SOAR @ Furman
The SOAR office works with many departments on campus to provide reasonable accommodations for students with medical, physical or psychological conditions. Instructors receive emails for each student detailing what accommodations have been approved, the student’s responsibilities in pursuing these accommodations, and who instructors should contact with questions. Additionally, instructors now will be able to access this information for all students in their courses through the SOAR Dashboard (login required). SOAR has created several video tutorials including one on how to use this site. The SOAR website contains a wealth of information about academic accommodations and other accommodations, including Quick Links for access to the most frequently requested services. SOAR is in the Earle Infirmary; enter through the back of the building. Check out this video as an overview of the SOAR office.
Creating Accessible Online Content
Though often thought of in relation to people with different physical abilities, web accessibility can benefit all users— making it easier for them to perceive, understand, navigate, interact, and contribute to the information and functionality that make up your web platform. Thankfully, web accessibility is not difficult to achieve. A number of LMS systems—including Moodle —care about accessibility, take it seriously, and incorporate best practices (Rogers, 2018).
It is now easier than ever to ensure that your course documents are accessible to a wide range of learners thanks to the recent deployment of Ally, an accessibility tool to help promote full student inclusion. Ally is fully integrated into the Moodle learning management system and is designed to assist faculty in the review and improvement of course documents for accessibility. A recent message highlighted a valuable new accessibility tool that is now available for all courses via Moodle. In this Lunch and Learn session from November 2021, colleagues from SOAR introduce the tool and answer questions about how you might begin to use this new resource to support more inclusive learning environments. Please contact the Student Office of Accessibility Resources (SOAR) with questions.
What Moodle Will Take Care Of For You
If you’re using an LMS like Moodle built with accessibility in mind the hard work has been done for you. Here’s what you can count on, right out of the box (Rogers, 2018):
- ‘Alt tag’ text descriptions required for all images.
- The ability to designate a student as the user of a screen reader, so that page content adapts to the read-out-loud format and that interfaces are simplified to remove clutter.
- Long lists of links can be skipped by the screen reader.
- Zoom-enabled, allowing users to increase the size of content for better readability.
- Keyboard navigation, important for users with mobility limitations.
What You Need To Do To Make Online Content Accessible
A good LMS will do the heavy-lifting for you, but content must still be created, organized, and formatted by instructors with these 3 best practices in mind:
1) Present content in accessible formats, and in multiple ways
All text-based content should be uploaded in an accessible manner. For all documents you upload to online spaces, this means that these documents should not be images (scanned or photo-copied documents) but word processor or original pdf documents so that they can be utilized by a screen reader. LinkedIn Learning offers a great crash course on creating accessible documents.
All non-text content should be paired with a text alternative. In practice, this means (Rogers, 2018):
- ‘Alt tags’ for images written to clearly describe what the image depicts
- Videos with captions describing the audio track
- Audio with a text transcript
- Form inputs labeled
Videos and other visual multimedia content such as infographics, GIFs, and animations should be paired with a description. For example:
- A text description of the content, for screen readers
- An audio description
2) Organize, Structure, And Make Content Clear
It is important to know that how content is displayed on a web page does not necessarily represent how the content is organized and structured in the underlying markup—the HTML. Screen readers read the markup, not the page presented visually in the web browser (Rogers, 2018).
Using your LMS content editor’s formatting tools correctly will make better underlying markup, and a better experience for screen-reader users. Here’s how:
- Don’t just bold titles and headers—use the correct ‘styles’ to organize and identify different levels of headings.
- Don’t use hyphens or other characters to manually mark up lists—use the bulleted or numbered list styles.
- Don’t use tables to style content—but do use them if you are presenting an actual table of data.
- Don’t use colored or highlighted text to make passages stand out—use bold for importance, italic for emphasis, and blockquote for call-outs or quotes.
- Avoid using color on its own to distinguish or organize content, as color-blind users might have difficulty discerning differences.
- Ensure sufficient contrast—dark and light—between visual elements.
While HTML markup organizes and structures the content, visual styling does matter in making content clear and discernible for users with limited vision or with learning disabilities:
3) Make Content and Navigation Consistent
All web users—of all abilities—face a learning curve when encountering a user interface for the first time. Ensuring consistency in how navigation and content are organized and displayed helps decrease the learning curve, and improves accessibility—for everyone. Creating an orientation/welcome tutorial that orientates new users to the primary navigation and tools used in your LMS will help all users start on the right path.
While best practices like the ones outlined here are helpful for improving the accessibility, the best way to make sure your online platform is doing the best job it can is to ask the people who depend on it. Get feedback from the people who use it regularly. Ask them to show you where they’re having trouble and what barriers they’re facing. Adopting that feedback—acknowledging pain points and working to alleviate them—is what will truly make your online platform accessible (Rogers, 2018).
For more information about accessibility in online platforms:
- Furman SOAR Accessibility Resources for Faculty and Staff
- Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) – Easy Checks
- National Center on Disability and Access to Education – Accessibility “cheatsheets”
Inclusive Pedagogy & Design
Whether you are already utilizing inclusive pedagogy in your course or are new to the practice, this Inclusive Pedagogy Strategy Guide might help you evaluate your practices. In addition, this “Starting Point” document for inclusive teaching is a worthwhile resource to review no matter what mode of teaching you engage in. Please find a host of additional resources, including workshop materials, handouts, and peer-reviewed literature in our “Fostering Inclusive Learning Environments” folder in the FDC Commons (see Teaching Resources section).
Universal Design for Learning
As this recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education notes, flexibility is one aspect of designing a more inclusive learning experience for our students. By creating flexible courses, you can inherently enhance the inclusivity of that course. In fact, instructional strategies like Universal Design for Learning hold adaptable, flexible course design as a hallmark of efforts to increase access and enhance participation of members of our learning community with diverse needs. To consider how you might improve your course for inclusive learning, you can find an interactive UDL checklist here or you might find this shorter version focused on the “learner centered” nature of your course here.
- Universal Design Overview and Resources – DO-IT University of Washington
- Universal Design Guidelines – CAST
- Universal Design for Learning Practicum Resource for Educators (open access)
Transparency in Learning and Teaching In Higher Education
The Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education project (TILT Higher Ed) is an award-winning national educational development and research project that helps faculty to implement a transparent teaching framework that promotes college students’ success. By focusing on removing barriers to success, the framework is designed to facilitate a more equitable learning experience. This resource provides detailed information about the TILT framework, example assignments, and tools for creating or revising your own transparent assignments. The redesign of your course assignments for FurmanFlex instruction provides a valuable opportunity to develop more transparent course activities. You might enjoy this Learning by Design studio on revising assignments using the TILT framework.
Inclusive design asks us to focus on the learning outcomes we have for our students and the best approaches to evaluate if and to what degree students can demonstrate the attainment of those objectives through different modes of engagement. These adaptations are timely, as they occur within a broader context of work to support more equitable assessment strategies on college campuses. Highlighted in this recent article, the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment has just released several in-depth case studies of promising practices to advance inclusive assessment. As you redesign and revision assessment practices for your courses, we have an opportunity to incorporate lessons from these case studies to support a more equitable campus culture and curriculum.
- Equity Learning Institute – Free Courses from Equity Literacy Institute
- Anti-Racism Resources – GoodGoodGood
- Inclusive Teaching Strategies – Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Washington
- Inclusive Course Design – The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University
- Responding to Racial Bias and Microaggressions in Online Environments – San Diego State University
- How to Address Trauma Related to Curriculum Violence – Teach.com
- Inclusive Moves – The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University
- Inclusive Pedagogy Guide – Chronicle of Higher Education
- Confronting Prejudice: How to Protect Yourself and Others – Pepperdine University
- Promising Practices from Trauma-Informed Pedagogy – Furman FDC
- NameShouts – Pronounce Names Correctly!
- Rogers, S. eLearning Accessibility: Best Practices, Tips, And Tricks. (2018). eLearning Industry