An Introduction to Digital Accessibility

This post was originally posted on Remote Teaching Resources as part of an EDCI 565 assignment. It was co-written with Joanna Lake.

Since COVID-19 forced the world to embrace online learning, we’ve been hearing a lot about issues of access. When all education is taking place online, what happens to students who don’t have access to a device, or to the internet? This issue seems to have dominated conversations, and many schools and districts have stepped up to loan out computers, create wireless hotspots and provide students with USB internet. What we haven’t been hearing people talk about is broader issues of accessibility and online content.

Creating an educational experience online that is accessible to all starts with understanding accessibility, recognizing the barriers to content that some students may face, and implementing techniques and strategies to reduce those barriers for all, right from the very beginning.

This post will introduce readers to digital accessibility. After viewing the curated resources, educators will be able to understand the barriers and issues students may encounter when using and accessing digital materials for learning. 

What is accessibility?

There are many different reasons why something might be inaccessible for a user. There are various types of disabilities, and each may come with its own barriers to accessing digital content. Additionally, some individuals may have multiple conditions requiring necessary accommodations to have equitable access.

For our purposes, accessibility means that all learners have the same opportunities to acquire resources, interact with materials, engage in activities and create content, regardless of disability. Although accessibility is an essential requirement for those with disabilities, providing accessible content benefits all learners. 

Digital accessibility ensures that all resources and materials shared digitally are easily accessible for all. It means that everyone can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with and contribute to digital resources and spaces

Personal stories of barriers to learning

As educators, we all want the learning experience to be inclusive and enjoyable for all. However, we can sometimes be unaware of the barriers that certain students face, or we can underestimate how difficult certain tasks may be for students. The resources that follow all highlight personal stories from individual learners who have experienced barriers due to inaccessibility.

  • What is accessibility? (video): This video shares the responses of four people with disabilities to the question “what is accessibility?” Their responses highlight situations in which they have experienced barriers to participation, both inside and outside of learning contexts.
  • A personal look at accessibility in higher education (video): Students and staff in higher education share their experiences with accessing content on the internet, identifying barriers they have faced, expressing their frustration and sharing the solutions that have helped.
  • Accessibility of online course content (video): Stories from students whose education has been impacted by inaccessible web content.
  • Stories of web users (web page): Presents a number of scenarios involving people with disabilities using the web to highlight accessibility barriers and solutions.

Experience inaccessibility

How can we build further understanding of why we need to create accessible content? Well, we can experience inaccessibility.

Accessibility legislation and policy

While accessibility should be automatically integrated into everything we do, sometimes legislation and policy is created in order to create standards and hold people accountable. Whether or not your jurisdiction has accessibility-related legislation and policies, understanding pieces of these documents can help you to understand some of the standards we should all be upholding. 

  • Accessible Canada Act (web page): This article provides an overview of Bill C-81 (The Accessible Canada Act), including web accessibility requirements and who must comply with these requirements. 

Some provinces also have individual accessibility acts:

On a global scale, many leaders have committed their respective countries to following the guidelines set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Of specific interest: 

People to follow

Learn more about the experiences of people with disabilities by following these individuals:

Featured image by Joanna Lake

Nicole Crozier

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