The Impact of Digital Accessibility on Teaching and Learning: Why Does It Matter That You Consider Alt Text and other Tools for Inclusivity?

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session Equity and Inclusion

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This Education session will present the audience with knowledge about the importance of Digital Accessibility, the legislation concerning accessible computer output, and a demonstration of the experiences of computer users with disabilities. Computer strategies for accessibility will be described and the audience will have a takeaway to practice on their own devices.


Harriette L. Spiegel, Ph.D., has worked in the field of Educational Technology for over 20 years. She has taught computer literacy, online courses in educational technology, educational psychology, educational research, Spanish, and ESL. Her research interests include online teaching and learning, Digital Accessibility, Social-Emotional Learning, Adult Education, and ESL to graduate students and pre-service-teachers .

Extended Abstract

Why does it matter if computer output contains accessible content? More importantly, why does it matter if computer output does NOT contain accessible content?   This 45-minute "classic presentation" Education session will demonstrate why it matters when computer output is created with accessibility in mind. In addition, the audience will gain knowledge about the experiences of computer users with disabilities, the legislation regarding accessible computing, and what to do about making computer content accessible.

To the normally seeing, hearing, or physically functioning computer user, computer content is fairly accessible; that is, content that is to be read by sight is mere text or visually-interpreted images that the reader with no visual disability can easily understand. Content that contains audio information, such as a video, is easily interpreted by the listener with no hearing disability. A computer user who can easily manipulate a mouse around a computer screen will not think twice about being able to scan down a given webpage to locate something. But consider the computer user whose visual abilities interfere with a seamless understanding of a computer document, or the user with a hearing disability that prevents easy listening to content, or a user with a physical disability that prevents use of the mouse. This is where accessible computing becomes important:  there are computer tools and strategies that eliminate those obstacles to understanding and interpreting the content in a computer document, whether the document is a word-processing document or a webpage.

In the United States, the impetus for making computer output accessible is the legislation that followed the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The ADA created protections against discrimination for individuals with disabilities, such as the requirement that wheelchair-accessible entrances be provided in buildings.  With the development of computers came legislation to prevent similar discrimination in digital content, as developers provided tools for making computer output accessible. Before this legislation, individuals with disabilities were not able to realize the full benefits of computers. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provided guidelines for the creation of computer output. For computer users with visual disabilities, there is the screen reader, a program that works with a computer to interpret text content so the blind user, for instance, can listen to the content of the document that otherwise could not be seen. Together with the screen reader, tools such as alternative text ("alt text") can interpret otherwise visual content of a computer document, so that the blind user will have the description of an image read out. Similarly, for the computer user with hearing disabilities, aural content of a computer document, whether a word-processing document with audio files, or a web page with a video in it, must be described in a form that the user can access. A sound file should be accompanied with a transcript; a video should have a transcript and/or closed captions. In the case of a user who cannot use a mouse, the content should be structured such that assistive technology can interpret the content as the user desires. So, for instance, when links are included in a document, each link should be "meaningful"; that is, rather than the common term "click here" to send the user to the target link, a given link should be descriptive of the target. Assistive technology such as a screen reader interprets meaningful links in a way that the user can quickly scan through a document, choosing which links to follow, instead of being left wondering where the "click here" link would go.  The main guideline to creating accessible computer content is to provide "alternative" means of delivering the content.

With over 61 million individuals with disabilities in the United States alone, ensuring accessible computer output is not only the equitable and right thing to do, but considering the economic aspect of computer use, including all individuals in the benefits of computing just makes sense. This presentation will demonstrate several basic methods and guidelines for the everyday computer user to implement in order to "keep accessibility in mind" ( These guidelines include: accessible headings, alt text, meaningful links, accessible tables, and best practices for applications such as PowerPoint. The audience will be invited to practice the methods on their own devices, and will be surveyed before and after the demonstration with a live polling app to get an idea of what they may have learned.