Accessibility and the Law

In accessibility, innovation in teaching, universal design for learning on November 16, 2010 at 7:12 am

One challenge in creating online programs is making certain that the courses are accessible. According to the Chronicle article ADA Compliance is a “Major Vulnerability” for Online Programs, many institutions have not established institution-wide policies for ensuring that online courses are accessible.

A corollary challenge is in the use of innovative technologies in the classrooms. As noted in the above-mentioned article, Arizona State was successfully challenged for using Kindles because they are not accessible to the visually impaired.

Universal Design for Learning principles can be used to address some (but not all) of those issues. Just as creating lab partnerships among students can help address some accessibility issues, creating study partnerships can help to make learning more accessible. This is because partners can divide work based on their abilities and no one has to be singled out.

In the lab partnership, the two students can decide between themselves who will conduct the experiment (and that might include opening caps, pouring, reporting visual results) and who will report the results of the experiment. If both students conduct the experiment together, both can benefit.

In the study partnership, if Kindles are to be used, it’s possible that the Kindles and laptops could be employed in the classroom, and students could choose which one they wanted to use.  Then the decision could be based on personal preference, as long as the material was identical.

With other innovations, universal design adaptations may be more difficult. I piloted the use of Second Life, a 3D virtual world, in several classes a couple of years ago. All work had to be done in groups of 2 or 3, so students could choose who would actually go onto Second Life and who would write the reports on the legal issues. Although that was not a “perfect” solution, it worked during the pilot.

As much as possible, though, deliberate, institution-wide strategies that employ Universal Design for Learning Principles can help aid making all courses (online and face to face) accessible.

  1. […] In a previous post, I talked about Universal Design for Learning and some of the legal requirements for accessibility. As I noted in that post, one of the key tenants of UDL is that instructional materials should incorporate as many approaches as possible so that many different learners can understand the material. That approach makes sense from a philosophical point of view. However, practically speaking, it is difficult to develop a non time intensive way for facult to implement it. I am part of a Faculty Learning Community at Fresno State that is working on helping faculty implement those principles in teaching. We are a group of approximately 20 faculty who are using the book Universal Design in Higher Education by Burgstahler and Cory to prepare instruction and/or materials that incorporate UDL principles. I have learned a great deal from that experience and look forward to the opportunity to incorporate UDL into my courses. […]

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