Schools and colleges that don't provide accessible routes, elevators, and ramps limit students with disabilities from being able to move freely. Similarly, when educational institutions create online content 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 essential principles, popularly known as POUR. To make digital learning accessible to all, educators should use these principles as the foundational pillars when designing content.
- Perceivable – Every student should be able to accurately perceive digital learning content, including students whose senses are affected by a disability.
- Operable – Every student should be able to interact with and navigate digital learning content, including students who are affected by a motor disability or use assistive devices for input.
- Understandable – Digital learning content should be consistent, predictably organized, and include easy-to-follow instructions and contextual support to ensure all students have equal opportunities to meet the learning objectives.
- Robust – Digital learning content should be compatible with various 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, digital lesson plans and resources will better meet the needs of diverse learners.
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, magnifiers, and color customization settings. To account for the needs of these students, educators should take the following steps.
Create screen reader-compatible content
Organizing and coding digital content purposefully will help to ensure that screen readers can read it aloud accurately. Students with visual impairment and many others may prefer read-aloud content. Educators can test whether their digital learning content is screen reader-friendly using tools such as Grackle Docs and Microsoft’s accessibility checkers.
Make use of alternative text
Alternative text (alt text) describes digital images and other non-textual content so that students with visual impairment understand what essential information they convey. A screen reader will read alternative text aloud. Complex images such as infographics should be supplemented with a long description or 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 elements with insufficient color contrast. Educators can use color contrast tools to test whether digital content meets accessibility standards. Similarly, test whether websites and other digital content included in lessons and resources are still sharp and clear when zooming in by 200%, 300%, and 400%.
Digital content for students with hearing impairment
Online class discussions, podcasts, and videos are now frequently used in schools and colleges as tools for student instruction and engagement. Students with hearing impairment may not be able to participate in or fully utilize these resources unless they receive an alternative format of the content.
Instructional audio content should include transcripts, and video content should include captions. Closed captions are preferable to subtitles because they convey background and other significant sounds, not just vocal content.
If conducting an audio-only class online using a digital platform such as Zoom, teachers should activate live transcription to make it more accessible to students with hearing impairment. Additionally, the transcripts will serve as a searchable resource for any student who may want to refer back to the content later.
Digital content for students with motor impairments
Students with motor impairments, whether these are permanent or temporary, may want to navigate digital content using voice commands, simplified gestures, or eye-tracking technology. Educators should ensure online instructional content supports not just keyboard and mouse users, but also students that use assistive technologies to navigate content hands-free.
Educators should consider digital accessibility best practices and features through every phase of course development. A proactive approach can make the process easier, more effective, and more efficient for teachers.