Making Accessibility a Priority
Imagine participating in a classroom where every attempt at retaining information imperative to your success is thwarted by the medium through which it’s delivered. Perhaps the slides on the overhead projector are impossibly blurry, or the instructor’s voice is faint, almost mute. What if the color-coded charts and graphs in your textbook could be better understood with an image description, but the publisher failed to take color-blind learners into account? Now picture addressing these issues with your course instructor only to be told the materials could be retrofitted for accessibility, but it would place you behind the already brisk pace of the course.
Problems relating to accessibility pervade both physical and online classrooms. While online courses can make educational access easier for learners who are less physically mobile, many disabled students continue to struggle with obtaining the access they need simply because their courses were designed without accessibility in mind. Accordingly, this web page is intended to educate our online and hybrid instructors as to the legalities and institutional policies related to designing accessible online materials, as well as provide resources and practical solutions for common accessibility questions you may encounter during the course design process. At CLEAR, we’re dedicated to working with the UNT Office of Disability and Accommodation to prevent discrimination against students on the basis of disability in the online learning environment.
Laws and Policy
Designing your course for accessibility is not just a recommended best practice, it’s also the law. Many well-respected, American educational institutions have faced lawsuits due to what some judges deemed actionable negligence towards the needs of disabled students attempting to access university materials online. Most individual institutional policies related to online accessibility are upheld by sections 508 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal and federally funded programs to accommodate all individuals with disabilities. Originally enacted in 1973, an amendment (Section 508) to the Rehabilitation Act was passed in 1998 due to the rapid growth of the internet, which takes into account equal individual access to electronic and information technology.
Likewise, at the institutional level, all UNT instructors are required to participate with the Office of Disability Accommodation to ensure that students have access to materials that are treated to fit their needs. Moreover, both online and face-to-face instructors must include an ADA statement in their syllabi that inform students about UNT’s accommodation resources.
Before tackling accessibility in your course, it’s important to understand what kind of accommodations are being implemented into your online materials and why. Below are list of general disability categories:
Blindness, low vision, color-blindness
Deafness and hard-of-hearing
Inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control
Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information
This above is important because it will more accurately help you to begin identifying accessibility gaps in your existing content, and then provide alternative formats and solutions for auditory and visual content when appropriate. At this point, you should be thinking about the materials in your course and asking questions such as:
- Does my audio content include transcriptions?
- Are my videos captioned?
- Do all the images used in my course have appropriate text descriptions?
- Can my applications be used with only the keyboard?
- Do my course pages have a consistent look and feel?
- Do text and overall design have enough color contrast?
- Do all my pages include headings and landmarks?
- When the styling and layout of the page are removed, is it still understandable?
While the above questions address accessibility issues that are frequently encountered during the course design process, there are other instances, too exhaustive to list here, which may require special consideration. If you have any accessibility questions, feel free to contact your CLEAR Instructional Consultant.
Retrofitting or building your course from the ground up with accessibility in mind requires a bit of technical know-how, and the process can be admittedly time-consuming. However, both you and your students will reap the benefits of participating in a course that has already implemented the best practices detailed here. Below are a few technical resources that can help you take the first steps towards a fully accessible course:
- Creating alt-text for images
- Creating accessible Word documents
- Creating accessible PowerPoint documents
- Creating accessible PDF documents
- Creating accessible tables
- Converting image-based PDF’s into text-based Word documents
- Closed-captioning for videos
- Closed-captioning for YouTube videos
- Blackboard Learn screen-reader guide for ODA students