Five Ways Simple Ways to Increase Accessibility in Distance Education Courses
A recommended strategy for approaching accessibility of distance education is to gather relevant stakeholders and decide on an accessibility standard to adopt. If you follow the updates from the Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, you likely have seen references to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA specification. This is a good place to start and will likely help you address many accessibility issues that arise. But referring faculty and instructional designers to the WCAG 2.0 AA principles is likely to be overwhelming to them and unlikely to lead to more accessible course content.
Therefore, we have focused our guidance to faculty on these five items:
- When sharing a hyperlink, make sure that it is descriptive. Long URLs are not pleasant to read, and they are even worse to listen to as a screen reader user. Likewise, “click here” doesn’t tell the screen reader user where they are going. But if the text is formatted to tell you that I would like you to check out the Online and Distance Learning SIG Community, you not only can click on the link and get there, but you also know where you’re going.
- Provide transcripts for all audio content. This one is somewhat self-explanatory, but we remind faculty that they must provide a text alternative for anything that is communicated only via sound so that our students who cannot hear can access the content.
- Videos need captions and transcripts. Captions are well known, and it’s easy to understand why they are necessary. But faculty don’t always understand why they also need to post a transcript. Therefore, we explain that a transcript allows the user to bypass the video if needed, which could be important for someone who cannot see or hear.
- All images and graphics need to have alternative text. This is often a forgotten step for the faculty and staff. So remind them that decorative images do not need to have alternative text, but any image that is relevant to the content being shared must be described. This supports students who cannot see understand what the image is and why it is there.
- Use only accessible PDF documents. This may require that your office transforms scanned PDF documents into documents with actual text for faculty. But once you do the work, students can not only read the documents out loud but highlight and annotate them.
Not following these five simple rules leads to many of the barriers student face in distance ed courses. While your five things might be different depending on faculty content, it is imperative that DS providers work with online learning staff to give effective advice regarding accessibility. If you haven’t yet, take/audit an online course at your institution. There are differences between the demands of an online course and those of a traditional, seated course and becoming familiar with them is important.
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