May I have your attention please?

As instructors, we face challenges just as our students do.  And one of those challenges is successfully addressing the question:   What are some of the considerations we should keep in mind for persons with disabilities using these different technologies for delivering content?

According to a study reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education in November 2010, many universities may be susceptible to complaints about accessibility issues in online courses because they often do not have formal policies to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (1) In fact, only 16 percent of 183 colleges and universities responding to a survey reported that a centralized system is in place to review every course for compliance. (1)

Multimedia content can enhance classes by allowing students to experience certain content in a way that text only simply cannot do. Additionally, multimedia content can serve as a springboard to discussions, group projects, and other creative activities. And, multimedia can be viewed before, during, or after a class. (2) Multimedia content, however, should be accessible to students with disabilities. North Carolina State University suggests guidelines to make audio and video content available, including, but not limited to:

  • providing a text transcript or description for audio content;
  • providing an audio or written summary for video content; and
  • providing closed captioning for audio or video content. (3)

Effectively adapting multimedia content to meet the needs of students with disabilities requires a broader understanding of the challenges faced by students and their instructors.  Challenges faced by students and instructors in online courses include:

  • visual impairments,
  • specific learning disabilities,
  • mobility disabilities,
  • hearing impairments, and
  • speech impairments. (4)

According to Sheryl Burgstahler of the University of Washington,

“Designing course strategies and materials from the start with accessibility in mind will enhance the learning experience of all students, not just students with disabilities.” And, “[w]hen universal design principles are applied, products meet the needs of potential users with a wide variety of characteristics.(4) Universal design principles are based on making tools usable to the greatest extent possible by all people without the need for adaptation. (4)

The University of California has an extremely strong commitment to making instructional materials accessible consistent with the requirements for equal access found in the Americans with Disabilities Act. (5) Recommendations to ensure student access to instructional materials include captioning all video used for instruction and providing transcripts for audio-only presentations and materials (5).

Another recommendation is to “communicate with students about their learning styles and using multiple instructional methods to address their needs.” (5). And, if in fact, individual professors who teach online often are responsible for complying with the ADA” (1), then communication about accommodation is critical to ensuring that multimedia resources are used effectively in distance education courses.