Focus on Usability to Increase Accessibility

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

Most people agree accessibility is important, but there are still significant gaps in understanding and motivation towards creating inclusive learning experiences. This presentation will share the results of an initiative to improve accessibility of course material by focusing on the usability of content for all users, including those with disabilities. 


Christopher Phillips is the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Coordinator at Utah State University. He is responsible for making sure campus electronic and information technology is accessible and he is currently focused creative ideas and solutions to implement more inclusive digital experiences. He brings his previous worked in special education, instructional design, web development and product management to accessibility work.

Extended Abstract

While most people agree in concept with the idea of creating accessible content to include all students in the learning experience, there are challenges to implementing those inclusive values in the course development experience. Course developers may lack an understanding of what is needed to make content accessible or struggle prioritizing accessibility against competing priorities. 

When a student with a disability requires an accommodation enrolls in a course the course material must be made accessible to that student. However, it is much easier and efficient to proactively create accessible content while the course is being developed. That said, some accessibility efforts require more effort and expertise and some do more to increase the usability for everyone than others. 

At Utah State University one way we are working to encourage greater accessibility by emphasizing the importance of accessibility. Most course developers are quick to see the value of high-impact usability improvements that benefit all students and follow up to implement those changes in their courses. Our efforts have primarily focused on cleaning up course navigation and structure, and formatting PDF files to native HTML files in our Learning Management System, and creating more usable video experiences. 

Doing this work has made an appreciable difference in the quality of the course experience and opened up productive conversations with course developers around the student experience.  Once faculty and instructional designers understand the value of making content more usable it is an easy bridge to accessibility, or usability for students with disabilities.  

We will also look at the impact these usability improvements have had on the accessibility of the course experience. We will share results of the impact our focus on usability has had on course content, challenges along the way, and future plans. There will also be opportunities for discussion and sharing of unique challenges from participants have faced around accessibility and usability at their own institutions.