Disseminating awareness of Digital Accessibility: how to train faculty to create accessible course content and ensure Universal Learning

Concurrent Session 10
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

The session will train learners to deliver a workshop for higher education faculty on Digital Accessibility. Hands-on, practice, and discussion strategies provide take-aways to prepare participants to return to their institutions and train faculty and staff to create accessible course content and meet the challenges of a diverse student population.


Harriette L. Spiegel, Ph.D., has worked in the field of Educational Technology for over 15 years. She has taught computer literacy, and online courses in educational technology, educational psychology, educational research and Spanish. Her research interests include online teaching and learning, Digital Accessibility, Adult Education, and online teaching of ESL to pre-service-teachers .
Tara Tansil-Gentry is an Instructor in the Health & Human Performance Department at the University of Tennessee at the Martin campus, where she also serves as peer-to-peer trainer for faculty introducing technology in the classroom through the Instructional Technology Center. She is completely her doctorate degree in Educational Technology. Tara serves as a trainer, researcher, and pilots consultant in the area of fitness, health & wellness area under the direction of Dr. Robbie K. Melton. She reviews apps, devices, and wearable technology that impacts the fitness, health & wellness areas. Tara is a former Division I women’s basketball coach who brings 13 years of college coaching experience. She enjoys testing new technologies that have the potential to impact the classroom experience.

Extended Abstract

Training faculty and staff at universities and colleges to be aware of Digital Accessibility and to create accessible course content is one of the challenges of our digital world. The literature is slowly growing on what this is; why it matters, and what to do about ensuring that educators know what needs to be done to provide accessible course content.

What It Is:

Digital Accessibility means that online course content will not present barriers to learning to a learner with disabilities. For instance, a student with visual disabilities using a screen reader could easily access course content that the screen reader reads out. If the content were not accessible, however, relevant information contained in an image would not be read by the screen reader. For that information to be accessible to the learner, "alt text," or alternative text, would have to be added as the content was being created. A learner with color blindness would be lost with a set of instructions that were color coded, so accessible course content avoids color coding.

Similarly, a learner who had auditory disabilities would need a visual means of accessing information. Content contained in a video would require captions or transcripts so that the learner could read the information.

Why It Matters:

Digital Accessibility is important because all learners are not created equal: One learner with use of one's arms, for instance, can easily manipulate a mouse and navigate around a computer screen, but the learner without the use of the arms, must depend on a device that allows speech to text, so that the learner can speak into the computer to interact with the computer in the learning task. However, if the course content was created to be navigated only with a mouse, the learner would encounter a barrier in accessing the course content. Not only is it the right thing to do - provide equal access to education for all learners, but it makes economic and legal sense to consider all learners.  

What to Do About It:

The first step is to make all users, especially educators, aware of the issues. This proposed session will lead learners to experience how a learner who needs accessible course design experiences both accessible and inaccessible content. Many people have never heard a screen reader; the participants in our session will. The session will provide training in the guidelines for creating accessible course content. Principles of Universal Design for Learning that ensure that course content is created for all learners will be part of the instruction in the training.

This session is based on a faculty workshop on Digital Accessibility that the presenters conducted in 2016 to faculty representatives of every department on campus. Participants received hands-on training to prepare them to be advocates for the training of other faculty in their departments. An initial campus survey of faculty yielded over 90 responses, and the main question (#6) asked about awareness of various aspects of Digital Accessibility. The answers were rated Strongly Agree, Somewhat Agree, No Idea, Somewhat Agree, Strongly Disagree. This question was: "#6 - On the following questions, please indicate the level to which you agree with the statement," and a few of the 20 choices were:

  • I believe I understand the implications for my department of not ensuring that my course material is accessible.

  • I believe I understand the difference between Web Accessibility and creating accessible course content.

  • I know what a screen reader sounds like.

  • I believe I have all the knowledge I need to create an accessible document that has alt text in all images.

  • I believe that a hyperlink that is labeled "click here" is considered accessible.

  • I am confident that faculty in my department know how to write an accessible syllabus.

  • I am confident that my students with disabilities will encounter no barriers in my course content.

The survey results of this question #6  - the response "No Idea" - were then discussed in a focus group of faculty and staff and distilled into the content to be taught in the workshop. The three-hour workshop was taught to representatives of every department on campus and provided the basic knowledge necessary for creating accessible course content. The participants were charged with returning to their departments and arranging for subsequent training for the faculty. Results from the pre- and post-tests verified that the workshop had accomplished our goals: to increase awareness to faculty of the implications of Digital Accessibility in creating accessible course content. We will discuss these results as we introduce our content.

This OLC presentation will mimic our previous workshop. Our goals are to enlighten the audience about the issues surrounding Digital Accessibility; to expose them to the experiences of a learner with disabilities using computers; and to provide practice and hands-on opportunities to learn the skills we are teaching.

Therefore the workshop will consist of three areas of emphasis: Introduction to Digital Accessibility (What It is), What It Must Be Like (Why It Matters), and Hands-on Instruction in creating accessible course content (What To Do About It).

The Hands-on Instruction would include the following items to consider in creating course content: consistent course design; proper heading structure; avoid the use of colors to provide instructions; if using images with relevant content, use alternative text to provide information contained in the image;  provide alternate means of delivering information: if the information is visual, provide an auditory version (such as text-to-speech for a screen reader to read to the user) - if the information is auditory, provide visual information (captions, transcripts for audio and video files). A session such as is being proposed can only touch on the most basic items of Digital Accessibility, but raising awareness will lead the way to further learning. Learners will be encouraged to return to their institutions and conduct similar workshops to disseminate the information learned.

Various active-learning strategies will be used, including employing online tools readily available on the Internet (audience response systems, Google docs for collaboration), using QR codes in providing links with information, and a final questionnaire.

We will request learners to BYOL - bring their own laptops, and we will provide any learning material. We will encourage the audience to listen and learn rather than worry about taking full notes - all information will be provided in a take-away at the end of the workshop. Take-aways will include a Best Practices tip sheet to encourage dissemination of the concepts and skills learned.

We will have distributed a pre-test before the instruction started, and we will administer a post-test. We anticipate that the instruction in our session will support the need for such training in order to prepare faculty and staff to be aware of Digital Accessibility. We will of course have a final Evaluation of the Session.