Implementing the principles of universal design in online learning means anticipating the diversity of students that may enroll in your course and planning accordingly. Designing a course with principles of universal design in mind is an ongoing and creative process. One does not achieve the level of usability aspired to with a simple checklist, but with an open mind and a commitment to making design and inclusion a priority.
There are a few elements, though, that if taken into consideration, can enhance access and usability greatly. Knowing and incorporating these elements on the front end of the design process can save hours down the line.
1. Include a welcoming access statement.
A well-crafted access statement communicates your level of commitment to designing the course in a way that is inclusive and welcoming to all students—including those with disabilities—and provides guidance for students who encounter barriers.
- Include contact information for the campus disability resource office.
- Avoid the use of wording that inadvertently communicates that the primary reason for providing access is to be in compliance with the law.
- Avoid using language that places all of the responsibility for access on the student.
Your college may have a statement that you are required to use. If not, below are some samples you may use or modify to suit your needs.
2. Provide simple, consistent navigation.
- Be consistent throughout your course.
- Use concise, meaningful text for links.
- To the extent possible, avoid requiring students to drill down multiple times to reach your content.
- Provide a table of contents for easy navigation to all components of your course.
- Make sure all links can be controlled by keyboard-only navigation.
3. Choose tools carefully.
While many of the tools that are a part of most popular course management systems support helpful instructional strategies, they may present barriers for some students. An awareness of the potential barriers may help you determine when to use, when to avoid, and when to provide alternatives to these tools. For more on Universal Tool Design.pdf view the attached PDF.
4. Model and teach good discussion board etiquette.
- Encourage use of good discussion topics.
- Like this: Question about Assignment #2
- Not like this: Question
- Take advantage of threaded discussion
- Many students are in the habit of creating a new topic heading rather than replying to the previous one. Teach students the advantage of keeping the discussion board organized so that they can scan by topic. Good use of threaded discussions greatly reduces the need for students to open messages in order to determine their relevance.
5. Use color with care.
Provide good color contrast.
- Black text on a white or light background is the most readable.
- Patterns and images behind text make it more difficult to read.
- If you are creating an HTML document to post in your course, consider using CSS to assign colors. This allows the user to change the way colors are viewed if desired.
Do not use color alone to convey meaning.
- The use of color to convey meaning may result in your images or information not being accessible to students who are color blind.
- Some students may choose to print materials using a black and white printer. The images would not be meaningful once printed.
6. Make sure text is readable.
- Choose a sans serif font such as Arial or Helvetica for your text. These fonts are easier to read for most people but especially for those with low vision.
- Make sure font sizes are large enough to read comfortably.
- Avoid capitalizing or italicizing large blocks of text.
- As mentioned above, make sure you have good contrast between text color and background color.
- Limit the amount of text provided in graphics. Images may not magnify gracefully enough to be readable by students using magnification software.
7. Provide accessible document formats.
It is common to upload content in MS Word, Rich Text and PDF documents. Providing content in this way can be a great way to provide access for students because it makes content portable to other devices. The design of these documents can improve access or create a barrier for students. Below are a few tips for creating documents with greater usability. The resource highlights provide detailed tutorials on creating accessible documents.
Use headings to provide structure. People often make the mistake of creating headings by simply applying sizes, color, bold or italics. While this makes the document appear to have structure, there is not structure when someone reads the document using a screen reader.
- Provide alternative text for images.
- Create lists by using the actual ordered and unordered list tools.
- Avoid the use of Word Art and text box tools.
8. Describe graphics and visual elements.
When used effectively, images can greatly improve the experience of students in an online course. Images help tell the story you want to tell and may help messages stick with the learner longer. For a person who does not see the images, though, it is important to provide the information th0se students are missing.
- In Microsoft Word, some course management system and most HTML editors, the user has the option of adding an image description or alternate text. Make sure to add the text description by simply describing what the user who does not see the object is missing.
- Descriptions are not necessary for any images that are purely aesthetic.
- Sometimes charts and graphs will require longer explanations to be meaningful. In HTML, there is an element called “long description” that can be used for this. If you are not using HTML you will need to find another way to provide that description. An excellent approach is simply to describe the chart as you would if you were talking about it and include that description in the text of the document. You may want to consult with the disability resource office on your campus for these longer descriptions. See also the resources below.
- Besides still images, instructors often use videos to enhance learning. There are often visual elements in a video that are crucial to understanding the content. This may include names and titles of speakers in the video, demonstrations of processes, text on the screen that is not spoken, or portions of the story line that are not revealed by the dialogue. These elements which are missing for someone who does not see them, will need to be described.
- When you are creating a video, keep this in mind as you create it. A well-designed video can provide descriptions of most if not all of the visual elements naturally without requiring a later “add-on” audio description. Consult with the disability resource office on your campus for more information about audio description services.
9. Caption videos and transcribe audio clips.
Captioning videos used to be a highly technical process out of the reach of anyone who was not a extremely technology savvy. That has all changed. If you can upload a video to YouTube or Vimeo, you can also learn to caption your videos. The process requires just a few simple steps.
- Create a transcript of your video.
- Add information about audio that is not dialog such as music or background noise.
- Add names of speakers if appropriate.
- Add timings (great tools below for doing this).
Upload caption file. It’s that simple. A word of warning. Do not rely on automatic captioning in YouTube. It is not accurate enough to provide equal access. What if the video you are showing is not your own? There is a solution for that as well. It is called Overstream, It allows you to create captions for any online video and the service will stream your captions over that video.
If you are using audio files with no video, you can simply create a transcript of the audio file and post it below the audio file.
10. Rethink, redesign PowerPoint presentations.
Presentation software applications, like PowerPoint, are designed to provide visual information to augment a live presentation. Often instructors use the same PowerPoint presentations they have developed for a face-to-face course and drop it into the online course. This is often ineffective because much of the information is missing. In order for a PowerPoint presentation to be effective as a stand alone elearning resource, it has to be designed differently. It is worth reconsidering whether this format is the best way to deliver our content in an online course.
The tutorials below provide tips on creating accessible PowerPoint presentations. Depending on the design of your PowerPoint, the best way to provide equal access may vary, but these tutorials will help you make a traditional PowerPoint more accessible to a non-visual user.
Some of the tips to keep in mind are:
- Avoid starting with a blank slide and adding a custom text box.
- Instead, choose the layout that fits your slide design.
- Look at the “outline view” of the slide to see if the text on your slide is visible there.
- Describe images, charts and graphs with alternative text.