Principles of universal design will allow for better educational outcomes for students with disabilities, and for students with a variety of learning styles.
UB is required to provide students with disabilities with access to our courses and programs. Designing courses with accessibility in mind is critical to ensuring that everyone can participate and learn.
Instructors may incorporate PowerPoint presentations, slides, handouts and other visual information as part of courses. Increasingly, instructors are incorporating clickers, videos and other technology to enhance instruction. It is essential that the content of this information can be accessed by every student in the class. Ways to achieve this include:
- Individual accommodation. Under UB's Reasonable Accommodation Policy, UB must provide necessary academic adjustments and auxiliary aids to allow students with disabilities to access course materials. These may include, but are not limited to, interpreters, technological aids, providing course materials such as PowerPoint slides in advance, and notes.
- Universal design. Creating access to materials for individuals with a wide range of abilities and learning styles can often reduce or eliminate the need for individual accommodations.
"Hybrid" or "blended" courses incorporate both traditional classroom instruction and elements of online learning. Online activities are intended to supplement and enhance classroom instruction and interaction. Examples of hybrid courses can include:
- the instructor lectures and facilitates class discussion in the classroom, students complete online assignments based on these classroom activities, then these online assignments are posted to asynchronous discussion forums for online discussion;
- students view an instructor's lectures online with voiceover PowerPoint or streaming media, then subsequently in class use these materials to engage in face-to-face small group activities and discussions;
- the instructor assigns small group projects online, and students then post them to discussion forums for debate and revision, and later present them in class for final discussion and assessment.
The content of online courses must be accessible to individuals with disabilities in order to ensure that they have equal access and opportunity. This requires careful planning when creating course content and structure. Instructors must consider the following:
- Is the content management system used to create the course accessible with the use of a screen reader?
- Can navigation be achieved through a keyboard, or is it dependent upon the use of a mouse?
- If the course includes PDFs, are these stored as images, or can they be read as text with a screen reader?
- Do tests and quizzes allow for extended time when these are required as accommodations?
- Are videos captioned? Is the visual information presented in videos described well enough to convey its content to individuals with visual impairments?
- Does the course use online discussion boards and/or chat features? If so, are these accessible with a screen reader?
A few tips can help improve the experience for all learners:
- Present content in multiple ways (a combination of text, images, and audio/visual content).
- Provide alternative text descriptions for images.
- Caption videos. This is helpful not only for individuals with hearing impairments, but also for anyone who cannot use speakers due to technological or situational reasons.
- Minimize the use of PDFs, or offer documents in multiple formats (ex. Word and PDF).
- Understand that users will have a range of technological skills.
- Keep navigation and format simple, to the extent possible. Although more complex designs and layouts may seem more visually appealing, they are more likely to create confusion and to be inaccessible.
- Use bold fonts and color combinations that are high contrast.
- Order content with logical headings.
- Ensure that individuals with disabilities have options for communicating and collaborating with others.