In the context of online learning, accessibility refers to the ability of all students to access online learning materials free from barriers and approaches to providing accessible content can be broken down into two broad considerations.
Providing content in a way in which there is universal access for those with visual, spatial, cognitive and/or specific learning difficulties.
Providing content in a way that ensures all learners have access using the technology they have available, making content easy to access on a range of devices (mobile, tablet, pc, etc.) and providing content in formats that do not discriminate against those with older or outdated technology.
The above descriptions are not the exhaustive or the only considerations that need to be made to ensure content is universally accessible. Doing so requires a learner-centred commitment to reducing all barriers which is an incredibly important aspect of delivering a high-quality, inclusive online learning experience.
In addition to supporting inclusive and barrier-free learning, recent regulations require public sectors bodies to meet accessibility standards. The standards vary depending on the content and method of publication, i.e website, app and date of publication.
JISC provides a wealth of information and support to help your institution meet accessibility regulations. Your institution should have an accessibility statement which describes the institutional approach to supporting accessible learning.
Your learning technology team should also be able to answer questions about accessibility and support you when creating accessible resources.
To help you get started, some simple approaches to avoiding barriers to your content include;
Avoid using colour only to highlight difference- use symbols or numbers in addition to colours, including on graphs and charts.
Avoid using small font sizes and densely packed text on screen.
Ensuring sufficient contrast where the text sits on a background and avoiding using text on images
Provide a downloadable transcript for all audio or video resources
Provide closed captions on recorded videos
Providing an ‘alternative text’ description for images, graphics and charts - speak with your learning technology team to assist you in doing so.
Avoid the use of interactive elements which cannot be completed using a mouse or trackpad alone, such as some dragging activities.
You can view some clear and highly recommended infographics from the Home Office Digital which highlight some of the key approaches to creating accessible digital resources.
Accessibility can also refer to the concept of learners having ‘digital access’ to resources, as highlighted in the second consideration earlier. Like learning need-focused accessibility, this refers to removing barriers and ensuring that all learners can access resources equally. Here are a few examples of potential digital access issues:
Journal articles which require subscriptions not provided by your institution’s library
Youtube censorship in some countries
Box of Broadcasts, which is intended for a UK audience, have opened their restrictions, but it is still not legally accessible worldwide
Software which is only provided for your students on computers physically situated on-campus- examples may include; statistics, media editing, computer-aided design software.
Content which is not playable or accessible on older operating systems or hardware.
It is important to note that whilst there are workarounds to providing access to resources that are restricted, using such workarounds may constitute a breach of the terms and conditions of using the resource and/or your contract with a supplier.
Where you cannot provide access to resources for all learners, it is better to seek alternatives, especially where restricted resources are part of the essential learning materials and a learner’s progress is dependent upon accessing it.
There is a wide range of open access resource repositories available, including some that have been made available free of charge to support teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic- including some Pearson resources. More information is available at the bottom of this page.
Take a look at some further resources to help you get to grips with accessibility and to help source alternatives to restricted content.
Unprecedented events call for supportive, scalable action. Pearson is committed to providing support and continuity to learners and educators around the world, as the whole Higher Education community prepares to move online. We’re giving free access to our core range of HE and English Language online courseware to support you at this time.