Thursday, January 20, 2011

Accessibility Basics (Part One)

As an instructor, you may have had students who needed some form of accessibility accommodation in the past.  This often includes taking steps such as providing materials in a large print version, having a sign language translator, etc.  When you begin teaching online, it can be a challenge to apply these ideas to the new medium.

Essential Steps?

Just as a prepared instructor has some ideas or plans waiting for the day a student walks in with an accommodation letter, it is better to prepare in advance when you design your online class.  Some instructors come to online teaching with the idea that it will entail very little work, since they already teach a subject.  Putting a course online in a high quality way actually entails as much work as writing a face-to-face course from scratch.  It is a very good time to prepare for accessibility issues, since you will already be in the middle of mulling over, organizing, and revising content.  Material will be fresh in your mind, and thinking of new ways to use it will help with creatively solving accessibility issues.

I have experienced the last-minute, panicked crunch that can result from failure to plan for accessibility in advance.  For example, a blind student enrolled in an online class that used a large volume of numbers and mathematical content.  The content was all in the form of recorded PowerPoints made with a very outdated version of the software.  The student had a newer version of Windows that would not play the outdated video.  There was also a problem with the video audio not containing all of the numerical data that was used on the PowerPoint slides.  This resulted in two people working full time for over a week trying to transcribe these videos before the class began.  If this were you, would you have that much man-power to dedicate to playing catch-up?

These are the essential steps to take to ensure that you have the most accessible online course that it is within your ability to create in advance:
  1. Choosing file formats
  2. Chunking content
  3. Providing options
  4. Having backup plans
These steps will be covered more in-depth in a series of follow-up entries.  Meanwhile, you can learn more about Accessibility from the ITRC’s Online Accessibility for Learning site.