Why is accessibility so important?
It is essential that we provide an environment where all students have the best chance to succeed with their learning. This requires that every student, regardless of circumstance, is provided appropriate access to course material and tools. In the video below, you will hear from students who have experienced frustration with online learning being inaccessible.
Caring about meeting the needs of our students is reason enough to focus on accessibility, but some other reasons include:
Accessibility issues can impact a large number of people. According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability about 6.2 million, or 22% of Canadians aged 15 and older, had one or more disabilities.
Accessibility is the law. Not only is making things accessible the right thing for us to do, we are required to be accessible by law. In Ontario, we are required to meet the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) standards.
What is essential for one person is normally beneficial for all. Some of the features you can add to your course site and other learning resources to make them more accessible will likely benefit all of your students. For example, consider captions for your online videos. For a student who cannot hear, this is essential for their learning, but many other students might find it helpful to see how some of these complex words are spelled, or simply may prefer reading a transcript when reviewing the content. There is also evidence that captioned videos help international students for whom English is an additional language master the language and achieve learning outcomes.
Universal Design for Learning:
Accessible design is often considered one component of the overarching process of Universal Design for Learning. While they can be similar, Universal Design for Learning can be considered a more holistic approach to course design, as it also includes the various situations (environments, conditions, and circumstances) your learners may face. Consider the speed of a student’s internet access. If you use online videos in your course, but do not offer a range of quality options (something YouTube does for you) or alternative formats to access this content, students with lower internet speed may face challenges accessing the content and struggle in the course.
Universal Design considers accessibility from the beginning of the course design process, rather than trying to go back later and retrofit or change things later when there is a request for an accommodation.
While there is much to consider in designing accessible courses, the Ten tips for creating accessible content list provides a good introduction to some key ideas to consider. It describes some of the most common accessibility issues our students might face. The document also includes a simplified checklist for checking if your course site has dealt with some of these common issues properly.
Free online web accessibility checkers
AChecker is one of the most commonly used tools for checking accessibility of your course site. Enter the link to your site, choose the standard to test against and see if there are “Known Problems”, “Likely Problems” or “Potential Problems”. You can click on each problem to find out more details about the standard.
The Wave extension (supported in Chrome and Firefox) also allows you to check accessibility within a webpage. You can navigate right to the part of the page with the potential issue. You can also use it to check colour contrast on the page.
Check colour contrast:
Choosing colours that provide enough contrast to be easily distinguished and read can be challenging, but the fix is simple. When you find a combination of colours you like, go to Contrast Checker and pick the foreground and background colours you are interested. The tool will preview how the text will look, and let you know if it meets accessibility standards including for different font sizes. You can also upload an image and check it.
Check My Colours is another similar tool. Enter the link to your site and it will check that it meets accessibility standards related to colour.
Screen readers are used by people with low or no vision to automatically read the content on a page to them using voice. While these have come a long way in recent years, there are a lot of design principle that can improve readability so that the experience is enhanced for people who need to use screen readers. Check how your webpages and other documents will be read by a screen reader using one of the free tools below.
NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) is a free screen reader for windows computers.
ChromeVox is a free screen reader extension that can be added to Chrome.
Readability is a way to measure how difficult a passage written in English is to read and understand. A number of measures have been developed, and some are even incorporated directly into Microsoft Word and other word processing tools.
The WebFX readability tool allows you to enter the link to your site and it will estimate the readability score.
Other useful tools and websites:
The following webpage has a comprehensive list of web accessibility evaluation tools.
Accessibility resources available through Lynda.com:
An open education accessibility toolkit designed specifically for open educational resources:
Accessibility resources available through eCampusOntario:
An “Accessibility in Online Learning: Web Accessibility Process Manual” from the University of British Columbia:
20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course:
Need captions for your video?
If you simply want an easy way to generate a transcript or rough captions, we recommend checking out Stream, which provides automatic captioning. If you upload a video, it will auto-generate a transcript for you. Although it might not be perfect, you can edit it yourself and even download it.
Example syllabus statement on accessibility:
Syllabi at UWindsor are required to contain information about supports available to students. The recommended syllabus statement is provided below.
Student support services:
Students are encouraged to discuss any disabilities, including questions and concerns regarding disabilities, with me, but it is also understood that this is entirely your decision to reveal personal information. I will strive to provide a comfortable and productive learning experience for everyone.
Students with disabilities who require academic accommodations in this course must contact an Advisor in Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to complete SAS Registration and receive the necessary Letters of Accommodation. After registering with Student Accessibility Services, bring your Letter of Accommodation and discuss your needs with me as early in the term as possible. Please note that deadlines for the submission of documentation and completed forms to Student Accessibility Services are available on their website:
Student Accessibility Services:
Accessibility in Blackboard:
The Office of Open Learning strives to meet the needs of all of our learners, by following the AODA and other accessibility standards. Most of our courses are currently delivered via the Blackboard Learn learning management system. Learn more about Blackboard’s accessibility policies.