Today (Thursday 20 May 2021) is the 10th Global Accessibility Awareness Day (#GAAD). Designing learning that is inclusive and accessible to all students is crucial in helping everyone to fully engage and fulfil their potential. Not only that but designing in a way that actively benefits people with disabilities improves the experience for everyone and promotes an inclusive and supportive environment in your virtual and physical classrooms.
Here we highlight three areas of focus to help you design your teaching to be as accessible as possible to all your students:
Accessible Teaching Materials
The resources you supply to your students may pose unique challenges to disabled and neurodiverse learners. Implementing these changes hugely improves their experience and benefits non-disabled learners, too:
- Apply S.C.U.L.P.T – S.C.U.L.P.T, created by Worcestershire County Council, gives you 6 simple rules to apply when creating documents or other materials to improve accessibility and readability
- Include summary notes with your slides – students will benefit more fully by receiving slides with notes in advance, compared to slides without context
- Provide alt text, or an accessible alternative, for images, charts & graphs – describing complex images aids students with visual disabilities and offers alternative ways to engage with content
- Avoid using images, bold text, or text colour solely to convey meaning – ensure that your meaning can be understood without visual indicators
- Consider fonts & spacing – using clear, sans-serif fonts helps students with dyslexia; avoid narrow spacing on lines and paragraphs; avoid large blocks of italic or underlined text
- Choose backgrounds with care – dyslexia-friendly design suggests that single-colour and off-white backgrounds are best practice when designing material for print-outs, whiteboards, or computer screens.
Accessibility checkers, like the one built into Microsoft Office products, or Blackboard Ally, can help to highlight and fix accessibility issues in your resources, before providing them to your students.
Accessible Video Content
Video content presents its own unique challenges in terms of accessibility . With a greater use of video material and screencasts over the last year, and in the coming year, it’s especially important to consider the diverse needs of your learners when creating video materials. These tips can help you:
- Upload to Stream – Stream allows you to host original videos and share them with your Blackboard module. Uploading video content to Stream provides automatic captioning, which can be edited to benefit students with auditory disabilities
- Narrate your screen – video content is a visual medium, which can be exclusionary. Be sure to describe any actions that are happening on screen that are key to understanding
- Keep it short & focused – your screencasts should not be like-for-like copies of full lectures. Supplement short and engaging screencasts with a variety of further reading and resources to benefit students with ADHD, ASD and mental health issues, and better use your own teaching time.
You can discover more about making screencasts in TEL’s Making Screencasts Toolkit.
Accessible Blackboard Modules
Designing your Blackboard module in a way that aids intuitive usability makes it easier for neurodiverse, disabled and non-disabled students to navigate and make links between learning activities.
Working on each aspect of your module has different benefits:
- Content Menu – a simple content menu, without too many headings, makes navigation easier and helps to reduce anxiety when trying to locate learning materials
- Files & Folders – having a simple folder structure, with clear written instructions, titles and descriptions helps to reinforce the structure for your module
- Visual Design – a consistent visual design, which reinforces text-based prompts from your Module Roadmaps and supplements your learning materials can enhance the experience for some students. Always ensure that you are following the principles for creating resources above when using visual cues.
With some students still learning at a distance, a well-organised Blackboard course that presents a curated module experience for your students is vital for maintaining cohesion and inclusion in your cohort and will benefit students’ mental health.
Accessible Live Online Teaching
The challenges presented by virtual classrooms can be especially difficult to overcome for neurodiverse and disabled students. The platform and activities you choose can have an impact on how easily disabled students can engage.
- Engaging – engaging in face-to-face teaching can be difficult for disabled and non-disabled students. Diversifying ways to interact in your sessions, such as via the chat with reactions or voting in polls, can reduce anxiety and allow more opportunities for students to engage.
- Navigating – some disabilities can make navigating virtual classroom tools especially difficult. Providing keyboard shortcuts for using Teams and Collaborate may benefit your students It’s always best to ask if your students what requirements they may have before choosing a tool.
- Captioning – if your students require captioning, then choosing a suitable platform to support them is vital. Teams offers automatic captioning that may be subject to errors. Blackboard Collaborate allows manual captioning.
- Note-taking – note taking in live sessions can be particularly challenging. Some students may be supplied with a note-taker by DAS. However, you may wish to recommend the Live Transcripts feature in Teams, which creates a downloadable transcript of all speech in a session. Be sure to thoroughly read our guidance before recommending this feature.
We hope you find this useful in helping you to design your teaching to be accessible and inclusive. If you’d like more information or support, TEL’s Inclusive Design Toolkit is a useful resource, and look out for CQSD’s practical Inclusive Design on Online T&L staff development webinar on the T&L Programme (advertised in the fortnightly CQSD T&L Programme Update email and regular TEL Digests).
Matt Jones, CQSD
GAAD 2021 (Thursday 20 September 2021)