This piece is written by Larissa Saco. Larissa Saco is a Graduate Student Researcher with Academic Technology Services. She is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology with scholarly interests in education, social stratification, and cultural sociology. Prior to graduate school, she worked as a research assistant on K-12 education program evaluations for MDRC, a social policy research organization.
Around the world, over 1 billion people have a disability, accounting for approximately 15% of the global population. At UC Davis, 1,848 students were eligible to receive accommodations through the Student Disability Center in the 2018-2019 academic year, indicating an approximate 22% jump in the number of students served from the 2017-2018 academic year. In light of these global and local statistics, how do we know that our online content is accessible to students with disabilities?
Section 508 defines accessibility in online spaces as “how easily — or how successfully — a person with a disability can locate, get to, and understand information they want or need, as well as how well they can interact with functionality.” There are four principles for web content that are outlined in the federal policy known as Section 508, which requires federal agencies to make internet communication technology (ICT) equivalently accessible for people with disabilities and those without disabilities. These four principles include perceivable information, operable interface and navigation, understandable information and functionality, and robust interpretation across technology types and advancements.
Designing online materials with accessibility in mind helps meet the needs of students with disabilities and offers responsive and simple layouts for your entire class to navigate course information. Perhaps you know that you must make your online materials accessible to all students, but you don’t know where to start. Educational materials, such as Canvas course sites, PDFs, and videos, can be made more accessible to students with a little planning and a small amount of effort on your part. Academic Technology Services (ATS) suggests starting with these three tech processes:
- Use the Canvas Accessibility Checker to make the written and visual content in Canvas Pages, Assignments, Announcements, and Quizzes accessible to learners. This built-in Canvas tool helps you make sure headings, table settings, alt text for images, adjacent links, and text color contrast meet accessibility standards.
- Create accessible PDFs in one of these two ways: 1) Creating your Word documents to be accessible by appropriately using headings, alt text, lists, and other features. This allows for easier reading and skimming with or without a screen reader once the document is in PDF form. 2) Using on-campus resources to adapt existing PDFs into accessible formats.
- Provide captions on your videos by requesting and editing captions in AggieVideo, a campus content management portal in which you can upload, manage, edit, and share UC Davis video or audio content for teaching and learning.
While not an exhaustive list for ensuring comprehensive accessibility of online instructional materials, these resources provide a starting point. For more guidance on increasing access to your course content, we invite you to a hands-on workshop that will focus on one of these tech processes at DOLCE on Friday, December 6th at noon in Surge III / The Grove. Please also consult ATS workshop slides on all three tech processes and a compiled list of accessibility resources available at UC Davis and externally. Feel free to contact our instructional design team at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org for support or a consultation.