Without accessibility features, such as elevators and ramps, a school or college limits the ability of students with disabilities to move freely. Similarly, when we create online content in educational institutions without paying attention to digital accessibility, it may restrict the learning opportunities for students with disabilities.
Digital Learning Content Should Meet the POUR Principles
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have laid out four important principles, popularly known as the “POUR” principles. To make digital learning accessible to all, educators should use these principles as the foundational pillars while designing the content.
- Perceivable: Every student should be able to correctly perceive the digital learning content, including students whose senses are affected by a disability.
- Operable: Every student should be able to interact with and navigate the digital learning content, including students who are affected by a motor disability or use assistive devices for input.
- Understandable: The digital learning content should be organized in a way to make it more consistent and predictable, and backed by easy instructions and contextual support to ensure the learning objectives can be met equally for all students.
- Robust: The digital learning content should have compatibility with a variety of assistive devices, browsers, apps, and software programs to make it as accessible as possible for all students.
When educators, including digital content developers and curators, apply the POUR principles to their instructional toolkits, they will meet the needs of diverse learners more effectively with their digital lesson plans and resources.
Digital Content for Students with Visual Impairment
Digital images, graphics, and videos have become powerful interactive tools for instruction in educational institutions at all levels. But students with visual impairment may rely on assistive devices and solutions, such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, and color customization settings. To account for the needs of these students, educators should:
Create screen reader-compatible content
Organizing and coding digital content purposefully will help to ensure that a screen reader can read it aloud in a comprehensible manner. Students with visual impairment and many others may prefer read-aloud content to understand the correct pronunciation. Educators can test whether their digital learning content is screen reader friendly using features such as Grackle Docs (for Google Drive Documents) and Microsoft’s accessibility checkers.
Make use of alternative text
Alternative text (alt text) needs to describe the intent of digital images and slideshows so that students with visual impairment understand what is being conveyed. A screen reader will read alternative text aloud. More intricate images, such as infographics, should be described using long-form alt text or can be made available in another accessible format, such as a data table.
Test the content for color contrast and zoom
Students with a color vision deficiency may find it hard to differentiate between certain elements that are similar in color. Educators can use Color Contract Analyzer tools to test whether the instruction content in digital format uses color contrast that conforms to accepted accessibility standards. Similarly, the digital content or online pages to be used as a lesson should be checked by zooming in at 200%, 300%, and 400% zoom to check whether the text, images, and graphs are still sharp and clear.
Digital Content for Students with Hearing Impairment
Online class discussions, podcasts, and videos are now frequently used in schools and colleges as digital tools for student instruction and engagement. Students with hearing impairment may not be able to participate in or utilize these tools unless they receive an alternative format of the content.
When providing recorded instructional audio content, it should include transcripts, and when using video content, it should always include captions. Synchronized captions are ideal because they capture specific background sounds, not just vocal dialogue.
If conducting a class online using a digital platform such as Zoom, teachers should activate live transcriptions so that audio-only online classes become more accessible to students with hearing impairments. Additionally, the transcriptions will serve as a searchable database for all students who may want to refer back to the content after the session ends.
Digital Content for Students with Motor Impairments
Students with motor impairments, whether these are permanent mobility disabilities or temporary impairments (such as a fractured thumb), may want to navigate digital content using voice commands, simplified gestures, or eye tracking sensor technology. Educators should ensure the online instructional content supports not just the regular keyboard and mouse users but also students that use assistive technologies mirroring keyboard functions.