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Accessibility in the Classroom

Creating an inclusive and accessible classrooms requires courses to be designed and delivered with a diversity of learning styles in mind. Identifying and removing barriers to teaching and learning are critical components in creating an accessible classroom.

Physical access to the classroom is one component of accessibility in an academic environment. Tips on how to ensure the classroom layout is accessible can be found in sections 4 and 5 in the planning for accessibility checklist which can be downloaded here: Planning for Accessibility: A Checklist for Inclusion.

Ensuring the classroom environment is inclusive of students with disabilities (including invisible disabilities such as mental health and chronic illness) requires proactive measures such as:

  • Using inclusive language:
    • use person first language such as 'student with a disability'
    • avoid using adjectives as nouns e.g. 'the deaf, the blind, the disabled'. Rather use more respectful language such as 'the student who is hard of hearing'
  • Including a syllabus statement regarding the duty to accommodate students with disabilities
  • Addressing discriminatory behaviors or stereotypical comments as soon as possible. Silence or inaction may be taken as an endorsement

Common examples of accessibility in a classroom can include:

  • Providing reading lists and course syllabus in advance
  • Providing alternative formats (see Alternate Formats) of lecture notes ahead of time
  • Ensure lecture material is available electronically
  • Ensure instructions and expectations are clear and concise
  • Exercise accessible practices for presentation tools like PowerPoint or Prezi
Student Accessibility Services (SAS) can provide more detailed information about how to accomodate individual students. Visit the SAS website.

Accessibility in e-Learning

While online learning has the capacity to open up new opportunities for students with disabilities, it also has the potential to present barriers to learning if accessibility is not considered from the outset.

Several of the technologies used at McMaster for teaching online, whether in a blended classroom or entirely web-based learning, have features that can enhance their accessibility... if you know where to find them.

Some tips and resources are listed below, listed by technology:

Articulate

Camtasia

Captivate

Desire2Learn (Avenue to Learn)

Blackboard Collaborate (web conferencing tool)

For tips on making your PowerPoint or Prezi presentations more accessible, go to Tools above.


Articulate

Articulate is an e-learning authoring tool that (typically) takes an existing PowerPoint presentation, synchronizes it with audio narration and outputs to Flash video.

Accessibility features within Articulate include:

  • the ability to navigate the presentation via keyboard inputs (for learners who do not use a mouse),
  • the ability to include audio narration (for learners who are blind or have low vision), and
  • the ability to include slide-by-slide transcription (for learners who are deaf or hard of hearing).

Like most online learning tools, Articulate is not accessible by default - it requires conscientious actions on the part of the content creator to make use of its accessibility features.

To enhance the accessibility of an Articulate e-learning module, you may want to include:

  • a plain text transcription of the module's narration,
  • an accessibility guide to explain the accessibility features that you have built in to the presentation.

Further resources on accessibility in Articulate:

Word of Mouth Blog: Achieve Rapid Section 508 Compliance (US accessibility regulations)


Camtasia

Camtasia is a screen-recording software that allows you to make a video from your PowerPoint slides or anything else happening on your computer screen. It is commonly used for lecture capturing, or the act of recording a live lecture with both video and audio (i.e. from the speaker during a lecture) for later playback over the web.

Accessibility features within Camtasia include:

  • the ability to navigate the presentation via keyboard inputs (for learners who do not use a mouse),
  • the ability to include audio narration (for learners who are blind or have low vision), and
  • the ability to include captions (for learners who are deaf or hard of hearing).

To enhance the accessibility of a Camtasia recording, you may want to include:

  • a plain text transcription of the module's narration,
  • an accessibility guide to explain the accessibility features that you have built in to the presentation.

Further resources on accessibility in Camtasia:

For an accessibility rating of Camtasia, see: New York State University: IT Accessibility, Camtasia Studio

Check out this blog post on: Accessanatomy: Making anatomy lessons accessible to all students in higher education


Captivate

Captivate is an e-learning authoring tool used to create e-learning modules, similar to Articulate, that turns slides and audio narration into a Flash video.

Accessibility features within Captivate include:

  • the ability to navigate the presentation via keyboard inputs (for learners who do not use a mouse),
  • the ability to include audio narration (for learners who are blind or have low vision), and
  • the ability to include captions (for learners who are deaf or hard of hearing).

 To enhance the accessibility of a Captivate e-learning module, you may want to include:

  • a plain text transcription of the module's narration,
  • an accessibility guide to explain the accessibility features that you have built in to the presentation.

Further resources on accessibility in Captivate:

Accessibility best practices for Adobe Captivate (from the Adobe website)


Desire2Learn (aka Avenue to Learn)

Desire2Learn is the learning management system used by most faculties at McMaster.

Accessibility resources for learners with disabilities

Accessibility resources for instructors


Blackboard Collaborate

Collaborate is a web conferencing software used at McMaster that allows learners to participate in a live meeting, like a webinar, via an Internet connection.

Collaborate supports closed-captioning, uses both auditory and visual notifications for events in the session, and is accessible through keyboard inputs.

An overview of Collaborate's accessibility features

Accessibility guide for web conference participants

Accessible Documents

Many of the materials that we provide to students or exchange with colleagues are documents, like those created in MS Word or Excel. While documents can be among the most accessible formats for people with disabilities, it is important to be intentional about making them accessible by adopting a few simple practices.

These practices include:

  • Providing a text alternative for non-text content like images or charts
  • Using readable text: 12 to 18 point font size, with a sufficient contrast to the background color (the default of black on white is an accessible combination)
  • Using heading styles in proper order (e.g. heading 1 for section headers, heading 2 for sub-headers, etc.)
  • Using built-in structuring features such as lists, tables and columns, rather than trying to create similar formatting manually
  • Using meaningful hyperlinks - for example, McMaster Accessibility Website rather than http://accessibility.mcmaster.ca
  • Specifying the natural language of the document to help screen readers

How do you provide a text alternative for an image? Read on for resources to help you make your documents more accessible:

Accessible Digital Office Document Project

A comprehensive overview of techniques for making documents more accessible, with multiple versions of MS Office (and Office for Mac) represented. It covers:

  • word processing applications,
  • spreadsheet applications,
  • presentation applications, and
  • PDF creation applications.

Developed by the Inclusive Design Research Centre (OCAD).

Alternative Formats

Alternative format refers to a different way to access information other than by standard text or standard presentation. Alternative format is necessary when the standard text or presentation cannot be read or heard by the user.

Examples of standard text include:

  • Print documents
  • Microform (microfiche, microfilm, microcard) documents
  • Electronic documents

A common myth is that electronic documents are always accessible, however this is not true. For example, a PDF can be an image file and and inaccessible; a partially accessible file with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) run on it but without markup or tags; or a more fully accessible file with all markups and tags.

Examples of standard presentations are multimedia files such as podcasts, videos etc. If they are not captioned or if they do not have audio description, they are not accessible presentations.

Common Alternative Formats

  • Large Print (font size 16 or greater)
  • Braille (printed tactile documents)
  • Audio
    • MP3
    • Daisy (Audio only)
    • Audio description for multimedia
  • Electronic
    • Microsoft Word or other processor files
    • PDF
    • Daisy (audio and text)
    • HTML
    • Close captioned for multimedia

For information on how to create accessible Office documents, see Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project

For more information see OCAD’s Snow - What are Alternative Formats?

Assistive technologies (in progress)

Assistive technologies available through the library: http://library.mcmaster.ca/las/assistive-tech

For questions about assistive technologies, please contact Clark Cipryk, assistive technologist with Student Accessibility Services for more information.

Universal Design

Universal Design (UD) involves designing products and spaces to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible. Applying Universal Design principles thus benefits everyone, whether they identify as having a disability or not.

A widely used example of Universal Design is the curb cuts, or the part of the sidewalk that dips down to meet the level of the street. In additional to making it easier for wheelchair users to move from the sidewalk to the street, curb cuts also benefit parents with strollers and people pulling carts.

In education, the principles of Universal Design can be used by ensuring that your curriculum and instructional practices meet the needs of students with diverse abilities. Examples include providing alternate formats for course resources, and creating assignments with multiple options.

An introduction to Universal Design

The Center for Universal Design is the originary home of Universal Design, and - of course - has superb resources on Universal Design.

The Center has also produced posters and text documents explaining the seven principles of Universal Design.


Universal Instructional Design

The practice of designing a course so that all students can participate without requiring an accommodation is referred to as Universal Instructional Design (UID).

The University of Guelph has developed a comprehensive guide to incorporating Universal Instructional Design (UID) principles into your teaching.


Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, is another framework that provides recommendations for curriculum development according to the principles of Universal Design. UID and UDL are often used interchangeably, and the term Universal Design of Instruction (UDI) is also common. There are subtle differences between the concepts, but all emphasize equal access for all learners.

The UDL framework was developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) and their website has an abundance of resources.


Universal Design vs. Inclusive Design

The Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) has adopted the term 'inclusive design' to describe a more nuanced approach to designing for people with disabilities, with an emphasis on the digital environment:

Inclusive Design at OCAD