Faculty agree that creating online courses that are accessible to students with disabilities is the right and ethical thing to do, but they often do not know where to start. These ten basic practices are presented as pro-active strategies for creating course material that is accessible to students with vision, hearing, or motor limitations.
Online teaching and learning provides both a challenge and an opportunity for students with disabilities. While the anytime and anyplace availability of online courses is a benefit to all learners, the challenges of reading and accessing Web-based material can be a barrier if the content is not designed with accessibility in mind. Accessibility of online course materials is recognized by Quality Matters™ as one of the essential elements of quality online courses. While most of our course management systems are Section 508 and American with Disabilities Act compliant, the materials that faculty and course developers put into their courses may not be accessible. Designing accessible material from the beginning of the course development process is much easier than retrofitting course content after the course is finished. In addition, accessible materials also save students with disabilities time and frustration.
The following are recommended practices for creating accessible online materials:
1. Consider multiple formats for content such as html, Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, PDFs
2. Create PDFs with Optical Character Recognition rather than as scanned images
3. Avoid cutting and pasting text from Microsoft Word – use Notepad to avoid extra code
4. Design for the Web
• Use clear consistent headings
• Limit navigation links and menu buttons
• Provide instructions for course tools
• Design with color contrast for text and background
• Use san serif fonts or fonts designed for the Web (e.g., Verdana)
• Insert alt tags for images
5. Write for the Web
• Use short sentences
• Remember to Spellcheck
• Write out acronyms
• Use numbers rather than bullets
• Provide an overview, subheadings, and summary
• Keep tables simple with clear column and row headings and one piece of data per cell
6. Provide transcripts and/or captioning for audio and video files
7. Use templates with built-in formatting with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint; use styles with Word
8. Provide instructor contact information in a prominent place
9. Use discussion board or email rather than chat as a primary form of communication
10. Make friends with your disability services and instructional support staff; talk to a student who has a disability
The effectiveness of these practices is evident when students with limitations can access the online information through an alternative means or by using assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, or adapted equipment.
· Learning effectiveness is enhanced as students receive online course materials in a timely manner and in alternative formats.
· Scale or cost effectiveness is improved because of the pro-active approach to creating online materials. It is more efficient to develop accessible materials when the course is developed, than to return to an existing course and re-configure the online materials.
· Access increased for all student users. Students without disabilities benefit from multiple formats of course information.
· Student satisfaction is enhanced by the clarity and accessibility of the course materials.
The proposed practices support the five pillars (learning effectiveness, cost effectiveness/scale, access, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction) of the Sloan-C framework for asynchronous online courses.
The following equipment may be used to create accessible online materials:
· Microsoft Word and PowerPoint (http://office.microsoft.com)
· Adobe products such as Adobe Acrobat Professional, Soundbooth, Premiere, Captivate (http://www.adobe.com/products/)
· Camtasia Studio (http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp)
Automatic Sync Technologies (www.automaticsync.com/caption) is a fee-based captioning and transcription service.
There are a range of costs from fee-based services to do-it-yourself tools. For example, one popular software to create accessible PDFs is Adobe Premiere™.
Alliance for Technology Access. (2004). Computer resources for people with disabilities: A Guide to a ssistive technologies, tools and resources for people of all ages. Alameda, CA: Hunter House Inc.
Mueller, J. (2003). Accessibility for everybody: Understanding the Section 508 accessibility requirements. New York: Springer.
Paciello. M.G. (2000). Web accessibility for people with disabilities. Lawrence, KS CMP Media.
Seale, J. (2006). E-Learning and disability in higher education: Accessibility research and practice. Oxford: Routledge.
Thatcher, J., Burks, M. R., Heilmann, C., Kirkpatrick, A., Lauke, P. H., Lawson, B., et al. (2006). Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance. New York: Springer.
Adobe: Adobe is an industry leader in accessibility. This Web site contains product information, case studies, examples, tutorials, and other resources on accessibility. Adobe has several products to address Web accessibility, including Adobe® Acrobat Professional, Soundbooth, Premiere Pro, Flash, and more.
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB): This organization is committed to assisting the visually impaired and has many resources on its Web site regarding accessibility and assistive technologies.
Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA): This organization serves as the collective voice of the assistive technology industry so that the best products and services are delivered to people with disabilities. The ATIA holds conferences on accessibility and assistive technologies. http://www.atia.org/
Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI): This organization is a provider of online training on accessible information technology for persons with disabilities. The Web site contains informational resources, Webinars, and other learning opportunities.
Georgia Tech Research on Accessible Distance Education (GRADE): GRADE is a research project at the Georgia Tech Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA). Through GRADE, an online tutorial (accesselearning) was developed on accessibility. It includes 10 modules with tips and assistance to faculty members seeking to make Word, Excel, Flash, and other file types accessible to people with disabilities.
National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM): This organization is dedicated to achieving media access equality for people with disabilities. NCAM has created the MAGpie (Media Access Generator) tool for adding captions to multimedia content. You can download the software for free from the Web site.
Microsoft Corporation Accessibility Resources: The Microsoft Corporation has developed many products with accessibility in mind. Product accessibility information is available on the Web site.
University of Wisconsin – Madison: The Division of Information Technology (DoIT) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has developed resources for learning about accessibility and applying tools and techniques to content on the Web. There are also videos describing the experiences of persons with disabilities. In one video, a blind individual discusses how he uses a screen reader to access Web content.
Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM): WebAIM is an initiative from Utah State University. This organization’s Web site has great information about Web accessibility, including a tutorial. Also, this is the organization that created WAVE (Web Accessibility EValuation tool). You can use this Web-based tool to determine whether your Web site is accessible.
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): This is an international organization that leads the development of Web standards. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) was launched to promote Web functionality for people with disabilities.
Virtual508.com: This Web site has an Accessible Web Publishing Wizard for Office 2007. This wizard is not free, but you can download a trial version. There is also a best practices section for creating accessible Word and PowerPoint documents.