Where to Start When Designing an Accessible Course

Deanna_Ferrante
Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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Accessibility may be hard to spell, but it shouldn’t feel like it’s hard to achieve.

Accessibility is the extent and ease with which a person with a disability can perceive, navigate, interact with, and contribute to a product, service, or environment. It’s also commonly abbreviated as a11y, a numeronym where the number 11 represents the eleven letters between the first 'a' and the last 'y' in the word "accessibility." 

Disabilities vary broadly and can impact a student's vision, hearing, movement, speech, and cognition. Each disability category encompasses a range of experiences; for example, visual disabilities can range from color blindness to total blindness. The goal of accessibility is to remove barriers and provide equal access and opportunity for students with disabilities. 

Accessibility in education is not just about compliance or meeting legal requirements; rather, it's about creating an inclusive learning environment where all students feel like they belong and have the resources to succeed. By prioritizing accessibility, educational institutions and instructors can significantly impact students' learning experiences, outcomes, and overall well-being. Here are four quick tips for instructors who want to design an accessible course but don’t know where to start:

Designing an Accessible Course 

  1. Build a relationship with your disability/accessibility offices to learn about the assistive technologies and services available to students with disabilities. By establishing a strong relationship with these offices, you can tap into a wealth of expertise and resources, including up-to-date information on assistive tools and best practices for accessibility. Some examples of assistive technologies include text-to-speech tools for textbooks, notetaking browser extensions, alternative keyboards, etc.

  2. Offer various ways to interact with course content, such as providing printable and digital formats. This course adjustment would support not only students with disabilities but also students with diverse learning styles and students studying in different environments. Offering multiple ways to interact with content can lead to increased engagement and even improved learning outcomes. Some things to keep in mind when creating course content:

    • Digital formats should include readable text, meaning that the content is not an image. This allows students to use their text-to-speech or screen reader technologies. 
    • Images that convey meaning, such as a mitochondria cell in a Biology handout should include alternative text (alt text) which offers a way for students who are blind or have low vision to perceive the content. 
    • Materials should have appropriate color contrast. WebAIM offers a free Contrast Checker which can help determine if your foreground and background colors are compliant. Color should not be the only way to convey meaning. For example, if a bar graph only uses color to differentiate the values, students who are colorblind may not be able to perceive the information. Instead, try combining two elements like a color and a pattern. 
    • Audio/video files should be captioned and include a transcript. If your video generator provides automated captions, review the output for accuracy. 
    • To support students who are blind or have low vision, provide audio descriptions for videos that describe the visuals without interpreting them. Audio descriptions can be integrated into your usual audio recording process.

  3. Include an accessibility statement in your syllabus that encourages students to reach out to you with access needs. Adding this language signals to students that you are willing to discuss their individual needs and emphasizes your commitment to inclusion. Importantly, it encourages students who may be hesitant to request accommodations to know that they won’t be penalized for doing so. You can work with your disability services office for language and assistance.

  4. Label course materials with an intuitive naming convention. This practice removes unnecessary barriers for students using screen readers and other assistive technologies, as clear and predictable file names are essential for navigating course content efficiently. For example: Week 1 - Introduction to Psychology, Week 2 - Child Development, etc. 

Additional Resources for Getting Started

 

Macmillan Learning’s accessibility team is here for you. If you have any questions about the accessibility of Macmillan Learning’s products or services, please contact webaccessibility@macmillan.com.