As a follow up to my last post:
Honestly, I have not given accessibility much thought before we got to this module. I also have had nearly no experience dealing with accessibility issues thus far. During my nine years’ teaching at Emory, I have had a few students who requested deadline extensions or extra exam time, but have not had hearing-, vision-, or motor-impaired students in class. I can see, however, that teaching online may make my class more available to students, including those with disabilities, and I am excited about that. The challenge is to figure out how to make the course materials accessible to all given the limited time and resources we have.
I started by thinking about the instructional video assigned as homework for this week, as most likely I will be using videos for the course. How to make it accessible to those with hearing disability, for example? Captioning naturally came to mind. Since it is not realistic to use specialized software or professional service for this assignment, I think I will figure out a way to add subtitles myself. I am not sure how well it will work, but I am considering simply manually adding text to each PPT slide before turning the presentation into a video. We will see how that goes.
As for accessibility to the vision-impaired, I will try to make sure that important visual information on each slide is conveyed verbally in the video. I want to be mindful about how I refer to items on the screen during the video. For example, I will avoid simply saying “the one on the left,” and will instead spell out specifically what it is that I am referring to. I will also avoid using color (or any other visual cue) alone to convey information.
I feel that I there is a whole lot more I would need to know about accessibility and universal design. I have found information on webaim.org quite useful (and even took the liberty to borrow the name “web accessibility in mind” as the title of this post), but if there will be more systematic training on this topic, especially offered in the context of resources available at Emory, I will sign up for that.
Yesterday was the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the Obama administration, much has been done to enhance and support inclusion and accessibility in the US, and many policies have been enacted: The Every Student Succeeds Act assists “teachers in learning about the best ways to support their students with disabilities;” the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act provides “more employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities and youth with disabilities;” and the Affordable Care Act includes policy to “protect the rights of Americans with disabilities” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/07/25/celebrating-ada). Additionally, some of you might remember Maria Town (Emory College, class of ‘09) who currently serves as the White House’s Disability Community Liaison in the Office of Public Engagement. So much is being done to help those with disabilities, and there has never been a time when making classrooms inclusive was easier. So, it’s time that we instructors step up! (Like recognizing when I use a non-inclusive, ableist metaphor such as “step up.”)
I work with ADSR quite regularly, and I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible in my courses throughout my time at Emory; however, as we all know, the online environment brings in a new set of challenges and potential issues. I do believe that available technologies are the first step to making a class accessible – well, recognizing that I need to pay attention to accessibility is the first step – so let’s say available technologies are the second step in making an online course UDL compliant. Having all videos captioned will not only help those who are hard of hearing but also has a secondary advantage of helping those who might only have internet access in a loud environment (e.g. café) or who might have a connection too slow to support full video and audio. Incorporating learning communities and multimedia into online courses, i.e. everything we have read in this class, gives students the ability to learn and perform in different modes, which is a key factor of UDL. Even the asynchronous learning environment gives those with some learning disabilities the chance to work at their own pace. If I keep these principles in mind as I create materials for my own online course, and as I revise materials for my current F2F courses, I believe that many of my initial challenges of accessibility will be met. That said, I also have to keep my eyes open for unforeseen issues that are sure to come up with every class and every semester. Wish me luck.