When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, no entity was prepared for the tidal wave of changes it would bring. This included colleges and universities.
Though online learning platforms have been in existence since the late 1980s, this is the largest full-scale adoption of such technology to date. Now, as re-openings begin in phases across the country, the future of the fall semester hangs in the balance.
To make the transition as seamless as possible, universities should develop an accessibility checklist to ensure all students can access these learning tools.
Today, we’re taking a look at a few of the main points to include in this list.
Why Is an Accessibility Checklist Important?
Normally, when a university undertakes a major infrastructure shift, it’s preceded by months and even years of pre-planning. This wasn’t the case with COVID-19.
Almost overnight, professors scrambled to revamp lesson plans, adapting them to an online learning environment. Meanwhile, students went home, learned Zoom, and tried to keep up with the expectations they faced in this new and unfamiliar reality.
As such, it’s no wonder that the outcome wasn’t a runaway success. In fact, according to one survey of more than 1,000 students, 75% were unhappy with the quality of their recent e-learning experience.
In another survey, more than 80% of students were worried about their academic performance during the quarantine. Nearly one-third of them said they had technology issues as they adjusted to virtual learning.
Creating an accessibility checklist now can help make sure the same doesn’t hold true in a few months. Let’s take a look at the components yours should include.
1. Accessibility Statement
Moving forward, all course syllabi should have an official Accessibility Statement included. This should outline your institution’s procedures and policies around accommodating students of all types, including those with disabilities.
This statement should also include contact information for your on-campus disability services office. Students should understand that they can contact this office to receive accommodations for their disability, which they can then share with their professors.
2. Audio Transcriptions and Video Captions
Audio and video are necessary, primary components of online learning. Yet, not all students are equipped to receive this technology in the same way.
As such, all audio files should include transcriptions. To the greatest extent possible, videos should also be both transcribed and captioned.
When used, any other visual demonstrations, including PowerPoint presentations, may also require a text or audio description if none is provided. This also applies to any text or image references used by a professor.
Another concern around audio/video accessibility is that some media are designed to start up immediately upon visiting a website. Not only could this isolate those with disabilities, but it can also put students automatically behind if they experience any sort of system glitch when accessing the course content.
By adding captions to videos and transcriptions to audio files, you can help ensure that all students, including non-native speakers, can have full access to the material. Hiring a post-production closed captioning service or translation service can help take the legwork out of this step!
3. A/V Material From Outside Sources
Often, professors will pull audio or visual content from outside sources as supplemental course materials. For instance, they might direct students to watch a YouTube video or listen to a podcast that ties into the lesson.
In this case, you’re still required to provide transcripts or video captions to students who require such accommodation. However, you might be limited in how widespread in scope you can distribute such material. In many cases, you can find pre-existing captions and transcripts by conducting online research.
4. Recommended and Supported Document Types
Not every student will have a laptop or home computer that is robust enough to download a massive file. Nor will every system be able to accept lesser-used file types, such as Flash content.
To help improve accessibility, stick with the most universal and common types, including:
- Web files and HTML documents
- Microsoft Word files
- Microsoft PowerPoint files
While it’s also common to send Adobe PDFs, not every student has the Adobe Reader software available to view it. If you plan to send a PDF to your class, also make the content available in a different format for those who are unable to download it.
Another benefit of sticking with the basics? You’ll also improve the mobile accessibility of your online course. Both PDF and Flash files are notoriously difficult to read on a smartphone, and as nearly 67% of e-learners use a mobile device to complete their online coursework, this isn’t a risk to take.
5. Legible Fonts and Images
As students adapt to consuming course content online, they’ll be peering into a screen for hours every day. This can lead to eye strain for anyone, but it’s especially taxing on those with a vision impairment.
This is why it’s critical to consider how your text, graphics, charts, and other components will appear. Make sure they contrast appropriately with the background you choose. The content you distribute should be easily legible in black and white, without requiring special color adjustments on the students’ end.
6. Clear Image Descriptions
When adding images to your online coursework, take the time to add an ALT Text description for each one.
In this box, you can describe the image at hand in 150 characters, including the meaning that it is intended to convey. Then, when you save the file, give it a relevant and descriptive name.
If you’re inserting the image into a body of text, you should also include a descriptive written reference to it. This way, if a student is unable to view the image due to either a disability or system error, they can still understand the message and intent.
7. Relevant Link Text
While it might be commonplace to use phrases such as “click here” or “learn more” as anchor texts for various URLs, consider their placement and accessibility.
These phrases are short and can easily get lost within a paragraph. This can leave students feeling frustrated when they can’t find the content they need.
Stick with three-to-five-word phrases that are visible, relevant, and easy to locate within your material.
8. Table Layouts and Designs
The only time that tables are recommended for an online course is when you must use them to accurately display data.
Otherwise, steer clear of them as a simple layout and design feature. Some students might not be able to access or understand the complexities of a table.
If you must use one, avoid elaborate touches or unnecessary embellishments.
Instead, make the table as simple and user-friendly as possible. Label all of your rows and columns as required, and always add a caption to display your title. A suggested alternative to a table is a simple list.
9. Scannable Headings
Are you working on a long, text-based document for your students to read? If so, it’s critical to use semantically tagged headings to break up the content, provide visual rest, and enhance legibility.
Rather than using words such as “Conclusion” or “Intro”, try to make sure the headings are descriptive to the content below. This helps avoid confusion and ensures that learners of all abilities can easily scan your content to understand its meaning.
10. University-Supported Technologies
It’s no secret that the online learning sphere is rapidly expanding. As such, there is an urge in the digital learning community to discover and embrace all kinds of exciting and new software, systems, and technologies.
Yet, before you do so, consider if your students have the ability to do the same. It’s always best to stick to programs and platforms that your university provides. These are the tools that your campus has chosen, and your students will receive more support for their accessibility accommodations if you stick to them.
This way, you know your students will be able to work alongside you. Moreover, if you need technical assistance, you can reach out to the campus help desk for support.
Keep This Accessibility Checklist Nearby
As students across the country wrap up their spring semesters, we’re already looking ahead to the fall.
At this juncture, not every university has a dedicated plan in place for resuming classes in a few months. Regardless of their ultimate decision, the health and safety of every student will remain top of mind.
Whether they ultimately adopt a 100% online, 100% in-person or hybrid learning model, professors can reference this accessibility checklist to ensure the content they’re delivering meets the needs and abilities of every distance learner.
Looking for support as you seek to make your course as accessible as possible? We offer a variety of services designed to facilitate effective, successful communication. From captioning and text interpreting to translation and transcriptions, we do it all.
Contact us today to learn more and let’s connect.