Remember Accessibility in the Rush to Online Instruction

This post is adapted from National Deaf Center’s Your Questions, Answered page. As a reminder, for help at Iowa State University:

10 Tips for Educators

These ten tips from the National Deaf Center can help educators and institutions make sure that everyone has access to the same course content during these challenging times:

No. 1: Do a Status Check

Don’t think you have a deaf or hard of hearing student in class? You might and not know it: research shows only half of deaf college students file documentation or request accommodations. Let all your students know that the switch to online classes is an opportunity to update you if they have any new needs or unexpected challenges that need consideration. What may have worked for students in person may not work online. To do this, import

No. 2: Remain Flexible, Because It Won’t Be ‘One Size Fits All’

Deaf students vary in communication preferences, and accommodations change across settings and context. When classes move from in-person to online, expect changes in accommodations as well. Accommodations for synchronous (everyone online at the same time) versus asynchronous (at your own pace) style courses will also vary. For example, a deaf student that uses an assistive listening system in a small-classroom setting might need speech-to-text services (i.e., CART, C-Print, or TypeWell) in a virtual classroom. Expect that not every service or support will be right for every deaf student.

No. 3: Capitalize on Using Captions

Research shows video captions benefit everyone, including fluent English users, students with ADD/ADHD or learning disabilities, English as Second Language users, and more. Plus the courts recently ruled that captions provide equal access to students as required by law. To add captions, follow industry standards, check out DIY captioning resources, or contact a captioning vendor. For videos you produce yourself, be wary of apps or programs that provide auto-generated captions, which are not considered equitable access due to their high error rate. Save yourself time and make sure videos you source or develop for class content are properly captioned.

No. 4: Test Your Video Conferencing Platform

Webex. These and other platforms are used on campuses, yet their features vary widely — especially in how they customize the end-user view. Be mindful that incorporating service providers such as remote American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters or remote speech-to-text professionals onto the platform means testing various view options and features to ensure interpreters or real-time captions are easily seen on screen, and that any other accommodations work properly. Also consider:

  • For interpreting services, does the platform split the screen view or pin a video in order to permanently keep the interpreter’s video feed on screen?
  • For speech-to-text services, does the platform have the ability to connect and sync the real-time captions on screen?
  • If the view is not conducive within the platform, are there other programs or equipment that can be considered for separately casting interpreters or captions? For example, provide an iPad to a deaf student to cast interpreters through FaceTime, Whereby, Skype or other video software.
  • Have you considered your clothing or lighting? Video conferencing etiquette recommends clothing that is not “busy” and provides ample contrast with your skin, and making sure there is enough light in the room that is sufficiently diffused to reduce or eliminate shadows.

No. 5: Set A Few Ground Rules

Just a few online class ground rules about communication will reap major benefits. Establish turn-taking and participation protocol, such as using the raise hand feature, the chatbox, or identifying your name before commenting. Ask students to only turn on their video to ask a question, since limiting the number of participants on screen at the same time can increase video quality and size. Same goes for sound: tell students to stay in mute mode until they have something to say, to reduce background noise.

No. 6: Take the High Road

Nothing kills a class like a choppy connection. High-speed internet access and high-quality hardware are critical for remote access. Everyone in the online classroom should evaluate their own access to dedicated high-speed internet, quality webcams, and headsets/microphones. Some students and faculty may need to participate in courses at a library or other public space, so be flexible as everyone seeks out strong connections for online courses.
For a more reliable connection, encourage all classroom participants to connect using an ethernet cable, rather than using a wireless connection.

  • Advise students who rely on assistive listening devices in a classroom that they may need to consider connecting their computer’s audio directly to a personal device (such as a hearing aid or cochlear implant) or to noise-reducing headphones.
  • Ask students and service providers what devices they may have available for accessing online coursework (computer/laptop, tablets, smartphones, etc). If they need additional devices or access to software, check with the university to temporarily loan equipment.
  • Where possible, record live meetings and lectures in case there are issues with internet connections, technology, or accommodations.

No. 7: Learn More About Your Learning Management System

Sign language interpreters, tactile interpreters, speech-to-text professionals, note-takers, and other service providers may not have access to your college’s learning management system (LMS), such as Canvas or Blackboard, or other video conferencing and online resources. Many are independent contractors and are not provided an institutional email address or a user role on the platform. In some cases, the instructor may need to give direct access to the online course. Be sure to provide advance access to the LMS and your course materials so that service providers can be prepared to provide effective communication and support full engagement with deaf students.

No. 8: Make the Most of Office Hours

Establish regular check-in meetings with deaf students to verify their access to and comprehension of online content. If new accommodations are necessary, work with the deaf student and the disability services office to update accommodation plans. Familiarize yourself with how to use relay services should deaf students call during remote office hours, or utilize one-on-one video chats, texting, or LMS chat features.

No 9: Reach Out For Help

You are not alone. The National Deaf Center provides year-round support to faculty, disability services professionals, deaf students and their families, and service providers, including frequent listserv updates for professionals. Other online resources are Stanford University’s Teach Anywhere, Mapping Access, Gallaudet University, and the National Center on Deaf-Blindness.

For help at ISU:

No. 10: Pay It Forward

Share these tips with your colleagues, administrators, and students. Let them know how you are planning to make your classroom accessible, and how they can too. Now is the time to come together as an educational community, support each other, and make sure everyone is involved in ensuring accessibility — no matter where the classroom is.

Your Questions, Answered

How can I add live-stream captioning within online meetings (Zoom or Webex) or Canvas (Learning Management System)?

Most online conferencing or Learning Management Systems (LMS) have tutorials in their knowledge base/support sites explaining how to connect have tutorials explaining how to connect live captioning. At ISU, you will add the individual follow How-to Guide for Student Accommodations in Canvas guide.

How can we add sign language interpreters in “live” online courses?

Give the remote interpreter(s) access to the video platform service (e.g., Webex, Zoom) or Canvas. Ensure that students are aware of and have enabled the features to choose how the videos appear on screen (gallery, side-by-side, etc.), that they have any necessary permissions, and that they know how to set up their preferences to view the interpreter and instructor.

If for any reason the interpreter is not able to login to the preferred LMS/online course platform, consider a multi-platform approach. For example, the student can be logged into LMS (e.g. Canvas in one window and an interpreter on an online video platform (e.g., Zoom, FaceTime or other video service).

How should schools/institutions utilize staff interpreting and speech-to-text providers when transitioning from in-person to online classes?

Student Accessibility Services staff at 515-294-7220 or email can assist with this question. Because the staff, hourly and contracted service providers (interpreting and speech-to-text) should continue to provide services remotely. This ensures consistency with services for the student. Work with service providers to ensure they have:

  • Access to high-speed internet.
  • A private space to work from (e.g., some schools are allowing service providers to use offices on campus as long as they observe self-quarantine protocols).
  • Appropriate equipment, such as headphones with a microphone and a computer with webcam and any necessary software.
  • Access to Canvas or live video platforms (Zoom or WebEx).
  • The student and instructor’s contact information in case of technical troubleshooting.

Providers can also assist with:

  • Captioning media for online courses (or prepare a transcript).
  • Provide interpreting for pre-recorded lectures.
  • Be available remotely for online tutoring, meetings or online school activities unrelated to the classroom.

Additional information:

Where can I find captioned media vendors and what should I look for?

Creating Offline Captions includes some tips and strategies in ensuring accurate captions are obtained. If you choose to outsource your media for captioning, the following links provide some resources:

Defining ‘deaf’

Deaf students may use different identifying terms such as late-deafened, hearing impaired, hard of hearing, and more. The National Deaf Center uses the term “deaf” in an all-inclusive manner, to also include people who may identify as deaf, deafblind, or deafdisabled. The National Deaf Center recognizes that for many individuals, identity is fluid and can change over time or with the setting. It has chosen to use one term, deaf, with the goal of recognizing experiences that are shared by all members of diverse communities while also honoring all differences — a concept explored in the video “What Does Deaf Mean?”

About the National Deaf Center

The mission of the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcome is to close the substantial gaps in education and employment that exist for deaf people in the United States and its territories. It is a technical assistance and dissemination center housed at The University of Texas at Austin and federally funded by the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to provide evidence-based strategies at the local, state, and national levels. Information presented here does not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the federal government. (