Accessibility is a key component of designing inclusive and equitable learning environments. We recommend creating accessible content from the start, rather than in reaction to a specific need at a specific time. Including accessibility in your design process means not only that you save time and effort by not having to retrofit your materials, but your materials are usable by a wide variety of learners with a variety of needs and preferences.
For example, in the built environment, we might think about how a curb cut in the sidewalk was originally designed for wheelchairs, but is also very useful for people pushing strollers, skateboarders, and people on crutches. In the digital environment, video captions were designed to facilitate access to video content for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, they are also useful for students who are learning English, and to understand fast speech.
When designing curriculum and learning environments, the principles of Universal Design for Learning provide a framework for “creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs” (About UDL). Modeled after the Universal Design movement in architecture, UDL’s flexible approach seeks to identify and ameliorate barriers to student participation in the learning environment at the moment of curriculum design.
The 3 UDL Principles – Multiple Means of Engagement, Multiple Means of Action and Expression, and Multiple Means of Representation – speak directly to developing content and activities that are flexible in terms of access, bandwidth, and learner needs and preferences. In your course, this might look like offering students choices in terms of how they “show what they know,” or providing a text alternative for key course content delivered through video or audio.
While there’s a lot to learn about accessibility, and how to create flexible digital materials for your students, many common tools like Canvas, Microsoft Office, and Google Apps have built-in accessibility checkers that diagnose issues for you, and point to solutions. Below, find information about tools that are available at Middlebury to help you identify barriers to learning and create accessible course materials.
Not sure where or how to start? We invite you to schedule a DLINQ consultation if you’d like more information or support for implementing any of these resources.