As promised the second part to our two part blog on accessibility challenges and some, hopefully helpful, solutions. As we get into the holiday season and courses are wrapping up, many of us begin to look to the next semester and start to build our courses for spring. Each time I prepare for the coming semester, I find little things to change here and there. But this time, in light of the 10 challenges we have listed here and in Accessibility Challenges: Part 1, I am dedicated to taking a good, long, look at my course in terms of accessibility and universal design. So to continue from the part 1 of this blog. Here are numbers 7, 8, 9, and 10 of the Accessibility Challenges that persons with and without disabilities face in online courses.
7. Inaccessible external websites. Instructors often use external websites as supplemental teaching material and exploration for learners, but when the website is inaccessible, the benefits quickly diminish. For those with and for those without a disability, the inaccessibility of the website may mean that the learner does not have an equal opportunity to access the learning materials. In some cases this may even violate the ADA and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (click the links provided to learn more). Regardless, the key is that some learners are left unable to access the materials and thus miss the benefits and the education the materials provide. If these materials are used to evaluate the learner’s understanding of the topic or are used to grade the learner, this creates a very real problem.
- Solution: Check that the external websites are accessible and include an accessibility statement in your course regarding the website. If the website is not accessible, consider how pertinent it is for your course and determine if there is an alternative website with similar or the same information that is accessible. One external website validation and markup tool that you may find useful is WebAIM’s WAVE tool.
8. Strict time constraints on exams. Persons with disabilities may require additional time for reading the exam questions and inputting their answers. By adding in strict time constraints, individuals with disabilities may have difficulties completing the exam. Additionally, test anxiety can create very real issues for students and can definitely have negative impacts on their grades. Strict time constraints can make anxiety even worse. Not only is the student battling anxiety over the test itself, but now they are forced to add anxiety that they may not finish the exam and earn a failing grade. But persons with disabilities are not the only learners impacted. Not all learners read and comprehend information in the same way and in the same length of time. What one person may read and instantly understand, may take another person a few minutes to fully comprehend and analyze.
- Solution: Consider one of the following solutions. Make individual exceptions. Students who experience time constraint related problems may be given additional time on a test. Check out How to Edit Test Settings for a Single Student in Blackboard for step-by-step video instructions. Another option is to think about the goal of the assessment and determine if the time constraint is essential. If cheating is your primary concern, it may be necessary to consider alternative means of assessment.
9. Unclear or non-descriptive course content. Unclear content can be very tricky. Because the content is clear to the instructor who created it, it can be difficult to understand how the learner may have difficulties comprehending the point. Nevertheless, unclear or non-descriptive is a common struggle both for individuals with and without disabilities. Jargon and acronyms can also be problematic as this can create confusion for the learner who is unfamiliar with the terms.
- Solution: Consider having someone who is not a subject matter expert take a look at the instructions or content you provide. They may notice that some information isn’t as clear as intended and can help find a better way to get that information across to others. Also consider adding or pointing learners to a glossary of terms if industry jargon is needed. This allows learners to familiarize themselves with the language and phrases that are commonly used and associated with that field. But remember to be consistent. Using multiple phrases with the same meaning can also create confusion if they are all part of the slang or jargon that is used in that field.
10. Course content without proper headings and styles for navigation. This is a very commonly seen issue and it is one that has the potential to cause a significant amount of frustration and difficulty for individuals, especially those who rely on assistive technology. One way that assistive technology can aid persons with disabilities is by navigating through content and text using proper heading and paragraph styles. These are not simply using bold or italics to change the visual look of font. Persons without disabilities are also greatly impacted by content without proper headings and styles. A multiple page document with no clear headings to separate sections or topics can be tedious to get through, but also does little to help learners know where information is located should they need to find it again. Imagine a 10 page document of plain text in which you need to find one or two pieces of information. The lack of section or topic headings makes navigating to that information complicated and time consuming.
- Solution: Navigation inside of content may look easy. Using bold or italics can create a visual break or distinction within a body of text. But this does not always mean that it is technically easier to navigate. Bold and italics do not automatically create bookmarks or headings that can be distinguished by assistive technology. Consider the follow blog posts created by members of IDT. A Sense of Style by Jay Castor and Accessibility: Aiding Navigation with Heading Structure by Torie Wynn can help provide more information and clarity about headings and styles for navigation purposes.
Want to know more about how to make your course and materials Accessible? Head over to FaST Accessibility. Or if you are curious about other posts regarding accessibility, try a key word search for a specific topic or clicking on the Accessibility tag listed under this blog’s feature image.