Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone


Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone

[Narrator] It’s been going
on for generations: teachers and students communicating
long distance. From mailboxes to Macs, it’s a
time-honored way of connecting. [Matthew] I’ve taken two
distance learning classes. [Mike] I got to go
at my own pace. [Matthew] One of them was
an advanced science course. [Mike] I was able to finish the
course in, like, record time. [Matthew] And then I’ve
also taken an English course over the Internet. [Mike] And it was really good. [Narrator] Mike took distance
learning classes while he did other things, like summer camp
and a boat trip with his family. And that’s the beauty
of distance learning: it makes educational
opportunities available anywhere, anytime, to anyone. [Veronika] With distance
learning classes, I’d be able to go to work and
still earn credits at school, and do my work on my own time. [Tynesha] If I could work from
home, that’d be a lot easier. [Narrator] The point of distance
learning is to give access to more students, which has
always included those with time or distance limitations. For people with disabilities,
the way that information and content is delivered
is critical to success. [Sara] Distance learning
actually utilizes various modes of delivery, and each
one of those modes needs to be accessible for students
with a variety of disabilities. [Narrator] That goes
for instructors with disabilities, too. Making a course accessible to qualified individuals is
required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. [Narrator] Now, let’s look at
a typical, real-life situation. This is Cliff, a
young man signed up for a distance
learning class. This is his instructor, Sheryl. She’s planning the resources for
her class, including a website, class discussions using email,
some printed information, and a little video as well. What she doesn’t know
is that Cliff is blind. [Sheryl] He’s blind? [Cliff] Yep. [Sara] What instructors
need to think about ahead of time is universal design. And they need to think about that while they’re
planning their course, so that they’re ready for
students who may arrive with a variety of disabilities. And it’s a lot easier to do
that during the planning stage, rather than waiting
till a student with a disability
shows up at your class. [Narrator] For Cliff, there
are a number of challenges in accessing Sheryl’s course. [Cliff] I can’t read standard
print; I can’t see graphics on a website; and,
sometimes on video, it’s hard to understand
exactly what’s going on if it’s very visual. [Narrator] Other students
may have disabilities such as mobility impairments,
learning disabilities, hearing impairments,
or speech impairments. [Student] I will
have a note taker. [Narrator] People with disabilities may
use specialized hardware and software for
their computers, such as screen readers, alternative keyboards,
and speech input. But even with this
adaptive technology, accessing course
materials can be difficult. [Stephanie] A lot of times,
people don’t describe pictures; that would be a good thing
to do when you’re thinking of designing a Web page. [Sara] When you’re developing
a distance learning course, you’re trying to make
all the activities and all the course
content accessible to a student with disabilities. And when you do that
type of planning, you’re not only making it
accessible for the student with a disability, but you’re
actually making it more accessible for all the students. [Narrator] Okay,
back to Cliff … and Sheryl. They’re going to
help us walk you through some strategies
for accessibility. [Narrator] For students
with visual impairments or with specific
learning disabilities, standard print just
doesn’t work. [Cliff] I can’t read it, okay? [Narrator] Print can be
converted into Braille, large print, or electronic
formats. [Cliff] Electronic
format works best for me, because with my screen reading
software, I’m ready to go. [Computer] Space I S S space
E [Narrator] Screen reading software reads aloud text
that appears on the screen, such as in email
or on a Web page. Electronic access
also works very well for people whose learning
disabilities make it difficult for them to read. [Computer] To get started,
I’d like each of you to send a bio to
the whole group. [Narrator] Many email
applications are fully accessible to people
with disabilities, so email is an accessible
choice for delivering a syllabus or other course materials. Students can use email to turn in their assignments
and tests as well. [Cliff] Email works
great because, if you have a disability, you
already have the technology to access the information; so the teacher doesn’t
have to change anything. [Narrator] In some courses,
participants might be required to communicate electronically
at the same time. Although this works for Cliff, real-time chatting can
present access challenges for many screen reader users. Or, someone with a
learning disability, who takes a long time
to compose his thoughts, might not be able to
participate fully. This would also be true for someone whose
input method is slow. [Sara] If you’re planning to use synchronous
communication online, where people are talking
live, you might need to make it optional; or you
could offer an equivalent, alternative assignment for
the student with a disability. [Cliff] Web pages work well,
as long as the designer thinks about how I can read it. For instance, my screen
reader can’t read graphics. [Narrator] Web pages
should conform to accessibility standards, such as the W3C’s Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines. For example, images should
include alternate text for screen-reader users. [Computer] Tab. A researcher reaches
into a sealed box to manipulate a small
square of solar cells. [Narrator] And make sure
all features accessible by a mouse also work
without a mouse. Test this by navigating
through a Web page using only a keyboard. [Sara] If a test fails to access
the material that you need for content, then you need
to rethink your design. [Narrator] Keep page layouts
simple, clear, and consistent. This will help students with low
vision or learning disabilities. Use HTML headings to clearly
communicate the structure of the page and use navigation
choices that do not rely on color alone, since some
students may be unable to perceive color. [Narrator] Learning
management systems, or LMS, are software applications often
used to deliver courses online. Most are Web-based,
so are subject to the same accessibility
issues as other websites. Even if a learning management
system is accessible, an online course using it
can still be inaccessible if the instructor fails to use
accessible course materials. [Narrator] DVD, televised, or
online videos may be included in distance learning courses. [Cliff] Video’s okay sometimes. I can usually understand
what they’re, what’s going on just
by listening. But depending on if they’re
demonstrating something, or if it’s too visual, I may
not quite grasp the whole idea. [Descriptive audio track]
On the computer chalkboard, happy faces dot the screen. [Narrator] A separate audio
track to describe actions or graphics works well for
people with visual impairments. Captioning makes audio
content accessible for people with hearing impairments. [Sara] The cheapest and easiest
solution is to find video that already has captioning
or audio description. But sometimes that’s not
possible, and you have to make your own adjustments. [Narrator] Text transcripts
for videos can be read by a screen reader
using a Braille display for people who are deaf-blind. Transcripts also
provide access for people who have technical limitations. [Computer] A-M-U-N
[Narrator] And for any user, text-based captions make it easy to locate specific
information at a later time. [Narrator] Teleconferencing puts
together small groups of people to work with an instructor
who’s somewhere else. They can use video or,
possibly, audio only. [Sara] The problem with this is that it’s a scheduling
problem for everyone. A lot of people take
distance learning classes because their schedules
are tight or they already have conflicts. Another issue is accessibility
for a student who may be deaf or has a speech impairment. [Instructor, Web conference]
Another question from Matthew, he wants know, what should
I look for in regards to accessibility resources? [Narrator] Web conferencing
incorporates live interaction and data sharing
over the Internet. It might include a video
or audio chat; a text chat; a slide show, or a whiteboard. [Instructor, Web conference]
Here we have a building with lots of steps,and we want to somehow get into
this building. [Narrator] When purchasing
or subscribing to a Web conferencing
system, many of the Web and video accessibility
questions apply, such as whether the
system supports captioning, screen readers, and
keyboard navigation. [Narrator] Electronic documents
can present accessibility challenges similar to
those of Web pages. For example, images
require alternate text, and HTML headings
and sub-headings need to be marked up as such. [Narrator] On-site
instruction that’s part of a distance learning course
is similar to teleconferencing, in that it requires students
to meet at a shared location. Some of the same
difficulties apply. If you do use this
option, however, be sure the facility is
wheelchair accessible. Consider class space,
restrooms, and parking. The instructor needs to speak
clearly, facing the class, for those who lip read. An interpreter must be provided
for students who are deaf. And if any visual
materials are used, the instructor should describe
them aloud for students with visual impairments. [Narrator] The important thing in making your distance
learning course accessible is to be proactive. Don’t wait until someone
with a disability enrolls to figure it out; consider
accessibility issues from the start. [Narrator] By applying
universal design, your distance learning
class will be accessible to any student who
enrolls and any instructor who is hired to teach it. It’s the right thing to
do, reduces legal risk, and creates a better learning
environment for everyone. [Cliff] Distance learning is a
good option for a lot of people. Classes can be made accessible
and should be made accessible. It’s not that hard to do.

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1 thought on “Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone”

  1. Patti Huber says:

    This short video does a great job introducing the various students' perspectives.

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