DI and Accessibility

Accessibility is important for all courses at UMW, and the kinds of projects and activities typical in digitally intensive classes require special attention to the tools, platforms, and media that students will encounter in a course. The Office of Disability Resources can meet with faculty for questions, concerns, and recommended best practices for working with students specific accommodations regarding specific tools and platforms, the office of Digital Learning Support can assist in training faculty in accessible tools and course design, and the Digital Knowledge Center will be offering tutorials for students to help make sure their projects are accessible as well.

Generally speaking, there are three types of situations where a digitally intensive class should be mindful of accessibility that go above and beyond the fundamental considerations for any course: 1) asking students to use specific tools and platforms to complete assignments, 2) asking students to work with particular platforms for collaboration as in group projects, and 3) asking students to create digital content that is intended for public use.

Specific Tools and Platforms

Most digital projects imply the use of a specific tool to accomplish a project, and in keeping with the DI SLO 3, students should be aware of the different capabilities and affordances of those tools as they evaluate and implement the workflow that meets the needs of the project. For a podcast project, that tool might be Audacity or Logic Pro; for a website, that might be WordPress, Grav, or SquareSpace. In all cases, faculty should be mindful of the limitations that certain tools may impose, and whenever similar tools exist, faculty should present students with the most accessible option possible.

The Office of Disability Resources can assist in helping faculty review the tools and platforms they use, and many open source projects will publish information about their accessibility. WordPress, for example, has specific guidelines for developers and standards for accessibility. Audacity’s documentation notes that its current version is an improvement on the past, but that users who wish to use screen reader software may have a better experience with a slightly older version.

Collaboration Tools

The second SLO for digitally intensive classes mentions students working collaboratively with digital platforms. This might include sharing a Google Doc to draft an essay together, chatting in a Slack channel, contributing code to a Github repository, or simply using a Canvas group. For each of these platforms, faculty should be aware of how fundamentally accessible these platforms are, but should also provide guidance for all students in using these platforms in a way that communicates clearly to all users. For example, if a particular discussion compels a student to share a meme, they should make to include an alt attribute description of that image, or if a platform doesn’t make that possible, the student sharing the meme should describe it in context.

Again, the Office of Disability Resources can offer guidance in selecting accessible tools and advising some best practices in using them. Princeton has published a set of guidelines for “Accessibility in Social Media,” and many of these suggestions also apply to communicating within a specific class for collaboration and discussion.

Creating Public-facing Digital Content

Many digitally intensive classes will be asking students to create digital content — videos, websites, Twitter bots, etc. — that are intended for public audiences. Designing these works for accessibility is not only consistent with best practices, it also a matter of following the law. If we are teaching students to create work that will reach as many people as possible, and if we hope that students will be creating similar work in a professional context someday, it is imperative that we prepare them appropriately.

For some types of digital projects, the accessibility dimension is relatively straightforward, if not exactly easy: videos must have captions, podcasts must have transcripts, images on webpages must have alt attributes. But these practices are only the beginning.

In practice, many student projects will involve more than one medium, so the instruction for specific projects should ideally consider accessibility from the outset so that students are attuned to specific challenges when they may arise.

ODR’s advice for creating accessible content includes recommendations for specific forms of electronic communication, and the office of Digital Communication provides some links for important context related to ADA. Princeton’s Web Accessibility Guidelines provides a useful summary of what students should be aware of as content creators. As these guidelines delineate, making a webpage truly accessible requires far more than simply adding alt attributes. Whenever possible, direct students to use tools like WAVE to evaluate the accessibility of their projects and website.