Accessibility Helps Everyone

One of the pillars of Universal Design Language, or UDL, is the idea that when you develop your instruction and assessments so they are accessible to a wide audience, including to those with sensory impairments, the results benefit everyone.

This dynamic exists across modalities, such that the more we design for students with certain sensory needs, the more we benefit the whole of our student body.

Adding images to your course content? Embed a description of the image using the “alt text” field (almost always editable when adding an image using an LMS’s content editor). One of the purposes of this field is to communicate to the visually impaired, through their screen readers, what content is being displayed in that place. Most folks have encountered alt text, regardless of whether they use a screen reader, when they’ve hovered their cursor over an image or diagram and noticed the pop-up text that appears after a few seconds. Students who use screen readers seek alt text for descriptions of what is imaged online; additionally, using alt text is simply good practice, as Google covers in their own Image Publishing Guidelines. Why? The internet does not recognize the content of images, and an LMS uses the architecture of the internet to organize and display content. Making sure images are well-described makes them easier for everyone to find and organize.   

Offering a video lecture? Hard-of-hearing students benefit from a transcript, but so do students who prefer reading over listening. Transcripts benefit english-language-learners as well as note-taking students who struggle with spelling and medical terminology. Text is easier to reference than a video for students who know the teacher said “that one thing about that one thing somewhere in that one lecture,” and is a life saver for the on-the-go adult learner revisiting material on the subway who may not have headphones with them.

Some Universal Design practices do not even require extra effort beyond making certain course materials available. For instance, the slides which you used to aid your presentation, either online or in person—make them available to download! Students with visual impairments may really benefit from being able to print the slides out, and all of your students will benefit from the ability to make contextual notes around your key points.

Minor design tweaks to make content available to those who might otherwise struggle to consume it add up to a better experience for everyone. Be sure to take advantage on behalf of all of your students.

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