5 Tips for Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning

min read

There are many ways to apply accessibility and universal design principles to improve learning experiences for all.

image of a computer keyboard with a mock Accessibility key
Credit: alphaspirit / Shutterstock © 2018

Did you know that most people who use captions with multimedia don't have a hearing disability? Many people use captions when the sound quality is poor, if the volume must be set low, if they are English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students, or if they are new to terminology and find it helpful to see the words displayed alongside the audio or video. While captions are necessary for people with hearing disabilities, they really improve the experience for everyone.

However, captions aren't the only way to apply accessibility and universal design principles in a way that improves the experience for all. Here are five easy ways to design and deliver more-inclusive learning experiences. (Accomplishing even a couple of these will make a big difference for your students while still being manageable for you!)

  1. Plan for differences. Consider how student characteristics might affect the design. If you have a large number of working adults, people with experience in the field, people with varying internet bandwidth, and other differences, you might adjust your plan for designing and delivering your course. For instance, if you know your course will have students already working in the field, then consider how you can create activities that provide opportunities to tap into current experience or apply course activities in the workplace. If you have military students in your online course, then keep in mind that internet connectivity may be inconsistent, so you might avoid relying solely on streaming videos to relay content. You might also have students with disabilities in your course. In that case, familiarize yourself with their experiences using personas.
  2. Give students options for the completion of assessments. How can I take into account differing abilities, disabilities, strengths, and preferences in my assessments? Leave as much room in your assessment instructions as learning objectives will allow, and create one rubric that gets at the skills demonstrated rather than the method used.
  3. Present information in multiple ways. How can I provide students options in how they are presented with content? Try creating content that can be used in multiple ways. For instance, create a script for a video that can be reused as an article or transcript. You might even use the same script with some tweaks and turn it into a simulation or a role-play activity. Bottom line: If you favor one method of sharing content across your course, try mixing it up!
  4. Make key points stand out. How can I ensure that students take away the most important information? Create a template that lays out key information, headings, chunked paragraphs, and maybe even key questions to consider while reading that can be easily digested. Use heading styles to make sure what's presented visually can also be presented equivalently through a screen reader for students with visual disabilities.
  5. Give students options and variety for how they interact. How can I create opportunities for meaningful interaction? Allow students to work together in small groups or independently at varying points in the course. Discussions, peer review, or group presentations are great options. Bottom line: When you step back and look at the learning experience, does it give students the chance to work together and on their own?

The above are just a few easy ways to be more inclusive and apply UDL and accessibility principles to your work. There are many out there! To explore more, visit The Office of Distance Education at Ohio State's blog site or my personal blog.

Jessica M. Phillips serves at The Ohio State University as a Program Manager for the Digital Flagship initiative and as Director of Ohio State's 2018 Innovate Conference.

© 2018 Jessica M. Phillips. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 International License.