Icons depicting hearing impaired, physical disabilities, and others

4 myths about accessibility and online learning

Online education is supposed to be inclusive; here's how to ensure that it is

Those who are in higher education are probably tired of hearing about accessibility. But accessibility awareness is the key point to making courses accessible. Bringing this awareness to faculty on how they design a course had been an ongoing charge for those in higher education that work with course design.

Dispelling myths about accessibility in an online environment

Myth #1: Students with learning differences don’t take online courses.
Many students do not report the need for accommodations in an online course. Why? They have to jump through so many hoops to get an accommodation. First, there’s the letter from Disability Services (how about naming it Accessibility Services?) every semester; then they have to explain the accommodation to the instructor and discuss why the accommodation is needed every semester. And then there is the social stigma attached to reporting an accommodation. This procedure is stressful for students and often hinders student success. But taking an online course is beneficial for students who struggle with social anxiety, who need flexibility, or who need to learn in chunks in a safe environment.

Instead, how about making a course accessible from the beginning? Isn’t online learning supposed to be inclusive?

Related: How to make sure your university’s online content is accessible to all

Myth #2: Captioning is just for those who are hearing impaired.
Recently, I put in a large grant request to provide professional captioning services for faculty who use videos that are required for online learning and assessment. I presented to a committee, showing them a 30-second YouTube video that was filmed on our campus and welcomed students. I turned the volume off, handed the committee an auto-generated transcript from YouTube, and asked them to read the transcript while watching the video. This is how we ask students who need captioning to learn while watching videos. Try it! It is very challenging!

After about 10 seconds, they put the transcript down and my request was granted.

Captioning is not just for those who need accommodations because of hearing differences. It is for the international students who experience language barriers, students who learn differently, and for those who might need to watch a video in a sound-sensitive area (e.g., a library, someone taking care of a sick kid who is sleeping). Doing what we ask our students to do in the world of accessibility brings awareness.

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