When we design our courses, we should be very thoughtful about not only curating materials to complete course objectives, but also about designing the course to address the needs of every student. As we become more comfortable using technology to teach and to learn, more and more vital course content is digital - word documents, videos, PDFs, and more. We have a responsibility to ensure that all materials we are sharing are accessible and usable for everyone, including people with disabilities.
All materials need to be represented and formatted in ways that can be accessed by people who have disabilities. Examples include:
- Providing captions or transcripts for recorded media like videos or podcasts
- Using headers and tagging to make documents navigable using a keyboard or screen reader
- Being attentive to how you use color and ensuring there’s enough contrast between your text and the background of your web page or document
Usability means that a website or document is intuitive to use, easy to navigate, and has readable content. Designing with usability in mind is not only supportive to users with cognitive or psychological disabilities, but also contributes to a better experience for every user. Examples include:
- Using a simple, consistent organizational structure
- Organizing your materials by time period (i.e. Week 1, Week 2) or by material (i.e. Readings, Videos, Assignments)
- Providing links to help documents or resources for support
Easy Ways to Improve Your Accessibility
The following video, Key Tips for Document Accessibility, covers the broad basics of how to improve your digital accessibility and below are more resources on how.
Choose materials and tools that are already accessible
Work with GW Libraries Course Reserves librarians to link electronic readings and media in your course. Check third-party videos and podcasts for availability of captions and transcripts.
Have more accessible sync session meetings
Here are instructions on how to enable automatic captioning for Zoom. Before you start your meeting, enable automatic captioning before your meeting starts. Your participants who need subtitles can turn it on, and those who don’t need it will not see subtitles. When possible, share your slides ahead of time so folks who need to can review the materials ahead of time and prepare. Keep your slide designs simple and describe what is on-screen.
Use built-in heading styles and accessibility checkers
Instead of simply changing the font appearance and size, using built-in heading styles creates not only a visual navigation for your document, but it also creates a “hidden” organizational tag that will support users who are reading your document with an assistive technology like a screen reader or braille display.
- How to apply styles to your document
- How to modify styles to suit your needs
- Instructions on using Accessibility Checker
- Instructions on working with the text editor
- How to improve content accessibility with Blackboard Ally from GW’s Instructional Technology Lab
Commit to accessibility more visibly
Consider featuring your accommodations or accessibility statement more prominently or earlier in your syllabus. For example you could add, “If the course could be improved and made more usable for you, please come during office hours or reach out to me”. Be open to feedback from people who encounter your work and ask for improved accessibility. Seek out help from experts as you need!
Faculty Development is now delivering a series of workshops on digital accessibility. Their goals are to provide context as to why accessibility and usability are so crucial, and to teach easy steps to make progress towards more organized, more readable, and more inclusive digital teaching materials.
Our Fall 2022 workshop programming will include:
- Why and How to Start Being More Digitally Accessible
- Create Beautiful and Accessible Class Documents and Slides
- Tailor Your Blackboard Course for Better Usability
- Introduce Universal Design for Learning into Your Class
- Make Your Course PDFs Accessible
- Write Helpful and Intentional Alternative Text
Additional Support and Resources
Digital Accessibility at GW: this page describes GW's policies, standards, and best practices
Faculty Support from Disability Support Services
Accessibility Course Checklist for ensuring your course materials are accessible
Reach Out for More Assistance
Faculty Development also offers more specialized assistance, according to your needs. This could include:
- Specialized workshops for your department or organization
- Course remediations for accessibility
- One-to-one consultations