Accessibility in electronic communication has a legal definition. It is really long, detailed and a little tedious but is something we need to pay attention to. For myself and many others, accessibility is mostly about the varying degrees of learning differences that exist and educating ourselves about how to support and include those differences in an educational environment. It is about making a decision to reduce barriers, to increase user friendliness and ease of access, and how to best engage with others in a way that supports as many learning styles as we can. It is definitely not about reducing academic standards.
Nationally, about 10% of the student population of any given college or university formally self-identifies as having a disability of some sort. However, many in the field of accessibility in education believe that an additional 20% of the student body have a disability they may not be aware of (e.g. it has not been diagnosed) or they may be choosing not to formally identify themselves with the Disability Services of their institution. Only a small percentage of students with disabilities are visually or hearing impaired (around 6%). However when we focus on creating material which is accessible to those students, others benefit.
We have to challenge ourselves to think differently about how we present information – text material needs to be friendly for screen readers, videos need captions of audio content, and audio files need to be transcribed. For example, there may be some students who learn best by being physically active. If their course material is screen reader friendly, they can convert it into an audio file using screen reader technology and take it with them to the gym.
Diversity is normal. Everyone is different in one way or another. Its part of what makes life interesting. The best, and possibly most sustainable, way to be inclusive in learning is to start adopting principles found in universal design for learning
We can explore that in another post…