Faculty Leverage Course Design to Start the Accessibility Conversation

Faculty Leverage Course Design to Start the Accessibility Conversation

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Consider this quote from a 2018 article published in Educause Review: “To meet the needs of all users, colleges and universities must weave a mindset of accessibility into institutional culture, using a process that includes all parts of a campus.”

Because the touchpoint for accessibility is often students, building accessibility into the campus culture tends to begin with instructional materials. In a January virtual workshop hosted by the California Community Colleges Accessibility Center, college representatives discussed how course development has been the starting point for accessibility efforts on their campuses.

At Coastline College, an accessibility mindset is baked into the Canvas course design process, starting with a training course that faculty must take before they can be eligible to teach in an online or hybrid course.

Designed and taught by Sylvia Amito’elau, an instructional designer, the course includes a video introducing three individuals with different disabilities that affect how they interact with instructional materials. Putting a face on accessibility issues helps faculty to internalize the value of accessible course design. The course then introduces accessibility best practices as various tools and concepts come into play.

Additionally, Amito’elau has designed an accessible Canvas course template that faculty are encouraged to use when they develop their online courses. Coupled with a staged review process, this results in fewer accessibility issues and greater consistency for students, she said.

Foothill College is also continually working to raise institutional awareness around accessibility, said Lené Whitley-Putz, dean of Instructional Technology. In terms of courses and instructional materials, professional development has been the main thrust in collaboration with the Disability Resource Center and Student Services, using a combination of tactics to continually reinforce accessibility principles.

These include targeted accessibility checks, group training in accessibility and Universal Design for Learning, peer reviews, weekly accessibility tips in Canvas and targeted email outreach to raise faculty awareness of accessibility tools, training and other resources.

Faculty at Southwestern College are privileged to be supported by a full-time accessibility and compliance specialist, explained Tracy Schaelen, distance education coordinator. The specialist reports to the IT department but is part of the DE team and works hand-in-hand with DSPS.

In addition to faculty training and content review, the specialist performs accessibility reviews of publisher applications requested in the DE addenda required for curriculum approval. If accessibility issues are found, the specialist will invite the publisher to bring the application into compliance before the curriculum can be re-submitted for approval. This is often a months-long process, but it helps to ensure courses are equitable for all students, Schaelen said.

A video recording of the workshop presentation is available here. For information about accessibility tools and services available to all California community colleges, visit the CCC Accessibility Center.