Yes, the ADA Requires Web Accessibility for Higher Education Institutions An important and often forgotten fact,…
Faculty Web Accessibility Training
One major thing that is needed at higher education institutions is web accessibility training for online courses. People with disabilities make up the world’s largest minority. These people face physical challenges in using internet technologies and therefore, end up using those technologies less.
Everybody, including people with disabilities, has the right to the same, quality course material.
Schools have departments specializing in disability services that are designed to help students who have disabilities get appropriate accommodations in regards to their education experience.
Often, teachers do not know how they can adjust their teaching to meet the needs of those students that have a disability. Also, many students encounter negative attitudes from their teachers when asking for accommodations, which affects their motivation to finish out their education and graduate.
Before government legislation, there were no standards regarding accessibility with technology. Even after laws have been enacted by the federal government, people still face difficulty with technology, especially when it comes to web accessibility.
Universities need to spend time and money on training how to implement the different kinds of accommodations that are commonly necessary for students who have disabilities, including accessibility to online courses and supplemental course material teachers put online.
In this article, we will be discussing how important it is for university officials to plan and execute this training for university faculty and other personnel. There are also tips regarding how to develop this type of training.
The main ingredient of accessibility to the web is all-inclusive web design. All the design elements on a website should work for all web users, even those who have a disability. If the content on an online course website cannot be accessed by everyone, then even adding accessible technology will not help. It’ll just create roadblocks.
There are two steps a web designer can take to make an online education course accessible:
- Have alternative ways for people with disabilities to access website elements that are otherwise inaccessible.
- Teachers really should not include material in their web courses that are inaccessible.
Web Designers also need to follow the four principles set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that set the groundwork for accessibility to the web.
Here are the following four principles and how they apply to online course websites.
- Perceivable Principle: Online course website designers need to make sure all course material is accessible to the auditory and visual of each student who has a disability; who is either using the browser and/or an assistive, rehabilitative or adaptive device to look at course content.
- Operable Principle: A fully inclusive online learning course allows all users, regardless of disability to interact on the course with the use of the keyboard, mouse, or another device that has assistive technologies.
- Understandable Principle: The material on an online course website should be clear and concise. There should be no room for confusion.
- Robust Principle: Teachers need to ensure that their students have access to course content with many options in technology.
When online course content is inaccessible, communication challenges in regards to that content arise. For instance, there can be a misinterpretation of content by screen readers and inaccurate caption on course videos. Also, when teachers create course content that will be uploaded to the course website, they must make that content accessible in whatever application they use to create it. For example, Microsoft has options in all their Office programs to help users create accessible documents.
Teachers make their online course content accessible when they focus on consistency and present the content online in an organized manner. Clear labeling and descriptions of supplemental course elements such as images are also essential. Captions must be provided for video and audio features as well. Barriers to online course material must be removed, such as by putting alternative text on an image. Online course website users should also have the freedom to adjust the site to fit their needs. They need to be able to change the fonts and colors.
Online education is more important than ever, and that importance is consistently increasing.
There are federal laws in place that protect people with disabilities from being discriminated against by institutions such as colleges and universities. These laws include Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, qualified people with disabilities are protected by these laws. These are people with physical and/or mental impairments that significantly limit their ability to perform major life tasks, such as cleaning oneself and breathing.
Universities are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities’ learning experience. Some examples of reasonable modifications include special seating, sign language interpreters and note takers. When it comes to accessibility to online learning, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act ensures that technologies are accessible to all Americans with disabilities. It is because of this act that closed captioning is a requirement for all online videos and multimedia, which are very popular elements in the design of an online course.
Exceptional Uses for a Training Program in Web Accessibility
People with disabilities encounter barriers in regards to using computers, and it is important to prevent those barriers with proactive procedures when creating an online course. Web Accessibility is vital not just because it helps people with disabilities learn, but those people can also be more independent and self-sufficient.
There are many software programs available to help ensure web developers of a website’s accessibility, as well as online resources that are available for free. Cloud-based learning management software, like Blackboard, provides ways to focus on accessibility issues. However, when the faculty is being trained, other types of programs, such as lecture capture software, must also be taken into account. A checklist that showcases the guidelines for accessibility to the web should also be provided to all faculty in this training. The federal laws discussed above, as well as W3C guidelines and campus policies, would need to the basis for such a checklist. That way, there is coherence among all US colleges and universities. These checklists provide an easy way for teachers to make sure their online course is web accessible.
Once standards are established, each web course should be subject to assessment. This assessment would allow a teacher to see the parts of their course that require improvement and help them identify areas of the web course that are inaccessible to people with disabilities. The assessment should contain a review on web accessibility, review of subject and instructional content, and a technical review.
The following are steps that are essential in creating a training program on web accessibility:
- The school administration must have the desire and vision to create such a program. The funds that are necessary for a web accessibility training will need to include the school’s formal budget. Therefore, school administrators need to communicate a clear vision for such a program to its shareholders and also address the motivation to have a web accessibility training program.
- Administrators need to utilize an assessment of needs in regards to accessibility to the web and conduct accessibility evaluations of all current online courses. This assessment will identify objectives for course content as well as identify any errors that require improvement.
- The university will then need to carry out a prototype for web accessibility created to meet shareholder needs. The Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles that can be used for this task. The principles focus on representation, expression and engagement, all via multiple means and all supported by the various networks of the human brain. With these principles, UDL provides the groundwork to allow more adaptability needed to lessen barriers faced by students in an educational environment. It also provides the plans and methods for faculty to look at when they are developing their online courses. This will also allow teachers to create course material that is more accessible and engaging. However, even with UDL, it will still be necessary to make accommodations for learners with specific disabilities.
- School administrations can utilize results from the assessment conducted on web accessibility needs when developing web accessibility training and workshops. The training should be hands-on, and faculty should be provided with opportunities to practice creating online courses that are web accessible. When a teacher is in the training, they should try to put themselves in the shoes of people who have disabilities to test out if their online course meets web accessibility standards. One possible way to do this is to wear a blindfold and pretend that they are blind while testing out a screen reader on their web course.
- Schools need to perform evaluations to determine how effective their training programs are. The administrators also need to gather information showing what improvements can be made to the training program and to establish if additional training is needed.
Training programs for web accessibility include the following: Top-level administrative support, a thorough investigation of needs, online course evaluations, a plan that supports the prototype for web accessibility in place and the training of all personnel on campus. Plus, sufficient funds for this training must be included in the university’s formal budget. Incentives for faculty and staff compliance should also be in place. Plus, continuous evaluation is necessary.
Accessibility to the web is a requirement by federal law. Therefore, teachers and staff must be aware of this and comply accordingly. The amount of online course has increased significantly. Having access to those courses is essential for the educational achievements of students who have disabilities. Therefore, colleges and universities need to implement courses that are web accessible and allow such students to maintain their independence in the learning environment.
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