had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Miami was forced to settle out of court.

The school quickly began taking steps to improve. Miami posted an ad for the new director in July, along with openings for an accessible technology specialist and a web accessibility manager.

Two of the three candidates have already attended the open forums in the Dolibois Room in the Shriver Center.

Michael Wigle, the current IT manager for the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, spoke on Monday about his qualifications for the job.

"I want all my students able to access what I'm trying to teach," he said. "That's what I do as a teacher."

Wigle said he got invested in accessible technology while attending the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1993. One of the other students in his class was blind, and watching him use early technology blew him away. He began working with the available technology and has worked in the field for over 20 years.

The second candidate, Sean Poley, currently works at Miami as the IT Accessibility Coordinator. Many of the members attending the forum saw his current involvement with Miami as an important advantage. He spoke Thursday afternoon.

Karen O'Hara, a web specialist from the University Communications and Marketing department, worried the two outside candidates would have a hard time working with other employees.

"A lot of the staff will be reluctant to change their content," O'Hara said.

The third finalist, Tracy Jordan, has a unique perspective on the issue of accessible tech. After being bitten by a spider in 2003, she lost one of her legs and her eyesight. She has since earned a doctorate from the University of Texas at Dallas and currently works with assistive technology for the Tarrant County College District.

Ferrenberg said Jordan is a promising candidate.

"She was sighted and now isn't, which gives her a different outlook," Ferrenberg said.

He also said that, beyond some minor changes to the mobile pages, the average student wouldn't notice a difference after the new director takes over.

Jordan will speak at an open forum at 4:45 p.m. Monday in the Shriver Heritage Room. The search committee will recommend its choice for the director by the end of the week.