First, let me start with this: the WSU Instructional Design team doesn’t pretend to have any idea what the right textbook is for your class. We have some ideas and values that we want to promote, but the decision (and responsibility) lies firmly in the hands of faculty. Faculty choose their texts. Boom. Done.
What IDT would like to do is give you some important things to consider as you make your decision about whether to stick with a text you have been using or switch to a new one. We are big fans of Open Educational Resources (OERs), for one thing, but whether you’re considering an open resource or a traditional publisher textbook, it will be come more and more important to ensure that the text you choose is available in an accessible format for students with disabilities.
Publishers Don’t Have To
It’s not the publisher‘s legal responsibility to provide accessible content to our students. It’s our responsibility. This is critical point. They sell the book; we are responsible for making sure it meets the needs of ALL of our students.
Publishers will continue to try to sell us texts that meet our needs — and until we consistently communicate that accessible versions of materials are a requirement, they will continue to avoid doing the extra work required to provide those formats.
Our role, then, is to keep accessibility as part of the conversation.
Questions to Ask
So, what should be part of your conversation with the publisher representatives when they come to visit?
- Is this textbook available in an accessible, e-book format? Are there other accessible formats available? (Braille, etc.)
- Is there added on-line resources and functionality? Are those resources accessible?
The Problem with Online Resources
Online resources cause often cause special problems for students with disabilities. Some older web technologies, like Flash, are notoriously bad about how they degrade for users with disabilities. Others may not be programmed in a way that makes them easy to navigate if a student is using a screen reader or other assisting technology.
And, often, we are tempted to accept alternatives to the online tool that are not equivalent. But our commitment to parity and equal treatment for all students needs to be strong enough that we are willing to demand online tools from publishers that are designed in a more universal, accessible way.
If We Don’t Ask
The bottom line is that if we are not relentless in our demand for accessible texts and online resources from our publishers, they won’t provide them. Providing those alternative versions of texts adds complexity and expense to their textbook production. They’ll avoid that expense if they feel like accessible versions of their texts are not a requirement. So we need to make sure we are clear. As the faculty of Wichita State, we should require that the texts used in our classes have accessible versions, and that any additional instructional resources provided are equally accessible to all students. Anything less than that, and we should not be using that text.
But What If?
There are several what if possibilities:
- What if the text I want to use does not have an accessible version? In that case, you can ask if they have it on the development roadmap, and at what point the accessible versions will be available. If they are planning to have an accessible version available in the coming year, that may be accessible, but it would be best to talk about the choice with disability services — since they will be required to create the accessible versions of the text if a student requires it.
- What if there are no appropriate texts with accessible versions? Depending upon the subject matter you teach, and the relative difficulty of creating accessible versions, there may not be fully accessible texts available. In those cases, we should continue to demand accessible versions in the future, and be cognizant of the risks we incur by not using an accessible text
- What if we use a text that is not accessible? In the end, using texts that are not accessible puts the university at risk for additional expense and may even expose us to legal liability in some situations. If a student requires versions of a text that is not available, it becomes the university‘s responsibility to provide that version — which may mean expensive, last-minute, feverish extra work to provide accessible versions of a text (braille versions, for example) for our already very busy Disability Services office.
A Commitment to Universal Design
At Wichita State, we need to be committed to a university-wide effort to welcome and accommodate all students, from all backgrounds, from a wide variety of situations. We need to be a campus that includes. That takes many forms, of course, but as a faculty member, one of the most important choices you make is how you teach your class. Will you teach your class in a way that welcomes all students? Or will you make choices that exclude or disadvantage some students?