Choosing digital content for students involves consideration of the quality of the content, its pedagogical effectiveness, ease of use, and accessibility. The following information is here to help support your understanding of accessibility, as it relates to instructional materials.
Our goal is to help you choose the best available materials for your students, including those with disabilities, that will help them reach the desired outcomes most successfully. ALS efforts support Section 508, in that instructional materials developed or implemented must be accessible to all students, regardless of disability. However, there may be times where you should collaborate with your campus Disability Support Services to ensure your materials are accessible and available in a timely manner.
Understanding Instructional Materials and Accessibility Issues
There are many types of disabilities that might be represented in your course. They range from physical disabilities (e.g., vision, hearing, and motor impairments) to learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia and ADHD). Students with specific disabilities may encounter barriers in some curricular materials and not in others. Students with hearing impairments may face barriers related to required video and audio materials but no problems with print. In this scenario, providing captions to audiovisual resources is a critical accessibility feature. However, this is one of many scenarios regarding the barriers many students, with or without disabilities, face when presented with resources that are not universally designed.
A variety of technologies exist to help students learn. In order for these technologies to be used effectively, the materials themselves must have been prepared in a way that allows the technology to function. For example, it is necessary that image descriptions be logically placed in digital versions of books so that screen-reader software, for the visually-impaired, can interpret the pedagogical content of the image. It is necessary that videos have captions for students with audio impairments. In addition, captions provide many benefits to all learners and also render the content as text searchable. It is necessary that websites be navigable without a mouse, i.e., be “keyboard accessible,” for students with motor impairments. In addition, this is one of many website usability features that benefit all who access the content.Considering Accessibility of Instructional Materials
Accessibility and Content Types
There are various content types that may appear in diverse instructional materials. Accessibility issues may be more tied to the content type than the delivery technology. For example, if an image has pedagogical content, it must have accompanying alternate text, whether it appears in a PowerPoint presentation, on a website, or as an element in a Learning Management System. A video needs captioning whether it is a displayed on a web page, within a PowerPoint, or in a chapter of an electronic textbook.
Major content types include:
- Print – e.g., textbooks, supplemental material, learning modules, web pages, library reference materials
- Video – e.g., video products in various media, YouTube videos, video clips
- Audio – recorded lectures, broadcasts, audio clips
- Interactive forms – homework assignments, take-home exams
- Images – photos, drawings, charts, timelines
- Dynamic models – computer-generated molecule models, morphing battlefields, etc.
Content types are incorporated in different delivery vehicles or instructional materials. Listed below are specific considerations that need to be addressed in order to assure their accessibility.
- The accessibility of interfaces and other components that sit between the student and the content
- The accessibility of the content
- The degree to which the content and the interface work together properly to preserve accessibility. A publisher could provide content that is accessible, but the delivery software might be problematic (e.g., a poor user interface), or conversely the software could be accessible but the content might not be (e.g., lacking alt text)