Accommodating all learners and creating accessible online classrooms (AACU)

Dec 11, 2020, on the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) Blog
Melissa A. Parenti and Jennifer Pope Frawley

As many institutions continue to transition from in-person to online learning environments, it is important that college faculty consider the needs of all types of learners—including students with visible and invisible disabilities, first-time online learners, and students taking classes while juggling multiple responsibilities at home.

Many students with disabilities face challenges in this transition, as they are removed from the structure of the physical classroom and must now rely solely on technology for their coursework. This means not only having to navigate a possibly unfamiliar learning management system with assistive technology, but also relying on the applications and tools within these systems to communicate with the instructor and other students, submit assignments, and actively participate in group projects or peer discussions. They may also be presented with inaccessible course materials, such as videos without captioning, or course readings that may not have been set up to work well with screen readers (such as PDF documents that are not structured correctly). These challenges, as well as students not knowing how or where to ask for help in this new online environment, can create many barriers to students’ success.

Solutions to some of these challenges can be found through universal design for learning (UDL) guidelines, which offer an immediate and accessible way to enhance students’ educational experience by emphasizing the change in the learning environment rather than requiring a change from the learner.

By creating supportive experiences that help all students in a manner best suited to their unique circumstances, UDL guidelines can bolster student motivation, change how they receive and perceive information, and improve their capacity to navigate, organize, and approach a learning task. Below, we share examples of how higher education instructors might adopt UDL guidelines in online or hybrid formats.

 To discover how to increase engagement, provide various ways to acquire knowledge, and using multiple means of action and expression, read the Accommodating All Learners and Creating Accessible Online Classrooms (AACU) December 11, 2020, blog.

Then, visit CELT’s Accessibility in Your Course page.

Your Questions, Answered

This post is adapted from National Deaf Center’s Your Questions, Answered page.

As a reminder, for help at Iowa State University:

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 another 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 a 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: