In September 2016, UC Berkeley made news for considering taking down their free MOOCs rather than making them accessible. The full Department of Justice letter cites Berkeley for inaccessible links, videos without captions, lack of alternate text on images and visuals, poor formatting of documents, and using inaccessible websites. UC Berkeley responded with a statement of their own, claiming that it would be too expensive to make the content accessible. This has sparked a small debate on accessibility and the responsibilities inherent in providing content (particularly free content, in this case) to the public. Institutions of higher education have a responsibility to serve all of their students, including those with disabilities.
Remember that not all students disclose their disabilities: a study by the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability cites between 60-80% of students with disabilities do not disclose their disability to teachers or administrators.
One of the easiest ways you can help all students is by using textbooks that are available in digital format. Electronic books can be used with screen reading programs, be read aloud by devices, and are often less expensive and lighter to carry than print books. Most new editions of books will be available electronically – reach out to your publishers and find out.
Institutions of higher education have a responsibility to serve all of their students, including those with disabilities.
An equally simple fix is inaccessible links – every link in this document is accessible, and writing them took no more time than writing inaccessible links.
In a similar vein, it’s very simple to show captions for films you screen in class. Most modern DVDs have closed captions available through their Settings menus. It is also possible to use a search engine (like Google) to find scripts for movies, so you can provide transcripts to students who might want them. A study by Oregon State University discovered that students use captions “to help them focus, to help them retain information, and to help…overcome poor audio quality,” as well as in situations where playing sound would be inappropriate – like library study. Another study, conducted by Communications in the UK, found that 80% of closed caption users were not D/deaf or hard of hearing.
Obviously, videos you have found on YouTube may not be captioned, but it doesn’t take very long at all to check. TEDTalks are often captioned, for example, as are all of the Sesame Street videos. Captioning your own videos is undoubtedly time-consuming: the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans estimates that it will take a person between five and ten minutes to caption each minute of video. You can reduce that time by creating a script before filming – captioning will become a matter of matching lines up to the moment you speak them. Scripts can also be provided to students who would like transcripts.
Finally, test/document formatting is simple and crucial. It’s important to not embed table cells within each other, to limit white space, and to use proper headings in order to make navigation with a keyboard and screen reader simple. It will help your tests look cleaner and easier to read for all students, and reduce stress on those who use assistive technology.
For more information, check out our Accessibility Basics article, where you can find more in-depth help on solving all of the problems the DoJ cited UC Berkeley for.