Walking in Someone Else's Shoes- The Real Impact of Digital Accessibility

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session Best in Track

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Many of us have heard of the concept of digital accessibility and are aware of things like adding alt text to images and captions to videos, but what would it really be like to walk in someone else’s shoes to truly experience the real impact of digital accessibility? In this interactive session, you will be exposed to a variety of assistive technologies, the students that use them, and strategies that we as instructors and designers can use to make the learning experience more positive for ALL students. 


Chris Smith currently serves as the Instructional Designer for North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) and is a doctoral candidate in the Educational Technology E.d.D program at Boise State University. Prior to joining (NCVPS), he served as the Director of Distance Education and Instructional Designer in the community college system for four years, a district level Instructional Technology Specialist for six years, and an elementary school teacher for six years. Chris has been instrumental in designing online course content that is active, engaging, and meets digital accessibility requirements.

Extended Abstract

Personal communication, once dominated by face-to-face conversation, landline telephone calls, and postal mail, has evolved to include email, mobile phone calls, text and instant messaging, chats, discussion forums, social networks, photo and video sharing, multiplayer gaming, etc. Encyclopedia sets, hardcover and paperback textbooks, dictionaries, and other printed reference materials that previously filled many typical classrooms have all but been replaced by in-class computer labs (desktop or notebook computers, tablets, or a variety of handheld devices). Classes that were originally confined within four walls have expanded into a multitude of blended and online options that offer flexibility in terms of time and place. Advances in technology have changed the way we teach, communicate, and learn from each other.

 Technological innovations in how digital information is developed and presented through the World Wide Web should have brought good news to individuals with different perceptual (audio or visual), motor, or cognitive abilities. Unfortunately, web and online course developers “typically have implemented digital technologies without regard to access by persons with disabilities” as a result, the barriers that have been created by these inaccessible technologies have “often lead to forms of societal discrimination (Lazar, Goldstein & Taylor, 2015).

So, what is it like to walk in someone else’s shoes and experience the real impact of digital accessibility gone wrong first hand? The purpose of this educational session is to provide an in-depth look at the practices and policies associated with digital accessibility along with the problems that arise when accessible design processes and guidelines are not followed. Session participants will witness first-hand how assistive technologies are used by individuals with a variety of perceptual, motor, or cognitive abilities. The objectives of this session will be to identify the key aspects of online course accessibility, identify the consequences for inaccessible course content, differentiate between accessible and inaccessible course content, and evaluate content for accessibility and usability according to Quality Matters Standard 8.

Assistive technologies include alternative input/output devices such as screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, alternative keyboards. Speech recognition software, captioning, video or audio transcripts and American Sign Language (ASL) is also necessary for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. To demonstrate what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes, several examples of specific assistive technologies being used will be presented throughout this session.

Over the past five years, as the Director of Distance Learning at a community college that backed up to the North Caroline School of the Deaf and now an Instructional Designer for North Carolina Virtual Public School which is partnering with The North Carolina Governor Morehead School of the Blind to offer Spanish I and English IV online, I have witnessed the negative impact digital content that is not accessible can have on students. Fortunately, there are some very simple steps that we as instructors and designers can take to ensure we reduce or eliminate the negative impact of inaccessible digital content.

The guiding principles of this session come from General Standard 8: Accessibility and Usability of the Quality Matters Standards for Course Design. According to the Standard 8 Overview Statement, “the course design should reflect a commitment to accessibility, so all learners can access all content and activities, and to usability, so that all learners can easily navigate and interact with all course components” (Quality Matters Rubric Workbook Standards for Course Design, 2016, p. 35). The five Specific Review Standards for General Standard 8 that will be demonstrated during this session include:

  1. 8.1- Navigation throughout the course is logical, consistent, efficient, and intuitive
  2. 8.2- Information is provided about the accessibility of all technologies required in the course
  3. 8.3- The course provides alternative formats of course materials that meet the needs of diverse learners in order to accommodate alternative means of access
  4. 8.4- The course design facilitates readability
  5. 8.4- Course multimedia facilitates ease of use

This proposed session will include several interactive components. Session participants will be given the opportunity to share their prior knowledge and understanding on the topic through an online collaborative forum, assess several different types of images to determine if the correct alternative text was used, distinguish between proper and improper use of tables, and step into the shoes of someone who is visually impaired to better understand the importance of audio descriptions. Session participants will walk away with a variety of resources that will include course and institutional level accessibility checklists, a digital accessibility learning object, handouts and tutorials for creating accessible documents and presentations, online course design checklists and guidelines, and several other resources that might be used to ensure accessible online course content.