Accessibility and Usability: Learn More

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Accessibility and Usability: Learn More

There are two videos, with text in between; make sure you scroll all the way down to see everything. The text and the videos cover the same material, so you can choose either to read or to watch, but you probably don't need to do both, unless you want to.

Purpose: This is what you need to know about making your course both usable and accessible.

Watching this video will assist you in meeting the following objectives:

  • Develop an online course that incorporates eight general standards for quality online teaching.
  • Build an online course in the Brightspace learning management system.

  • Create course navigation that facilitates ease of use.
  • Design a course that facilitates readability.
  • Provide accessible text and images to meet the needs of diverse learners.
  • Provide alternative means of access to multimedia content in formats that meet the needs of diverse learners.
  • Identify effective ways to make a course usable and accessible in Brightspace

Mr. Bart Everson on the importance of accessibility (4:32)
Mr. Bart Everson video transcript (PDF)

Accessibility is the First Principle of Usability

Usability is not typically a consideration in traditional face-to-face teaching, but web and software developers have been contending with these issues for decades. For example: navigation. Especially in the early years, the typical experience for the typical user on the World Wide Web was that they were lost. Simply finding one's way around has gotten easier. We've gotten better at building websites that facilitate effective navigation. It doesn't happen by accident. It happens by design.

Now that we are teaching online, it's a concern for us too. The experience for the user -- in this case, the student -- is largely shaped by the design choices we make as teachers. Good design choices can facilitate a good experience, meaning that the student is able to find the information they need, learn what they need to learn, and demonstrate that to you; not-so-good design choices may lead to difficulties and frustrations for everyone involved.

We want people to be able to use what we're building, so we call this usability, and there are four major principles to consider:

  1. accessibility (which is something you may already be familiar with from traditional face-to-face instruction),
  2. visual clarity,
  3. readability, and
  4. consistency (which includes findability -- yes, that's a neologism, don't worry, I'll come back to all this).

So let's start with accessibility. It's important to remember that we all experience the world differently. People with certain vision impairments see the world differently. Depending on your vision, you may not have noticed anything unusual about the color scheme of this video. Some are not able to see at all. No matter the case, we want our students to be able to access our content and learn. With a little bit of understanding and planning, we can accomplish this.

For our purposes, there are four major categories of disability that we should keep in mind when designing our course:

  1. visual disabilities,
  2. hearing disabilities,
  3. cognitive disabilities, and
  4. motor disabilities.

Now, let's consider specific actions you should take.

First of all, you should have a statement in your syllabus that indicates your policy regarding students with disabilities, including any specific considerations unique to your course, and obviously aligned with university policy.

Furthermore, there are several things you can should do while building your course to enhance accessibility. These practice help with screen readers and the like.

  1. Use the semantic styles which are built into the HTML editor. In other words, don't just make a heading big and bold -- use the built-in styles to designate a first-level heading, a second-level subheading, and so forth.
  2. When you make links, use text that is meaningful and concise. Never write "click here." Instead, write something like "The National Institutes of Health provide a useful summary," and make that text the link. Don't expose the bare URL unless it is quite short.
  3. When using an image, Brightspace should prompt you to provide alternative text. You should describe the image as briefly as possible, or designate it as purely decorative.
  4. When making a video, be sure to provide captions. Automatic captioning is provided by some video hosting services, such as YouTube, however you'll want to check and correct those captions for accuracy. If you write a script, like I did for this video, you can make that text available to your students or perhaps even feed it into the video captions.

Holy heck! Who knew that Brightspace has a built-in Accessibility Checker? It's as easy as clicking a button. Read all about it on the CAT FooD blog: Brightspace Tip #156: Accessibility Checker.

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Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, this work, "#LearnEverywhereXULA", by CAT+FD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License and is adapted from IU Teaching Online used under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.