Simple Tricks to Course Design with Accessibility in Mind

A week ago, I was notified that my course for Spring 2018 had been chosen by a student with a visual or hearing impairment, and that my course would need to be made accessible. At first I was nervous – I think it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to have your course design on display to people who aren’t your students, and obviously the stakes are pretty high in this particular situation. If my course wasn’t accessible, this student with a disability couldn’t function in my online course, and since my course is a general education requirement, they might not have another chance to complete this coursework. It’s a lot of pressure.

However, the accessibility review for my course was a breeze. Part of that is because the Office of Academic Technology does as much of the work as they can to ensure students can access all course materials. Another part of that, though, was that I’d done a few specific things when designing my course to make sure it was easy to read for everyone. That, in turn, made it more accessible for the student with disability.

One of the things I did as I designed my course was use headings in my course content in D2L Brightspace. My course is part of the beta for the new LMS, and there are several things you can do in D2L to make sure your content is accessible. Using headings is just part of it, but it’s an easy, straightforward thing you can do that will make your content more readable for all your students.

Another thing I did when designing my course content was use the accessibility checker in Word and Powerpoint to make sure my documents were accessible. I didn’t know about the accessibility checker until Dr. Petra Strassberg gave a training on it here in the OAT, but now that I realize how simple it is to use, I try to run it on everything I’m going to drop into my course. This way there are no glaring issues that I’m overlooking as I convert things to PDF and drop them into my course offering in D2L.

Finally, I checked over my course for images that might need descriptions, and added alt text to all of them. That’s easy to do in D2L – as soon as you upload an image, it prompts you to add alt text! With every image described in alt text or a caption, it was simple for the course review team to sign off on my course being accessible.

It’s much easier to think about accessibility from the beginning than it is to go back and re-do an entire course worth of content, so next time you’re creating new content for one of your courses, consider doing these three things: using headings, adding alt text, and using the accessibility checker in Microsoft, Adobe, or D2L. These are just three little things you can do to make your course more accessible for students with disabilities, and once you get in the habit, they’re surprisingly painless.

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