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Starting Your Journey Toward Accessibility

To really have an impact, accessibility must be part of higher ed’s considerations from the start, reflecting institutional needs, realities and collaborations.

In a rapidly evolving digital learning landscape, the conversation around accessibility is more crucial than ever.

When we talk about accessibility, we are talking about ways to make our students feel more at home, more comfortable and more welcome at our colleges and universities. We are talking about ways to better serve all students and help them succeed. When students have access to the tools they need right away, it shows them that they were considered, that they are important and that they are wanted in that space.

It’s also just good teaching practice. By considering different learning needs at the beginning of the planning process, we are better serving all students. It provides an understanding that everyone learns differently, either through necessity, circumstance or preference. Sometimes it’s just easier to read closed captioning on a lecture or video, and alternatively some learners may prefer to listen to a computer or audio version of an article or passage than read it.

Once we get into the mindset that accessibility is a way to support students as opposed to a box to check, creating an educational technology ecosystem that considers all learners and serves multiple needs becomes a lot easier—and more fun.

Start the Journey

When we talk about accessibility, we say it’s a journey, not a destination, because we will always be finding new ways to support students.

The first step on the journey can be a simple one. Just start talking and thinking about what you can do to better support the learners you serve.

There are a few things you can consider:

  • Leveraging inclusive curricular design from the beginning, which is proactive for all students, not reactive for some students. Design courses and materials that are accessible to all students from the start, which includes providing course materials in multiple formats (like digital text, audio, and video), ensuring online content is compatible with screen readers, and using clear, inclusive language.
  • Providing accessibility training for faculty and staff. Educating faculty and staff about accessibility issues and best practices is vital. This training should cover not only legal requirements but also practical strategies for creating accessible content, the importance of inclusive language and how to accommodate students with various needs.
  • Offering support services and resources. Establish and maintain strong support services for students with disabilities, which not only includes legally required accommodations but also proactive resources like tutoring, assistive technologies and counseling services. Ensure these services are well publicized and easily accessible.

Realistically and as much as we would all love to, not every institution will be able to serve everyone’s needs right away, so take it in steps. When you start your conversations, think about how you can serve the most people first and go from there. Perhaps your school, for whatever reason, has more students who are visually impaired, so you will need to focus on providing them with services first. Follow the universal design approach by building accessibility in at the start.

Similar conversations will need to happen with educational technology suppliers. What are your educational partners asking for, and how can you ensure you are available to address those needs and any others that may arise?

It’s also important to remember that these conversations will have the biggest impact if they occur at the beginning of your procurement or development process instead of at the end. Keeping accessibility in mind as you do the work will help avoid the time-consuming and sometimes costly adjustments required at the end of a project when accessibility is simply tacked on.

Know What to Ask

 Of course, not every supplier or educational institution has accessibility experts. So, how do you know where to start those vital conversations?

There are, of course, well-established standards for accessibility, such as the Web Content

Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), to follow, but following standards doesn’t express the commitment or provide an understanding of the kind of partner a company or institution will be.

To help answer those questions and create a simpler start to the accessibility journey, the 1EdTech community developed the TrustEd Apps Accessibility Rubric.

The rubric is designed as a self-assessment for suppliers, so they can see what is important to institutions and have somewhere for potential customers to get their questions answered. Institutions can then submit their own reviews and comments in 1EdTech’s management system and list any concerns that other institutions may need to consider. These features go beyond compliance and constitute a living document that allows suppliers to continuously show where they are in their maturity model.

The rubric is a starting point in the procurement process, but it’s an easy entry point that helps get suppliers and educators on the same page and speaking the same language. Even if you aren’t an accessibility expert, you can understand the common questions educators are looking to answer. Parts of the rubric include assurances that documentation is easily available, show how clients can share accessibility concerns once the product is in use and indicate how the product can be tailored for individual students if and when the need arises.

For suppliers, it’s not uncommon to follow best practices, but they don’t think to document them and make them available to their clients, meaning their good work go unnoticed. On the other hand, if they aren’t following best practices, they can leverage the rubric to help evolve their practices. We recognize the journey, and you are not alone. That is how 1EdTech powers learner potential—by bringing educational institutions and edtech suppliers together, so they can journey together and find new and innovative ways to meet learner needs.

Time to Get Started 

Even small changes can make a big difference, and finding a partner who prioritizes accessibility can help you move forward on your journey to better serve students. Once you get started on the journey, it becomes easier to move forward.

1EdTech’s TrustEd Apps™ Accessibility Rubric User Guide can help get your organization started.

What are your next steps?