How Can We Improve Accessibility Through Instructional Design? #DLNchat

Digital Learning

How Can We Improve Accessibility Through Instructional Design? #DLNchat

By Michael Sano     May 9, 2018

How Can We Improve Accessibility Through Instructional Design? #DLNchat

Can proactive instructional design eliminate barriers to access for learners? Will artificial intelligence play a role in improving accessibility? How can institutions create a culture of collaboration to support universal design? On Tuesday, May 8 the #DLNchat community got together to discuss and debate: How Can We Improve Accessibility Through Instructional Design?

As we often do at #DLNchat, we started with a definition of terms. We talked about the differences between accessibility and usability, legal considerations under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the concept of UDL (universal design for learning). Robin Tamez coalesced these definitions well: “Accessibility starts with complying with standards and goes beyond by removing barriers for as many digital learners as possible. Universal design is a framework of principles to achieve accessibility for the greatest number of learners.” In the spirit of multimodal representation, Ryan Straight also shared a graphic representation of how to consider different disabilities:

Graph depicting disabilities as permanent, temporary and situational

And Jennifer Albat shared an illustration of what an effort at universal design is NOT:

Cartoon depicting a professor asking a monkey, elephant, goldfish, seal and dog to climb a tree.

Regardless of how they represented their concepts, #DLNchat-ters agreed: accessibility starts at the beginning of the design process. Phyllis Brodsky put it this way, “The commitment to accessibility should be authentic, not rote, and up front, not an afterthought… Applying sound pedagogy that drives design and truly integrates UDL is foundational.”
Part of this process is considering the platform in which the course will be designed. As Albat pointed out, “Just the LMS can be a challenge in itself. Screen readers have an awful time with the separate sections.” Her institution, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is working to address these issues by implementing Blackboard Ally. Cathy Germano shared appreciation for Canvas LMS elements supporting accessible design. Leah Chuchran-Davis reminded folks that LMS integration capabilities may narrow accessible choices early in the instructional design process.

As this process continues, #DLNchat-ters proposed different systems of checks and balances to strive for improved accessibility. At the University of Alaska, Anchorage, Katie Walker shared, “IDs are using an accessibility rubric to go through and identify issues in online course content.” Germano explained the process in place at Excelsior College, “We have a checklist set up on our collaborative intranet set up as to make sure all programming and activities have accessibility solutions.” Representatives from Spring Arbor University also shared their system: “We’re working on a cohesive ADA compliance structure using our Assistant ID and Style Guide as Quality Assurance.”

All of these systems, #DLNchat-ters agreed, have to exist within an institutional culture committed to access through collaboration. Leanne Riseley suggested approaching accessibility from a social justice perspective. Jim Hounslow’s proposal was to “Introduce empathy and inclusion: move from isolated design processes to involve people. Create awareness, be people centred and build relationships involving people with disabilities.” Others had more concrete suggestions, such as writing accessibility assessment into the job descriptions of instructional designers. Trish Briere shared, “We have an ADA team embedded within our learning design unit. They help educate us and the rest of the university.” One of the key components is to move beyond providing retroactive access for students with disabilities and toward proactive access designed for all learners.

So can proactive instructional design and technology work together to eliminate barriers to access? The #DLNchat community concurred: technology alone won’t cut it. As Cole Eskridge said, “We cannot expect technology to eliminate these barriers until the developers of these tools begin to take accessibility seriously from the beginning. We also have the responsibility to advocate for them to take accessibility seriously with our contracts/purchasing choices.” Sherri Restauri reminded us to keep in mind “that tech will also continue to change in 10-20 years, we're going to have to adapt along with it. Better chance of catching up if we start with full inclusivity in mind from the design phase of all tech.” In other words, product companies have as much of a role as institutions and instructional design teams. A few wondered: will artificial intelligence also play a role? Perhaps, but as Dr. Straight chanted, “Repeat after me: technology is not a panacea, technology is not a panacea, technology is not a panacea…”

Peruse the #DLNchat for all the thoughts from this chat, as well as a LOT of great resources related to accessibility and instructional design. You can chime in with your own thoughts and questions too! RSVP for our next chat: What Are Your Professional Development Plans for Summer 2018? on Tuesday, May 22 at 1pm PT/ 4pm ET to get reminders beforehand.For other topics, check out our index of past chats. #DLNchat is co-hosted by the Online Learning Consortium, WCET and Tyton Partners.

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