Bringing Up Accessibility

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Gardner_Aug04_210.jpgSince I attended the West Virginia University 2015 Summer Seminar: Access/ibility in Digital Publishing, I have been thinking about what I do to make resources accessible in the classes that I teach.

Like most teachers, I include a policy that tells students to visit our campus center for Services for Students with Disabilities for verification of their needs and resources to help them in the class. I’m not doing the best job with that statement, however. Tara Wood and Shannon Madden’s “Suggested Practices for Syllabus Accessibility Statements” on the Kairos PraxisWiki explains how much more can be done to provide students equal access. Go read it.

Beyond the syllabus, there is the content of the course itself. I post either PDF or web-based versions (or both) of all the course documents so that students can magnify the text, if they need support for a visual impairment. I think the pages will all work with screen reader software, but I have to admit that I haven’t tested them. I add ALT attributes to all the images that I use on the course website as well, to ensure students who cannot see the images still understand what they are. I use videos, which have high-quality transcripts.

That’s about it, and it feels very much like a piecemeal, minimalistic approach. There is more that I could and should do. As I have been developing resources for a more visual syllabus, for instance, I worry about the potential for the visual presentation to fail, whether because of a student’s visual impairment or because of her lack of familiarity with the layout and organizational structures I am using. Even students who will say that they need no special accommodations can have difficulty navigating text that does not conform to traditional paragraphing conventions and syllabus layout structures.

So in the coming weeks, I plan to keep bringing up the issue of accessibility as it relates to the course materials that I create and to the classroom activities that students complete. Students need to learn to create accessible texts, too. My first task will be improving accessibility to the information I present on the first day of the course. Time to revise that tired boilerplate I have been using for my equal access policy!

How do you address accessibility in the classroom? Please share any strategies or resources that you have found particularly effective. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

[Photo: Handicap Sign by sterlic, on Flickr]

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About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.