An ID’s Approach to Accessibility – Lessons Learned

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

We are not ADA compliance experts. We are, however, a team that is committed to the creation of quality learning for everyone. In this collaborative session, we discuss how we build ADA compliance checks into our development processes, address challenges associated with ensuring ADA compliance, and leverage appropriate ADA resources.


Justin Tumelaire is Manager of Educational Technology at Cengage, and holds graduate degrees in Adult Education and Training and Business Administration. He has worked in higher education, serving both traditional and non-traditional students, for more than nine years. His experience includes project management, curriculum design, and training. Justin works on a team of skilled instructional designers, project managers, and educational technologists who work together to provide quality, custom educational solutions for institutions of higher education.

Extended Abstract

While many of us involved in the design of learning content strive to create content that is effective for all learners, in reality, our designs often don’t accommodate students with abilities that are different from our own. One way we can help ensure that our learning content facilitates learning among all learners is by designing to ADA compliance standards. Not only will doing so result in quality learning for everyone, it will also satisfy a legal requirement to which higher education institutions are beholden.

During this interactive discussion we will:

  • Assess, in groups, examples of learning content for ADA compliance
  • Discuss the implications of non-compliant learning content to learners, costs, and schedules
  • Identify stages within the development process for compliance.
  • Discuss strategies for addressing challenges associated with non-compliant learning content

As if the prospect of letting even one student down with our design wasn’t already enough pressure, do we now need to fear being dragged into a courtroom to defend the ADA compliance of our work? The stress is enough to drive content designers into less risky endeavors such as crab fishing on the Bering Sea or being shot out of a circus canon as a human cannonball. Wading through ADA compliance standards and being responsible for ensuring compliance is anxiety-inducing even for your run-of-the-mill, nerves-of-steel content designer.

At Cengage Learning, the Instructional Design and Delivery team (IDD) works with higher education institutions to create custom learning solutions. Solutions for our customers take a variety of forms including lesson plans, syllabi, hybrid and online courses, and supplemental instructor materials. Each of these solutions is highly customized to address the specific needs of the customer. While Cengage is working hard to bring its vast content library up to ADA compliance standards and to ensure that new content conforms to ADA standards, IDD uses not only Cengage content but also third-party content and content that we develop from scratch to create our customers’ custom learning solutions.

With the recent focus on ADA compliance within higher education, we knew that if we were to deliver content to our customers that was not ADA compliant, we could potentially fail to effectively serve our customer’s students, put ourselves and the customer at risk for legal action, and delay their delivery dates. With these possible outcomes, IDD was suddenly facing a number of questions:

  • How do we (did I mention that we’re not ADA experts?) quickly assess ADA compliance in content?
  • What do we do if we find content we want to use that is not ADA compliant?
  • How do we avoid overlooking ADA compliance issue?
  • How do these ADA compliance checks fit into our fine-tuned development process?
  • How much time will it add to our process?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Can I cast my professional experience to make myself look qualified for crab fishing?

After consulting with Cengage’s ADA experts and having a hard look at our existing processes we realized the importance of identifying ADA compliance issues early in the development process. Doing so gives us time to consider alternative resources that are already ADA compliant, or give ourselves time to fix any compliance issues. We also needed to know what to look for in the first place. Our own abilities sometimes prevented us from catching ADA compliance issues that individuals with different abilities would easily catch. (Ironically, a disability itself.) Again, we worked with Cengage ADA experts to help us understand common ADA compliance pitfalls associated with various types of content. We created guides and checklist to help reduce our anxiety and focus our compliance checks. We also set out to identify reliable resources that we could reference when digging deeper into a compliance issue or solution, as appropriate. We built compliance checks into our quality assurance checks that we perform ahead of final content delivery to our customers. Finally, we built additional time, cost, and training into our projects so that we can do this work correctly.

This session is an opportunity for us to share with you lessons we have learned about checking for ADA compliance. We’ll also share tools and resources that we use to help facilitate this process.

ADA compliance is a single, critical step toward our ultimate goal of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). In the meantime, the changes that we’re making today to address ADA compliance issues mean that more students can already access more of our learning content. Because of that, our design is already better than it was before we overcame our ADA compliance anxiety and figured out how to use ADA standards to improve our work.