Accessibility Policy for Postsecondary Distance Education

I have been developing an accessibility policy for distance education for my college. It’s specific to the Schoology learning management system and other technologies and protocols we use on our campus.  It’s based on the policy that I used at my former workplace for my instructional design graduate assistantship, the University of South Alabama’s Innovation in Learning Center. I would love my readers’ feedback on it.


The logo has the word accessibility with four icons on it: eye, hand, ear, and brain.
This Accessibility Logo was created by Christy Blew of The University of Illinois on behalf of the EDUCAUSE IT Accessibility Constituent Group.

Accessibility Statement for Distance Education

The U.S. federal laws require online course accessibility for persons with disabilities. Follow these basic guidelines for compliance: (Section 504, 1973 Rehabilitation Act & Section 508, Electronic and Information Technology)

  1. Describe images and hyperlinks with alternative text.
  2. Do not use coloring as the sole indicator of meaning.
  3. Use san serif fonts for online text.
  4. Check and repair all portable document formats (PDFs) for accessibility.
  5. Caption all video and provide transcripts for audio.
  6. Provide students with disabilities the prescribed accommodations, as needed.

Images. Alternative (alt) text helps students that use assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) as their learning accommodation. For example, screen readers such as Microsoft’s JAWS (Job Access with Speech) read the description aloud to the user with vision impairment. Make sure you concisely provide alt text for each image in your online course so that students will hear and learn about the images shared. This includes images on a course page or within a document or multimedia presentation (e.g., PowerPoint, Word, or PDF). For Schoology, currently, you cannot add the description for the image during upload. Add it afterward by selecting the image in edit mode. For PowerPoint 2016, follow this pathway to add alt text: Right-click image > Select Format Picture > Select Alt Text. For PDFs, use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to add alt text to images. This software allows you to edit PDFs and is available in the Faculty Development Center.

Hyperlinks. When you add links to Schoology, it asks for the name of the link to display and the URL. Provide the specific name of the website instead of a confusing web address, also known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator). The exact name of the website will aid all learners in understanding where the link will take them. Additionally, assistive technology (e.g., JAWS) will read aloud the long URL if you do not give it a name. Imagine listening to an entire URL reading: “h-t-t-p-s-semicolon-forward slash-forward slash-shc-period-schoology-period-com-forward slash-home.” This would cause extra cognitive load on the listener. Here are good and bad examples:

Use of color. Color-coding presents a problem for visually impaired students, as they will not be able to access the meaning of particular coloring of text for emphasis (e.g., red text conveying importance, etc.).  Simply add the word or words to convey the meaning such as Important.

Fonts. Sans serif fonts are recommended for online text to provide accessibility. Sans serif fonts do not have the ‘hats and shoes’ on certain letters that serif fonts include. Fortunately, Arial, which is a sans serif font, is the default for Schoology. Avoid using serif fonts because they may waver and become difficult to read on low bandwidth or poor Internet connections.

PDFs. Are your PDFs readable? Conduct a word search within the Find box of a PDF for a word you see in the document. Type Ctrl+F if you don’t see a Find box. If you receive the message, “No matches were found,” then the document is a scanned image, which cannot be read by persons who use assistive technology. Use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to repair unreadable (scanned image) PDFs. Remember that this software is available in BL12. Here is the pathway to fix your PDFs with Adobe Acrobat Pro XI: File>Action Wizard>Create Accessible PDFs> Action Step #5 is the Accessibility Checker.

Ensure your Word documents are accessible before you save them as a PDF. Microsoft has accessibility checkers that will highlight any issues in your document. Within Word 2016, select the following pathway: File > Info> Check for Issues > Check Accessibility. Then fix issues such as missing alt text for images. See Adobe Accessibility Quick Reference Card for information on earlier versions of MS Word that you may have at home. Currently, our campus has MS Office 2016 on its computers.

Media. Caption all media. Closed captioning is the preferred format (instead of open captions) so the user can turn it on or off according to their needs. If you do not have your media captioned, at the very least, provide a script until you caption the video. However, transcripts do not provide equal access to media files because the words and images from the video are not in sync to enhance meaning.  Audio files or podcasts must include a transcript.  For narrated PowerPoints, transcribe the audio in the note’s section of each slide.

Captioning Key, funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program, provides a document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning. They mention several free captioning services.  Our current practice is to upload media to YouTube and use their auto-captioning service and then correct inaccuracies. Ask the instructional designer for the how-to guide on how to set up an unlisted YouTube channel and the video tutorial on how to correct automated captions on YouTube in your video manager account. We also provide the video software production/editor tool, Camtasia Studio 9, which incorporates closed-captioning. The instructional designer can train you to use it.

Providing accommodations in Schoology. In Schoology, you can assign assignments or tests to individuals when you create them. Reuse your existing assignment or test by saving it to your Personal Resources in Schoology. Then bring it back into your course as a new test with a different name. We suggest naming it with ‘Extended Time’ in the title so students know they are receiving the accommodation. Go to the Schoology test settings to add the prescribed accommodations. Warning: Do not reassign the mainstream test to an individual in Schoology, as it will disappear the test scores of the other students. Instead, instructors should make a separate assignment or test for the student(s) with accommodations.

Publishers’ accessibility statements. As a best practice, online courses should provide accessibility statements to the publishers they use (Quality Matters™ Rubric Standards, 2014). This will help those who need access to alternative text files and/or eBooks from publishers, as well as other alternatives to interactive products for adaptive technologies used.  Visit the Instructional Design LibGuide on Accessibility where Dr. Rogers has provided a list of publishers’ links to their accessibility statements. If you do not see the publisher you use listed, please notify her, and she will add it.

Dr. Sandra Rogers,

Instructional Design Specialist

Universal Design for Learning

Accessibility_Logo
Logo by Christy Blew of the University of Illinois for Educause, 2012

Universal design (UD) refers to the consideration of the needs of persons with disabilities in regards to physical spaces and objects; it has since grown into an initiative for education called the universal design for learning (UDL).  The original Principles of Universal Design (1997) are equitable use, the flexibility of use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for appropriate use. See the UD poster. The Center for Universal Design described it as a design that doesn’t need adaption for persons with disabilities in perceiving the content or operating the program. Adaption is key to equal access to education because to avoid having a student wait weeks while you provide a specific accommodation such as closed captioning to a video lecture. Instead, be proactive and have your first unit and/or introductory video captioned (or audio transcribed) in advance of the start date of your course. Another UDL educational correlation with the original UD principles is providing mastery test options or dropping the lowest grade for tolerance of error in the web-enhanced course.

There are several efforts to design education with UD in mind. Palmer and Caputo (2003) proposed seven principles for universal instructional design (UID): accessibility, consistency, explicitness, flexibility, accommodating learning spaces, minimization of effort, and supportive learning environments. The UID model recognizes those needs for course design. Its main premise is equal access to education and extends this to all types of learners and not just those with disabilities. For example, all learners can benefit from multi-modal lessons.

I recently attended a webinar by Dr. Tobin in which he recommended these instructional strategies for UDL:

  • Start with the text. It can serve as the script.
  • Make alternatives available such as a PDF instead of Microsoft Word so they can use the feature in Adobe products to read aloud the text.
  • Allow students to select their type of assessment choice.
  • Go step by step to break information into small chunks and provide still images for illustration when possible.
  • Set content free. By this, he means to make sure it’s shareable and not tied to your choice of tool/software. Ex. MP3 audio file as output instead of the Audacity file, which students would have to know how to use to open/play. The benefits of these strategies reduce cognitive load for all learners.

UD for the web isn’t only for education. Legal aspects include the web design standards created by the WWW Consortium (W3C) for information technology. They produced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), which are promoted globally.  I use their Web Accessibility Initiative website, as a reference at work: http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.  Additionally, US federal laws include policies for equal access to Web-based information and technologies such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Access Board standards.  The Access Board standards are based on the WC3’s priority checklist.

Here are a few resources on UD:

References

Palmer, J., & Caputo, A. (2003). Universal instructional design: Implementation guide. Guelph, Ontario: University of Guelph.

The Center for Universal Design (1997). The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University.

4 Things You Can Do to Make Your Online Course More Accessible

The following suggestions are recommended in meeting the Americans with Disability Act (1990).

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability …shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… (Section 504, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794). ” Follow these basic guidelines for compliance and to improve learning for all:

  1. Describe images and hyperlinks with alternative text.
  2. Use san serif fonts for online text.
  3. Check and repair all portable document formats (PDFs) for accessibility.
  4. Caption all video and transcribe audio.

Images. Alternative (alt) text helps people that use assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) as their learning accommodation.  For example, screen readers like Microsoft’s (MS) JAWS (Job Access with Speech) read the description aloud to the user with vision impairment.  Make sure you concisely provide alt text for each image in your online course. This includes images on a course page within a PowerPoint or Word document. For some learning management systems, it’s not a requirement when adding photos.

Hyperlinks. When you add links to your course, think about simplifying information by providing the specific name of the Website instead of a confusing Web address, also known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator).  Take into account that the assistive technology will read aloud the long URL if you do not give it a name. Imagine listening to an entire URL reading: “h-t-t-p-semicolon-forward slash-forward slash-secure-period-ecollege-period-com-forward slash-shc”.  This would cause extra cognitive load on the listener. Here are some examples:

The exact name of the Website will aid all learners in understanding where the link will take them.

Fonts. Sans-serif fonts are recommended for online text to provide accessibility. Sans-serif fonts don’t have the “hats and shoes” on certain letters that serif fonts include. This is because serif fonts may waiver and become difficult to read on low bandwidth or poor Internet connections. Schoology provides Arial as the default font, which is sans-serif.  For a complete list of typefaces, see Wikipedia.

PDFs. Are your PDFs readable? Conduct a word search within the Find box of aPDF for a word you see in the document. Type Ctrl+F if you don’t see a Find box. If you receive the message, “No matches were found,” then the document is a scanned image, which cannot be read by persons who use assistive technology. Use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to repair “unreadable” PDFs.  It has an accessibility checker that you can run to repair the document.

Ensure your MS Word documents are accessible before you save them as a PDF.  MS Word versions 2010 and later have accessibility checkers that will highlight any issues your document has. Within MS Word, select File > Info> Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.  Fix issues like missing alt text for images.  See Adobe Accessibility Quick Reference Card for information on earlier versions of MS Word that you may have at home.

Captions. Caption all media. Closed captioning is the preferred format (instead of open captions), so the user can turn it on or off according to their needs.  If you don’t have your media captioned, at the very least, provide a script until you caption the video or audio file; however, transcripts don’t provide equal access to media lesson because the words and images from the video aren’t in sync to enhance meaning. See list of free captioning services below. A transcript would suffice for an audio file or narrated PowerPoint. I recommend providing the transcription in the note’s section of the PowerPoint.

  1. Captioning Key is funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program. It provides a PDF document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning. http://www.dcmp.org/captioningkey/
  2. Amara.org for captioning any video on the Internet: http://www.amara.org/en/
  3. CaptionTube for captioning YouTube videos: http://captiontube.appspot.com/
  4. Subtitle Workshop for captioning any video: http://sourceforge.net/projects/subworkshop/

 

Sandra Annette Rogers, Instructional Designer

My Schedule for SITE 2014 in Jacksonville, FL

Photo of Sandra Annette Rogers
Find me at the conference and say hello!

Four of my proposals were accepted for presentation at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference in Jacksonville, FL.  I’d love to connect with any of my readers who are also going to SITE. This will be my first time to attend SITE.  I’ll be attending all the presentations on gaming.

Here’s my current schedule for the conference: (All times are Eastern Standard Time.)

1. Poster Session: The Electronic Village Online, An Open-source, International Collaboration for Professional Development,  March 19, 2014 at 5:30-7:00 P.M.

2. Roundtable: How to Make Your Online Course More Accessible, March 20, 2014 at 11:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.

3.Brief Paper: Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games for Language Learning, March 20, 2014 at 3:20-3:40 P.M.

4. Brief Paper: Effective Online Communication in Higher Education, March 21, 2014 at 11:55 A.M to 12:15 P.M.

I hope to see you there!

P.S. Here’s my Padlet wall with all my activities: http://padlet.com/wall/SITE2014

iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch Apps for Special Education by Eric Sailers

iPhone, iPad and iPod touch Apps for (Special) Education

Assistive Technology Tools

Are you familiar with assistive technology? Do you have students with disabilities? Here’s a list of assistive tech tools and resources for you and your students to use:

1. Section 508 Checklist: http://webaim.org/standards/508/checklist
Standards for Website content to meet the needs of persons with disabilities based on the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.

2. iSpeech: http://www.ispeech.org/
Converts text-to-speech (TTS) or speech-to-text (STT) for free. You can control the speed of the voice delivery. It catalogs the number of recordings in its library.

3. US Government: http://www.disability.gov/technology/accessible_technology
Provides webinars and updates on the latest technology available or the lack thereof in various situations.

4. Boston College & Boston University: www.cameramouse.org
Assists individuals with limited movement to use their head to direct the mouse cursor. FREE!

5. The Principles of Universal Design (UD), North Carolina State University:  Universal Design poster
These principles will help you create activities and an environment accessible for all learners.

6. Internet Explorer (IE): IE is generally the browser that’s widely used by persons with disabilities because it offers special features to meet their needs.

7. Microsoft Windows: See Accessibility Tools

8. YouTube Channel: They offer an auto-caption feature that can benefits not only deaf users, but also people who watch videos in really noisy places, like airport terminals. The tool will be able to translate captions into your choice of 50 languages. For now, however, auto-captioning works only with videos in English.

9. Apple claims to create its products with accessibility in mind as standard features http://www.apple.com/accessibility/

10. Captioning Key is funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program. It provides a PDF document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning.

Additionally, check out the most thought-provoking YouTube video that I’ve ever seen on rethinking the concept and words associated with persons with disabilities called “Opportunity of Adversity” by Aimee Mullins.

Please share your resources for adaptive technology with me, and I’ll post them on this blog and my PLE.

Sandra Rogers