Small Steps to Make Your Class a More Accessible Experience

Side profile of woman sitting and typing on laptop.

Have you wanted make your class more accessible and inclusive, but you just didn’t know where to start? Maybe you know you should add accessibility into your course, but it feels like you don’t have enough time to redesign the whole course. 

Accessibility improves the learning experience for all learners. Not every student discloses their needs (whether physical or cognitive, permanent or situational), so it’s important to take a proactive approach to create an inclusive learning environment.

When you pick small, manageable elements to focus on, you can slowly infuse accessibility into your course each time it runs. With a few changes, you can start to make your course materials more accessible.

Start small: Effort levels for adding accessibility 

You’ve probably seen the recommendations for the types of course materials to address: documents, presentations, spreadsheets, images, audio, video, learning management systems, and other tools. 

The Quality Matters report Course design for digital accessibility: best practices and tools rates the effort for developing accessible course materials into low, medium, and high effort (Table 1, p. 10).

The report describes low effort as descriptive links, style headings, consistent navigation, and color and fonts contrasts. Medium effort includes plain language, alternative text, readable PDFs, table design, document design, and keyboard accessibility. High effort includes alternative document formats and captioning and/or transcripts for audio and video. 

If you’re already comfortable with items in the low effort category, tackle the medium and high categories. 

Review your documents for quick accessibility fixes

Start by taking an afternoon to check your syllabus with Microsoft’s built-in Accessibility Checker. The tool provides tips for fixing accessibility issues. If you’re using tools other than Microsoft Office, read their documentation to help you review and address accessibility. Once you improve your syllabus, you can work on other parts of the learning experience. Remember, you can slowly address different elements each time you teach the class.

If you’re stuck with the technical side, schedule an appointment with your campus Teaching and Learning or Students with Accessibility centers. If you don’t have these resources, reach out to IT, instructional designers, librarians, and other colleagues for ideas of how to incorporate accessibility into your course design. 

Ask for feedback

Don’t forget to ask your learners—who actually use the course materials—what works well in your course and what can be improved. With their feedback, you can work toward meeting the needs of all of your learners.

While we’re enjoying the summer months, the fall semester will be here so. Like any project, it’s helps to pick a small task and build from there. What do accessibility needs do you plan to address in your course to make it more accessible to all?

Resources

Accessibility of APA Style – APA Style 7th edition added new recommendations for accessibility.

Improve accessibility with the Accessibility Checker

Create accessible PDFs

Microsoft Word – Make your Word documents accessible to people with disabilitiesAccessibility support for WordAccessibility support for Word

Microsoft PowerPoint – Make your PowerPoint presentations accessible to people with disabilities

Microsoft Excel – Make your Excel documents accessible to people with disabilities

Everything you need to know to write effective alt text – Writing effective alt text requires an understanding of context

References

Mancilla, R., & Frey, B. (2021, February 3). Course design for digital accessibility: best practices and tools. Quality Matters.

Author: Jessica Bishop, Instructional Designer

Jessica designs learning content and writes useful, relevant, and meaningful stories to inform the learner’s experience. A Michigan native, she likes crafting, reading, walking, and spending way too much time in the distant corners of the internet.

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