Thinking About Accessibility While Moving Online

Jeff Rubenstein
Updated May 7 2020
Jeff Rubenstein
Updated May 7 2020

I’m far from the world’s best resource on accessibility — I can recommend you a number of folks far more qualified than I to advise you on setting up a program for your campus, or for testing your software.


Nonetheless, at this moment, where many of us are being forced to move online at a pace that is not of our choosing, I’d like to share with you a couple of thoughts about what we can do to keep education as accessible as possible.


Accessibility is likely to be one of the first things to suffer given the demand to move quickly, but there are a few things we can do to mitigate this. And don’t forget: the things we do to make content accessible actually benefit ALL students. (The classic example here is captions: the vast majority of people even with perfect hearing still get more out of a television show with the captions turned on.)


1) Make sure you choose a virtual classroom tool or tools that can save recordings in an easy-to-use format. And please record your sessions!  (Not always easy to enact; if your tool allows you to “force recording” I recommend you turn this on.)


2) Have your recordings captioned. Professional (human) captions may be needed in some cases, such as individuals with challenging accents, but again this is money well spent as iti benefits ALL students. Moreover this need not be administratively burdensome; These services can be called using workflows (so individual faculty don’t need to do it themselves).


3) While video can be a challenging content type, it actually has many accessibility advantages. With the right tools, you can allow students to watch and re-watch the video at their preferred time, in their preferred place, with their preferred equipment. As often as they want. At whatever speed they want. This by itself can go a long way toward allowing a more equivalent experience. So make sure you not only record, but make those recordings available in an obvious location (usually in the LMS)


4) Make sure any documents can be downloaded locally, and of course ask faculty to make these documents in an accessible format. (No scanned PDFs)


5) Live-captioning services also exist to caption in real-time. While the automatic live-transcription services are getting better and better, most people still tend to rely on human-based services. These tend to be more expensive, but good for critical communications or larger-scale events.


Be well and be safe.