Since COVID-19 forced the world to embrace online learning, we’ve been hearing a lot about issues of access. When all education is taking place online, what happens to students who don’t have access to a device, or to the internet? This issue seems to have dominated conversations, and many schools and districts have stepped up to loan out computers, create wireless hotspots and provide students with USB internet. What we haven’t been hearing people talk about is broader issues of accessibility and online content.
Creating an educational experience online that is accessible to all starts with understanding accessibility, recognizing the barriers to content that some students may face, and implementing techniques and strategies to reduce those barriers for all, right from the very beginning.
This post will introduce readers to digital accessibility. After viewing the curated resources, educators will be able to understand the barriers and issues students may encounter when using and accessing digital materials for learning.
What is accessibility?
There are many different reasons why something might be inaccessible for a user. There are various types of disabilities, and each may come with its own barriers to accessing digital content. Additionally, some individuals may have multiple conditions requiring necessary accommodations to have equitable access.
- New Data on Disability in Canada (website): Provides statistics on disability types and how many people in Canada live with at least one disability
- Canadian Survey of Disability Reports (web page): An in-depth census report that details prevalence, income, and employment of persons with disabilities.
For our purposes, accessibility means that all learners have the same opportunities to acquire resources, interact with materials, engage in activities and create content, regardless of disability. Although accessibility is an essential requirement for those with disabilities, providing accessible content benefits all learners.
Digital accessibility ensures that all resources and materials shared digitally are easily accessible for all. It means that everyone can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with and contribute to digital resources and spaces
Personal stories of barriers to learning
As educators, we all want the learning experience to be inclusive and enjoyable for all. However, we can sometimes be unaware of the barriers that certain students face, or we can underestimate how difficult certain tasks may be for students. The resources that follow all highlight personal stories from individual learners who have experienced barriers due to inaccessibility.
- What is accessibility? (video): This video shares the responses of four people with disabilities to the question “what is accessibility?” Their responses highlight situations in which they have experienced barriers to participation, both inside and outside of learning contexts.
- A personal look at accessibility in higher education (video): Students and staff in higher education share their experiences with accessing content on the internet, identifying barriers they have faced, expressing their frustration and sharing the solutions that have helped.
- Accessibility of online course content (video): Stories from students whose education has been impacted by inaccessible web content.
- Stories of web users (web page): Presents a number of scenarios involving people with disabilities using the web to highlight accessibility barriers and solutions.
How can we build further understanding of why we need to create accessible content? Well, we can experience inaccessibility.
- What is web accessibility in 60 seconds (video): Experience the reality of inaccessible web content, and learn about who we help, and why we help, when we create accessible online experiences.
- Colourblind World (video): Experience what is like to be colour-blind.
- What it’s like to be color-blind (video): Individuals share how their world looks and how they adapt.
- A mile in their shoes (video): The author temporarily experiences 3 disabilities.
Accessibility legislation and policy
While accessibility should be automatically integrated into everything we do, sometimes legislation and policy is created in order to create standards and hold people accountable. Whether or not your jurisdiction has accessibility-related legislation and policies, understanding pieces of these documents can help you to understand some of the standards we should all be upholding.
- Accessible Canada Act (web page): This article provides an overview of Bill C-81 (The Accessible Canada Act), including web accessibility requirements and who must comply with these requirements.
Some provinces also have individual accessibility acts:
- British Columbia: British Columbia Accessibility Act (web page)
- Manitoba: The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (web page)
- Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia Accessibility Act (web page)
- Ontario: Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (web page)
On a global scale, many leaders have committed their respective countries to following the guidelines set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Of specific interest:
People to follow
Learn more about the experiences of people with disabilities by following these individuals:
- Jessica Kellgren-Fozard on YouTube: Her video, Dyslexia – spell what now? explains her experience with dyslexia, and what it looks like for her in school.
- Nyle DiMarco on Twitter (@Nyle_DiMarco): A disability activist who regularly calls out ableism online.
- Emily Ladau on Twitter (@emily_ladau): A disability activist who regularly shares stories of inclusivity.
- Alice Wong on Twitter (@sfdirewolf): The creator of the website Disability Visibility Project shares her passion about bringing awareness to disability media and culture.
Featured image by Joanna Lake