Accessibility Considerations for Online Courses
As educators, it is important to keep accessibility in mind to ensure that students with disabilities have access to online instructional materials and are formatted correctly for assistive devices.
The Blackboard Learning System is written to be compliant with the requirements of Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, this compliancy with accessibility legislation is not the same as having the content within Blackboard applications compliant and accessible. Extra care and consideration is needed when designing and building content so that accessibility standards are met.
Listed below are some ways that instructors can create a more accessible online course.
Mandatory: All course syllabi must include the syllabus statement on accommodating disabilities.
Always post a transcript with audio.
Different learners engage with materials in different ways. Providing content in different forms not only benefits students that require accommodations, but all students. For instance, if a student is in a café they may prefer to watch a video with captions instead of listening to the audio. If they are having technology problems with a narrated presentation, they can read the transcript instead. When creating presentations, always include a transcript. If a video needs to be closed-captioned in the future, having the transcript will also be a great help for those assisting with that task.
Use markup for documents you create.
The markup or styles used in a word processor, such as Headings, Titles, and Subtitles, provide not only a visual difference to the reader, but also metadata used by screen readers that help users navigate the document. Use the Styles section when creating documents in Word and when you are adjusting type size and adding bold/italics to materials. Doing so without the Styles section makes the document much more difficult to navigate for those using screen-readers.
The following website lists instructions on how to use The Accessibility Checker tool to find accessibility issues in your Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Outlook emails, and PowerPoint presentations.
Use a shallow folder structure.
Organize your course to keep your structure to as few “levels” deep as you can, while still giving it the organization it needs. Having your structure be fewer folders deep is also easier for screen readers to navigate.
Use videos with captions.
Video content needs to have captions. However, many videos that might be appropriate for your online course, such as TED talks, PBS videos, material from NBC Learn, and Lynda.com tutorials, are already captioned. Also, it’s important to confirm that captioned pieces contain accurate captions; auto-generated ones, like those frequently found on YouTube, may not include accurate captions.
Use alt tag descriptions on images.
Alt tags are descriptions of images that describe the image to those who are blind or low-vision and use screen reader technology. When adding any images to Blackboard, include an informative description to convey important information about the image. Your alt tag is what will be read by a screen reader when it reaches that image. More information on alt tags can be found on the WebAIM website.
Use caution with color.
Color can affect how your students see (or don’t see) course materials, especially those who are colorblind or low-vision. Avoid using color to denote importance or meaning. Instead, consider making a word larger or using bold text. Also, avoid color that is distracting, such as bright colors or patterned backgrounds. Finally, use colors that have a high contrast.
Use informative link names.
Just as you use chapters to assist in navigating a book, it is important to label your hyperlinks to assist screen readers in navigating your course for blind or low-vision students. Write your hyperlink names to describe the content, rather than pasting the actual link or writing “Click Here”. The screen reader will read the hyperlink aloud, so ensure that it is descriptive of the actual linked content.
Other Areas to think about
Below are items that are difficult to make accessible on your own, but about which you can still be pro-active.
It can be difficult to make a PDF fully accessible, but if you use PDFs in your course, avoid using ones that are scanned images. Add descriptive text beneath images to describe them for screen readers.
Captioning videos you create
Westchester Community College is researching several options that would make producing a timed text file for your transcript more readily available. Until that system is in place, you can provide a separate transcript of your video as a first step. Although providing a transcript is helpful for all students and will aid the closed captioning process, keep in mind that it is not a substitute for closed captioning.
Tables can be difficult for screen readers to navigate in the best of circumstances, as they are a visual means of organizing information. Save the use of tables only for areas where the content requires it, and format the information properly with markup. Consider using a list or other means of displaying the information. If a table is the best means of conveying your information, format it correctly using headings and a title and avoiding excessive length, merged cells, or blank cells.
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