May 12, 2022

How can we improve accessibility through instructional design? #DLNchat

Can proactive instructional design remove barriers to access for learners? Will artificial intelligence play a role in improving accessibility? How can institutions create a culture of collaboration to support Universal Design? On Tuesday, May 8, the #DLNchat community gathered to discuss and debate: How can we improve accessibility through instructional design?

As we often do at #DLNchat, we started with a definition of terms. We talked about the differences between accessibility and usability, legal considerations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the concept of UDL (universal design for learning). Robin Tamez melded these definitions nicely: “Accessibility starts with meeting standards and goes beyond removing barriers for as many digital learners as possible. Universal Design is a framework of principles for achieving accessibility for the greatest number of learners. In the spirit of multimodal representation, Ryan Straight also shared a graphical representation of how to view different disabilities:

Chart illustrating disabilities as permanent, temporary and situational

And Jennifer Albat shared an illustration of what a design for all effort is NOT:

Cartoon representing a professor asking a monkey, an elephant, a goldfish, a seal and a dog to climb a tree.

Regardless of how they represented their concepts, #DLNchat-Ters agree: Accessibility starts early in the design process. Phyllis Brodsky put it this way: “The commitment to accessibility must be genuine, not rote, and upfront, not an afterthought…The application of sound pedagogy that stimulates design and truly integrates the UDL is fundamental.”
Part of this process is considering the platform the course will be built on. As Albat pointed out, “The LMS alone can be a challenge on its own. Screen readers have a hard time with the separate sections.” His institution, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is working to address these issues by implementing Blackboard Ally. Cathy Germano shared her appreciation for Canvas LMS elements supporting accessible design. Leah Chuchran-Davis reminded people that LMS integration capabilities can reduce accessible choices early in the design process pedagogic.

As this process continues, #DLNchat-ters have come up with different checks and balances to try to improve accessibility. At the University of Alaska Anchorage, Katie Walker said, “Credentials use an accessibility rubric to navigate and identify issues in online course content.” Germano explained the process in place at Excelsior College: “We have implemented a checklist on our collaborative intranet to ensure that all programs and activities have accessibility solutions.” Representatives from Spring Arbor University also shared their system: “We are working on a consistent ADA compliance structure using our Assistant ID and style guide as quality assurance.”

All these systems #DLNchat-ters agree, must exist within an institutional culture dedicated to collaborative access. Leanne Riseley suggested approaching accessibility from a social justice perspective. Jim Hounslow’s proposal was “to introduce empathy and inclusion: to move from isolated design processes to the involvement of people. Raise awareness, be people-centered and build relationships involving people with disabilities. Others had more concrete suggestions, such as including an accessibility assessment in the job descriptions of instructional designers. Trish Brière said, “We have an integrated ADA team within our learning design unit. They help educate us and the rest of the university. One of the key elements is to go beyond providing retroactive access for students with disabilities and towards proactive access designed for all learners.

So can proactive instructional design and technology work together to break down barriers to access? the #DLNchat the community agreed: technology alone is not enough. As Cole Eskridge said, “We can’t expect technology to break down these barriers until the developers of these tools start taking accessibility seriously from the start. We also have a responsibility to ask them to take accessibility seriously in our contracts/purchasing choices. Sherri Restauri reminded us to keep in mind “technology will also continue to change in 10-20 years, we’re going to have to adapt with it. A better chance of catching up if we start with total inclusion in mind from the design phase of all technologies. In other words, product companies have as much of a role as institutions and instructional design teams. Some have wondered: will artificial intelligence also play a role? Maybe, but as Dr. Straight chanted, “Repeat after me: tech is no panacea, tech is no panacea, tech is no panacea…”

Browse it #DLNchat for all the thoughts in this chat, as well as LOTS of great resources related to accessibility and instructional design. You can also share your own thoughts and questions! RSVP for our next chat: What are your professional development plans for summer 2018? Tuesday, May 22 at 1 p.m. PT / 4 p.m. ET for early reminders. For other topics, see our index of past discussions. #DLNchat is co-hosted by Online Learning Consortium, WCET and Tyton Partners.