How to Build the Foundation of an Accessible Online Course
More students are learning online than ever before. While many educators are gradually making the move back to the classroom, we can expect to see virtual learning continue. Accessibility remains a critical consideration for educators; online courses require review and structuring to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to learn.
What makes a course accessible?
Accessible courses allow students with disabilities to participate in a more equitable fashion. These students can learn and participate alongside their peers without their disabilities or learning differences being emphasized. Universities are required by Federal law to offer accessible courses.
According to the Office of Civil Rights and the United States Department of Education, for a course to be accessible it must:
- Allow students to acquire the same information
- Afford students to engage in the same interactions
- Enable students to receive the same services as those without disabilities
- Be equally effective and integrated for all students
Why is accessibility important in an online environment?
Research shows that the number of students with disabilities is growing in the United States. According to the most recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics, students with disabilities make up 14% of national public school enrollment. This accounts for nearly 7 million students.
Students with disabilities face barriers with virtual classes that educators may not always be aware of. A Pew Research Center survey found that these students are more likely to have lower levels of comfort with technology. They are also less likely to have home broadband access and tech devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
Accessible courses support these students in their pursuit of education by offering a variety of ways to learn, communicate, and engage. Each student has their own unique ways of learning that will vary by gender, race, cultural background, age, socioeconomic background, religion, and more. Even students who do not have a disability or a learning accommodation will benefit from the organized and intuitive presentation of information found in an accessible course.
The key elements of accessible online courses
In many ways, online courses offer greater flexibility and convenience for students than in-person classes. However, simply moving a course to a virtual format does not make it accessible. Accessibility needs to be integrated into all courses, from the start, to be successful.
Review the format, content, visual, and audio elements of your course instruction and material to ensure it is accessible.
Formatting and written communication:
- Use headings to break up content in a logical, consistent manner
- Choose sans-serif fonts that are at least 14pt for easy reading
- Avoid low-contrast backgrounds and color palettes
- Select text-based content for documents (e.g., Word or Google docs) over image-based ones (e.g.,PDFs)
- Include text descriptions with images
- Avoid cliches and jargon that may not be understood by all students
- Define terms and acronyms
- Use the same layout and organizational format to present all content if possible
- Include descriptive hyperlinks
- Check the color accessibility of your materials and website
- Leverage programs and technologies students are already familiar with whenever possible
- Set expectations and review instructions aloud and provide a text-based reference
- Offer support resources for acquiring new technology skills
- Present the same ideas in multiple formats
- Ensure material can be accessed by smartphones, tablets, laptops, and personal computers
- Use interactive tools to encourage collaboration
- Caption videos
- Record class meetings and use technology to creates written transcripts
- Provide dial-in information for meetings
- Select accessible media players
- Allow students to demonstrate learning and mastery through graded and non-graded activities
- Include time for group and independent practice of concepts
- Consider pacing for activities and projects
- Offer opportunities to correct and improve on assignments and other deliverables
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