Online education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.
I encountered that sentence recently in becoming certified to teach online courses using Canvas, which is the newly adopted learning management system for Foothill College and many other California community colleges. It gave me pause.
What does it mean for the course-taking experience to be the same?
Let’s take multimedia as a case in point. What if I am using videos, podcasts, and the currently popular infographic in my course? I’ve learned that I can meet the legal requirements by providing closed captioning for any videos and transcripts for any audio recordings. An infographic is, at base, an image, so I need to provide ALT-text. Providing ALT-text for a picture of George Washington or a 2016 BMW X3 is pretty straightforward, though one still must decide how much detail to give (who painted George? what color is the X3?). An Infographic, on the other hand, is meant to convey a story and contains lots of information. So if I’m going to use an infographic in my course, I’m assuming my ALT-text needs to include any text that is in the image plus an explanation of the story the image is trying to tell. Similar detail would need to be provided for any graph or chart (doesn’t do much good to simply write, “Graph comparing profit and loss 2010-2016).
Now, assuming videos are captioned, transcripts are provided for all audio recordings, and thorough, cogent, and accurate written descriptions are provided for all images that carry course content, will the course-taking experience for students with disabilities be the same as those without disabilities? Personally, I think not.
Ultimately, it seems, if one wants to make the course-taking experience the same for all, then design the course completely text-based. Eliminate videos, recordings, and images. Use well written expository text. If fact, when I posed this as a question to the instructor in a webinar I took on “Making your course accessible,” she replied, with some chagrin, “Well, I suppose so—but not that you’d want to do that.”
Of course I don’t want to do that! I just feel a great sense of irony that we now have so many wonderful multimedia tools and open educational resources available, yet many of them I simply won’t be able to use in my courses and others I may find myself avoiding because, let’s face it, it will take a lot more time to do it right.