The Provost Office at the University of Texas continues to send form letters to the hundreds of people who have written in protest of their decision to shut down the Accessibility Institute. Their boilerplate gives lip services to their admiration for the work of John Slatin and invariably ends with this line:
While we will not have a research Accessibility Institute at UT, we will certainly continue our commitment to web accessibility.
What is unclear is what exactly this “commitment” means. Resources dedicated to guiding the accessibility effort at UT have been decimated. For the last ten years or more, the Provost office has shown its committment to IT accessibility by funding one full time faculty position and one full time research position supported by graduate students and administrative staff. Now that commitment has been reduced to one part time position (four hours or less each week) within the Information Technology Services Department.
If the commitment is genuine, why does the Provost Office not make a transition plan that continues funding for a reasonable period of time to give interested colleges – including Computer Science, the Information School, and others – time to find funding sources to continue this important work? I am told by the Provost Office that “research and scholarship at a University originate with the faculty.” But there is broad faculty interest, and there is community support. Leaders from business, academia, and the general public have voiced strong support and recognition of the need for this work to continue. Reading the names and comments included in the online petition of support for the AI shows strong global support. What seems to be missing is the commitment from the Provost to continue the funding that they have provided for more than ten years to allow transition in a way that maintains and builds on Dr. Slatin’s work.
In the meantime, UT has gone from being a leader in accessibility to a point where it does not even meet the minimum standards that the State of Texas requires of all state funded entities. If this is UT’s idea of “commitment to web accessibility,” the University is in deep trouble.