Hello, everyone! Long time, no see!
I just arrived back in Wichita from beautiful Portland, Oregon where the 8th Annual Quality Matters Conference was hosted. The city–and especially the conference–was such a breath of fresh air. This year, I’ve attended six conferences on behalf of WSU and presented at four of them. The Quality Matters conference was the first of all of these 2016 conferences to put accessibility concerns at the forefront of discussion. During every session, I had a hard time choosing between so many presentations that dealt directly with accessibility.
What I found most exciting, however, was the fact that Quality Matters institutions across the United States were dealing with accessibility and accommodations concerns through hard work and ingenuity–not money. For smaller institutions or institutions with budget constraints, this is great news! Too often we rely on money to quickly answer problems. The complicated demands of designing for accessibility are not so easily solved. I saw university presentations from Florida, to Indiana, to Oregon where institutions are relying on training to answer the accessibility needs of students. I learned about great (free) programs being implemented at different institutions to help meet the needs of diverse learners. This gave me hope.
Accessibility is close to the heart of Quality Matters, so I should not have been surprised by its clear inclusion in the conference sessions. The Quality Matters rubric addresses the accessibility of online course content in a variety of ways. General Standards 7 & 8 address it most specifically, requiring online courses to include information about accessibility support and policies for students and requiring course designs to reflect a “commitment to accessibility and usability for all learners.”
General Standard 8 addresses this in a variety of ways:
- Course navigation needs to facilitate ease of use, meaning that navigation must be used consistently throughout the course and are strategically used to facilitate ease of use for students of all abilities.
- Information needs to be provided about the accessibility of all technologies required in the course. [If you do not include accessibility statements for all technologies (including required software) then your course does not meet this standard. Our Instructional Design and Technology office would be happy to help you locate these statements and include them in your course.]
- Online courses have to provide alternative means of access for course materials. This helps meet the needs of diverse learners in online courses. This is typically what is meant when designers talk about “accessibility.” When we talk about captioning video, including transcripts, using alt tags, designing tables for screen readers, avoiding unnecessary use of color, and offering documents in PDF, we are addressing SRS 8.3.
- The course design needs to facilitate readability. This means that course content should be presented clearly so that all leaners can easily read and interpret it.
- Course multimedia needs to facilitate ease of use. This means that course content including audio, video, and images should be easy to view, operate, and interpret.
For many, many years, online courses have been designed and delivered with little thought towards accessibility. Institutions across the United states are now looking for ways to address accessibility in older courses as well as move forward with new courses that are designed with accessibility in mind.
Wichita State is one of these institutions. If you offer an online course that you feel may be inaccessible for some students, Instructional Design and Technology would love to work through your course content with you, identifying areas of weakness in terms of accessibility. If you are currently designing a new course, we are also available to help you create learning objects and course content that meet the general standards of the Quality Matters rubric.
If you are interested in learning more about my presentation at the conference, visit our blog page “Engaging Wary Faculty.”