As accessibility becomes increasingly important in education, it’s important to take a step back and consider not just the tactics of making education more accessible, but the strategy.
The most important thing to understand is that accessibility is not a set of hoops to be jumped through. There’s no magic checklist that can be completed and then forgotten as done. It’s a journey that we’re all on together—students, instructors, educational institutions, disability advocates, technology providers—that may not have a specific end. The key will be developing an accessibility mindset—thinking not about specific requirements, but constantly looking for new ways to make education accessible to everyone.
What Does “Accessible” Mean?
When it comes to educational technology, “accessible” generally means that people with disabilities have the same exposure to educational materials, guidance, interactions, and services. They should be able to get the same education and participate in the community as easily as people without disabilities.
What counts as a disability? That’s a big list, and it keeps changing. That’s a good thing! That means we’re getting better at making things fair. As we learn more and more about how human brains and bodies work, and the huge diversity that includes, we’ll get better and better at helping everybody learn. But that can be a little intimidating when you’re trying to design educational materials that will work for everyone. So it’s important to examine as much of the experience as possible to find ways to work around issues.
For example, here’s some of the most well-known issues people may encounter when using video, and how they affect video. (Note: this is not an exhaustive list.)
Changes Required to Traditional Video
Blindness: All controls must be “readable” as audible or tactile output; audible track narrating onscreen actions
Learning disabilities such as dyslexia: All written content must be “readable” as audible output
Colorblindness: Higher contrast without using solely color to indicate meaning
Low vision: Larger icons
Deafness/impaired hearing: Captions, written descriptions of audio events
Motor impairments: Keyboard shortcuts for all video player functions
Why is Having an Accessibility Mindset Important? Why Not Just a Checklist?
Things change! As we mentioned, the concept of disability has evolved over time, and more populations who need accommodations have come forward. It’s safe to say that’s going to continue.
Technology changes, too. Automatically ordering captioning, for example, is something that’s become
increasingly easy to do. New ways of helping people access materials are developed. At the same time, entirely new technologies that will need to be adapted are also emerging. Augmented reality, virtual reality, and who knows what else is just waiting to revolutionize the ways we teach, learn, and work.
So it’s important to think not just about what specific details are legally required, but about people and their individual needs. Accessibility can’t be an afterthought. Going back and trying to put a band aid on a completed system will not work in the long run. Inst ead, as we continue to develop courses and technologies, it’s critical for us all to keep accessibility in mind, right from the start. That way, we can work together to build learning experiences that will be flexible enough to work for everyone.