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

Myth #3: Screen readers are just for those who are visually impaired.
Students are busy and often revert to listening to content while multitasking. This includes digital textbooks or anything that is on a screen for a course and can include hyperlinks. I have Apple CarPlay in my car and it connects to my phone. I received a message from of my sons with a hyperlink in it and the message read the hyperlink as it was: http://www.blahblahblah.com/3892018dzadyd. My passenger said, “What the heck?” Siri was reading me the hyperlink. This is a perfect example of how hyperlinks in digital content works.

I recently consulted with a group of new faculty and demonstrated how a screen reader works. One of the attendees thanked me for bringing awareness to the group. Her mom was an online student who did not report a visual difference and she watched as her mom struggled for four years with screen readers and hyperlinks. Again, awareness is a huge part of getting in the know.

Myth #4: Cognitive overload is not really a thing.
In an online course, it is very easy to copy/paste content and sometimes we get carried away. Cognitive overload is where faculty provide too much information or too many tasks that need to be done all at once. Do students really need to answer the same question with multiple means of stimulation or will a quick quiz before (formative assessment) and after reviewing content (summative assessment) work? Do all students need to take all their finals on the same day?

Related: Roll up your sleeves! Why accessibility in higher ed needs all hands on-deck

For students who need accessibility accommodations or experience learning differences, cognitive overload is a big hurdle. Surveying students at the beginning of a course will let faculty know what is too much or too little for any given course. Even if your content stays the same, your students change every semester.

As faculty work on continuous improvement in teaching, every semester is a good time to reassess how accessible your course is for students. Making content that is inclusive leads to happier and more successful students which, in turn, reflects on faculty who really care.

eSchool Media Contributors