Accessibility in Remote Learning Environments

As educational institutions rush to respond to the current situation, there is a growing awareness of the challenges that many students, but in particular, those with disabilities, may encounter as they transition to the remote learning environment. This site contains resources and some best practices that will help instructors ensure accessibility and equity for all students in the remote learning environment. Academic accommodations for students with disabilities will continue and Blundon staff are happy to work with faculty and instructors in eliminating barriers to education. The information provided is intentionally broad and may not address every issue or question that arises in a specific course. Exceptional situations will arise and can be addressed when they do.

UDL (Universal Design for Learning)

The three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are to: “Provide Multiple Means of Representation”, “Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression”, and “Provide Multiple Means of Engagement” (CAST Resource Link). In short, these principles provide the “what,” the “how,” and the “why” of learning. Universal design for learning is not a cookie-cutter solution, but rather an attitude that should be adopted to facilitate a more equitable learning environment.

Communication – Making a Connection

These are unusual times for students and many of them are anxious about the transition to remote learning. For many students, the traditional face-to-face classroom is the only educational experience they are familiar with. Therefore, connecting with your students will be especially important in the remote environment. Here are some things you can do to show students you are there for them:

  • Create a welcoming message for your students. Let them know that you understand that they may be nervous about the transition and that you are committed to their success.
  • Include an Accessibility Statement in your course syllabus. These types of statements signal your commitment to accessibility and equity and can open the door to improved communication with your students. Examples for these statements can be found here: https://depts.washington.edu/uwdrs/faculty/syllabus-statement/https://www.bates.edu/accessible-education/faculty/sample-syllabus-statement/
  • Provide students with an opportunity to have a conversation with you about their individual learning styles and required accommodations.
  • Be available in the remote environment. Setup virtual office hours or establish other opportunities for students to connect with you. Be responsive when providing feedback and answering emails. This doesn’t mean that you need to be available 24/7, but rather that you let your students know when you are available and what the turnaround time will be for a reply to their questions.

Practice Accessibility

Every student has a unique approach to learning – therefore, it’s important to create a learning experience that values a variety of learning styles and abilities. By integrating accessibility practices into your learning environment, you are helping to ensure usability for all your students. Here are some things you can do to incorporating accessibility:

  • Create more asynchronous content. It will allow students to work at a pace that supports their learning style. For example, create short videos that can be viewed on demand and as often as needed.
  • Create a variety of opportunities for students to represent, engage, and express themselves within the learning environment. For example, if class participation is part of the evaluation, offer students a variety of ways to participate. Some students may prefer to answer questions while others may participate by offering to take notes and sharing them with the class, or even live tweeting, Be creative!
  • Check in with your students. How are they faring in the online environment? Are they finding it difficult to keep up with online readings? Are they struggling with the amount of screen time involved? Seek input and where possible – it’s okay to make changes.
  • Be flexible. Many students like the structured environment found in the traditional classroom and so may have difficulty shifting to a remote environment. They may need extensions on assignment dates or to complete readings.

Campus Resources

There are a lot of great resources on campus – for both the instructors and students! Know what resources are available and share them with your students. Below are some examples:

The Blundon Centre
Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL)
The Writing Centre
Student Wellness and Counselling Centre
Academic Advising
The Library
The Commons
Career Development
Student Support

Technology in the Remote Environment – Access and Accessibility

As face-to-face courses are adapted for the remote environment instructors should be mindful of the use of technology when delivering course content. Two important considerations are:

The Digital Divide

Not all students are adept in the use of technology! Some students are able to troubleshoot technical issues while others may need support and guidance. It’s important to remember that not all students have equal access to computers, the internet, software, hardware, etc.

Accessibility

The quick shift from the traditional classroom and traditional print based materials to remote and digital learning can create additional barriers for students. Instructors need to ensure that their content is accessible to all. Videos should have accurate closed captions, documents that are uploaded should be compatible with screen readers, slides and websites that contain images should have alternate text, etc. The Accessible Communications and Video Accessibility checklists below provide additional information on creating accessible content.

Accessible Communications Checklist

To advance accessibility and inclusion on our campus, documents, promotional material, and virtual interactions should follow the guidelines below:

Word Documents & PowerPoint Presentations
  • Use Sans Serif Font (e.g. Arial, Calibri) and use consistently throughout the entire document and/or presentation.
  • Ensure a minimum font size of 12-14 throughout your document and/or presentation.
  • Maintain a clear colour contrast between your text and background.
  • Use bold to emphasize. Avoid the use of underlines, ALL CAPS, and italics.
  • Include short sentences, straight-forward messages, and plain language. Slideshows should have a maximum of 6 bullet points/sentences per slide.
  • Format document titles and headings by using the ‘heading styles’ feature.
  • Format pictures, graphics and charts using the ‘in line with text’ feature.
  • All pictures, graphics and charts must contain Alt Text.
  • Tables should be created by following a simple structure and colour. Example: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/video-create-accessible-tables-in-word-cb464015-59dc-46a0-ac01-6217c62210e5
Social Media Guidelines
Virtual Lectures & Interactions
  • Include closed captioning
  • Provide individuals with a recordings and/or transcripts where possible.
Additional Considerations
  • Use person-first language (e.g. students with disabilities).
  • Seek photos that include students with a variety of lived experiences as active participants of the university community.
  • Always include a tag line that informs individuals that alternative formats are available (e.g. audio, braille, and plain text) and how they can be accessed.
Video Accessibility Checklist

Here are some things to think about when adding videos to your course materials.

  • Ensure the video includes closed captioning. Where closed captioning is not possible it’s important to provide a transcript of the video.
  • If it is an instructional video ensure access to a typed document that lists the required steps.
  • Be descriptive when possible (example: rather than saying “click here”, say “click on the submit button at the bottom left-hand corner of the page” this will also save you time later when producing the transcript.
  • Include described video, if possible.
  • If text is included throughout the video, ensure that it is high contrast, san-serif, non-italic, large enough to read, etc. For examples follow the CNIB guide (https://cnib.ca/sites/default/files/2018-07/CNIB%20Clear%20Print%20Guide.pdf)
  • Create a video title that is to the point and descriptive.
  • Where possible have an accessibility statement that states your commitment to providing accessible content along with contact information for reporting difficulties with access.

Free Google Chrome Extension - for remote studying and work

Chrome extensions are intended to expand Google Chrome's browser functionality. To download Google Chrome extensions go to the Chrome Web Store (via Google Chrome browser). The Blundon Centre does not endorse any of these extensions, please use your own judgement by reading the developers agreements when selecting and installing extensions

Reading:
  • Read and Write - Text to voice, voice to text, reading support, for Google Docs.
  • Select and Speak - Select and speak text, many voices and accents available.
  • Snap and Read - reads text that is embedded in pdf or images
Screen Readers:
  • ChromeVox - Screen Reader
Reduce Distractions:
  • Stay Focused - Used to block “time wasting” websites
  • Writer - Lessens distractions when typing
  • Mercury Reader - Removes distractions on webpages
Viewing / Display:
  • Zoomy - Magnification settings
  • Dualless - Splits browser into dual monitor style
  • AlphaText - Change fonts, line space, and format of online content
Browser Management:
  • Extension Manager - Sort, search, and toggle extensions
  • OneTab - Keeps open tabs under one tab as a list
Writing:
  • Google Dictionary - See definitions and hear pronunciations without leaving your webpage
  • Grammarly - Helps with spelling and grammar when typing
  • Co Writer Universal - word prediction for typing and can read back what has been typed

Note Taking:
Evernote Web Clipper - easy way to screen grab sections of the web and stores it in your Evernote account
Note Anywhere - Leave sticky notes on webpages that can be returned to later

Additional Resources

Accessibility for Students with Disabilities Policy https://www.mun.ca/policy/browse/policies/view.php?policy=323

Principles of Universal Design http://universaldesign.ie/What-is-Universal-Design/The-7-Principles/

Universal Design to Learning https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/treatments-approaches/educational-strategies/universal-design-for-learning-what-it-is-and-how-it-works

If you have any questions, please contact us at:
Email: blundon@mun.ca
Telephone: (709) 864-2156 (VRS calls welcomed)
Text: (709) 693-0918

Contact

Student Life

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000