Access & Accessibility

Access and accessibility considerations are key concerns regardless of modality. When adjusting to a disruption, it may be helpful to review messages you may have already received from students in regard to necessary accommodations, and to consider how those accommodations might be provided thoughtfully across the board to all students in your new modality. Consider using a Qualtrics survey, Microsoft Forms, or Moodle Feedback activity to anonymously ask students about technology access challenges they may face during a period of remote learning.

When issues arise, offering flexibility or alternatives can be essential to allowing learning to continue, as well as to building trust with students that is foundational to their engagement in the course. This flexibility, paired with increased awareness of common physical and developmental disabilities such as dyslexia, visual and auditory impairments, colorblindness, and other conditions, will help you create an environment that truly provides equitable access for all students.

Low-tech access during infrastructure disruptions

When a disruption that may interrupt power or internet is approaching, it may be useful to ask students to proactively print or download course materials such as readings or assignments. You might consider the following:

  • Are your course materials (e.g., readings, resources, syllabus and course schedule) currently available to students online in formats that are easily printed, phone-friendly, or accessible for students without WiFi or a computer?
  • Can lecture notes be converted to a form that does not require high-speed internet (e.g., PowerPoint file with lecture notes accompanying each slide; lecture notes typed into a text format)?
  • Is it feasible to scan upcoming course readings or documents because of length or copyright concerns?
  • If you need to find alternative materials, contact your library liaison or consult the library research guides, which provide an overview of resources (mostly online) for each disciplinary area.

Ensuring access when transitioning online

Online modalities can present a different set of challenges for accessibility.  For help, explore resources from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL), which include insights on the importance of access and accommodations for students in your course and strategies that address meeting student needs in online and remote environments.

  • If any students in your course have visual impairments, are lecture notes, readings, or assignment guidelines provided in a format such as a Word document with headers that is converted to a PDF, which can be navigated using screen reading programs? Use the built-in accessibility checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro to ensure that PDFs can be read by screen reader technology used by visually impaired students.
  • Can you use Moodle to organize course materials, including readings, resources, syllabi and course schedules, in one location and on a site already familiar to students? If you have materials that are not already digital, talk to your library liaison or consult the library research guides for possible course material alternatives.
  • Will file size and bandwidth requirements limit accessibility? Videos, online simulations, and synchronous video meetings take lots of bandwidth, so you may only want to require them if you are confident students will have the network and computing resources to access them. Recording synchronous sessions for later viewing allows students who experience temporary losses of internet bandwidth to catch up.
  • Can you caption videos or provide transcripts for students with hearing impairments? Captions can be added and corrected for videos and synchronous class sessions using using KalturaMicrosoft Teams, or Zoom, which also offer downloadable transcripts that can be shared with students.

Diversifying instruction

Providing information in multiple formats, and in ways that engage students in thinking about content as they learn it, are crucial learning practices that take on even greater value when students are stressed or distracted by a disruptive event.

  • Are any useful narrated animations, visualizations, interactive media, simulations, videos, or podcasts available online? Your library liaison and the library research guides may be helpful resources here as well.
  • For synchronous or recorded lectures, how can you take advantage of research-supported design elements such as interactive lecturing to help hold students’ attention?
  • When might you encourage students to engage with support resources on campus? Many students utilize the Writing Center and Learning Assistance. Even in times of disruption, these offices often continue to offer writing and learning assistance consultations.
  • If students encounter bandwidth limitations, intermittent internet connections, or other technological hurdles, what alternate ways can you provide for them to access materials or participate in activities? For example, might students be able to submit comments on a discussion board if they are unable to participate in an in-class discussion?

Additional Resources