Universal Design and Accessibility Universal Design for Learning (UDL) draws on an architectural framework for accessibility called "Universal Design," the practice of making architectural spaces and physical objects as accessible to as many people as possible, without calling for special kinds of accommodations. For instance, a sidewalk ramp is essential for people in wheelchairs, but also helpful for parents wheeling strollers, travelers rolling suitcases, and bikers. We can apply the same approach to learning, by designing our courses so that they are as accessible to as many students as possible. Please note that the Office for Disability Services (ODS) ensures that students receive appropriate accommodations regarding their specific needs. UDL does not serve that function. Why use UDL? UDL expands the idea of accessibility beyond the boundaries of any one specific diagnosed disability to assert two things that we know about learning from neuroscience. Everyone learns in different ways and these differences fall into common patterns for which we can plan. We can create options regarding the how of learning (the ways that students express themselves and demonstrate understanding), the what of learning (how we make content accessible), and the why of learning (how we elicit students’ feelings of motivation and connection to learning). By designing your course to be as accessible as possible to as many students as possible, you help not just students with specific diagnosed disabilities, but all students. For instance, including closed captions in videos is essential for hearing-impaired students, but it also helps students who speak English as a foreign language or students who may be watching in louder, busy places such as the gym. Not just in offering content, but also when designing an assignment, we encourage you to think strategically about what requirements will meet your specific learning goal(s) and where flexibility may lie: do students need to write an essay, or would making a podcast or blog post accomplish your learning goals? Do they need to work on a specific topic, or could they choose their topic of focus? Best practices for Content Accessibility Here are some general best practices regarding making content accessible more broadly, following UDL practices. Images: Include alternative descriptions for any images or label these images as "decorative" Canvas, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and most other digital tools allow you to give an alternative description. This enables students who use screen readers to understand the image's key message or information. Helpful links: Microsoft Word Accessibility Guidance. Google Docs and Slides Accessibility Tips. Microsoft PowerPoint Accessibility Tips. Videos: Include and review closed captions in all videos. Closed captions help hearing-impaired students access the video, and are also useful for other students, such as those for whom English is not their primary language. Studies have shown that a vast majority of students find closed captions useful for their learning. Panopto Video, YouTube, Harmonize Discussion, and many other video applications and players offer automatic closed captioning, often easily editable for errors. Documents and slides: Use headers, built-in lists, and styles to organize Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Google Documents You can always change the font and size of the built-in headers, but designating the "title" and different heading and subheading labels makes your document more navigable. Each application also has built-in accessibility checkers that can quickly determine issues with accessibility: Microsoft Word Accessibility Guidance. Google Docs and Slides Accessibility Tips. Microsoft PowerPoint Accessibility Tips. PDFs: Make your PDFs accessible as texts Instructors often rely on PDFs to share course content, but if scanned as an image these will not be accessible to screen readers as "texts" (called an OCR, or “Optical Character Recognition,” version). This is often where most issues arise with accessibility in Canvas courses. PDFs can be converted to OCRed versions through Adobe Acrobat. The library has excellent tools for creating OCR versions, so if in doubt, add your content through Reserves or contact the Firestone library Reserves staff. If converting a Word or Google document into a PDF, make sure first to include headers and descriptions of any images or tables in the original document, which will then transfer to the PDF. Links: Give substantive information to links, rather than listing "click here" Verbal descriptions can help individuals with screen readers—and others!—to navigate. Colors and contrast: Include contrasting colors; do not rely on color alone to convey information. Many of us have some form of deficiency in color vision. Be sure to convey meaning by other means than color, and ensure that text-to-background contrast is sufficient. Accessibility checkers: Take advantage of the Ally and the native accessibility tool in Canvas If you post materials to Canvas, the Canvas "ally" tool and the Canvas "accessibility checker" that is on every page can flag accessibility issues and suggest some first steps. Ally also offers alternative formats for students that can make the material more accessible (audio versions, HTML, and braille, for instance). While it can be overwhelming at first to remediate a previously-taught course, we encourage you to make materials accessible gradually over time: perhaps choose one resource to adapt this time around and build from there. Every little bit helps. If you intend to teach the course in the future, any work you do will have significant pay-offs over time.