Not everyone accesses online content in the same ways. This is true across various media including text, images, audio, and video. Planning your online course content to be accessible to as many people as possible ensures that more student can benefit from the information you share. Thinking proactively about the accessibility of your course content can also make the process of working with Disability Services faster and easier when a student in your class requests accommodation.
State and federal standards and guidelines help to clarify just how to go about the business of making our online courses usable for all students. The web content guidelines for accessibility for UAF are informed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and subsequent amendments. You may have heard of Section 508. Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and directly addresses access issues to electronic and information technology, regardless of a person’s physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities. These regulations apply primarily to federal agencies, but provide useful guidance to anyone looking to make their course more accessible.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, another set of guidelines to help organizations plan the accessibility of their online content, are based on four overarching principles. These principles provide clear areas of focus as you think about the presentation of content in your course:
- Perceivable – Are information and user interface components presentable to users in ways they can perceive?
- Operable – Are user interface components and navigation operable?
- Understandable – Is information and the operation of the user interface understandable?
- Robust – Is content robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies (like screen readers)?
Things You Can Do Right Now
If you have ever tried to read through any of the standards and guidelines mentioned above, you know they are dense because they address a breadth of issues and applications. Drawing from the ADA, Section 508, and the WCAG, here are some things you can do in your course right now to help make it more accessible.
- Provide text alternatives (ALT text) when using images to describe what they depict. Not everyone will be able to see your images. What do they need to know about them?
- Provide captions or transcripts for audio and video content. If you link to content outside of your class, such as a YouTube video, double-check that the captions are accurate. Auto-captions are frequently wrong.
- Use semantic markup elements such as headlines, block quotes, and tables to contextually describe information in a document. This assists adaptation of the document to another format (MS Word to HTML, for instance).
- Ensure that document text can be made larger.
- Choose a font that is simple and easy to read. Ornate display fonts can inhibit readability.
- Ensure that color is never used as the sole mechanism for conveying meaning.
- If timing is a factor in your class, how flexible will you be if a student accommodation requires more time? This applies both to reading expectations and timed quizzes or exams.
- Check resources you link to from your course to ensure that material is accessible as well; evaluate the quality of that accessibility.
Students requesting accommodations in your class should notify Disability Services. Disability Services will inform you when these accommodations are required. Retroactive changes may end up being rushed. Instead, be proactive where possible. Address what you can ahead of time in your course content to provide the best experience for students. More information is available on the UAF Disability Services website.