An ebook icon that shows an ebook reader on the left with a bookmark in the middle and a page opening up to the right.

Adapting Educational Materials For All Learners: What You Need To Know

The challenge of adapting educational materials for all learners diminishes when you choose accessible material at the very beginning. This reduces the amount of stress any learner may have when approaching your courses. It may also reduce any stress you may have when receiving an accommodations letter from Student Disability Services.

Choosing materials: books

Now that you know what courses you’re teaching, how do you choose accessible material? What if you don’t know what “accessible content” is?

The good news is that there are a team of people here to help. Your biggest allies in the beginning will be:

As you may know, submitting your bookstore requests for required readings by the deadline as requested through the Provost’s Office each semester — usually the last day of pre-registration — allows your learners to use the Textbook Affordability Program (TAP) funds to purchase those books. Accordingly, this will make the books available to many more learners and reduce educational barriers.

What you may not know, however, is that giving the Campus + Community Store a list of Required and Recommended readings for your class also allows the Library to get the books in the format that someone with accommodations needs. While this won’t increase the accessibility for everyone, it will increase availability in the following ways:

  • The library attempts to source electronic materials when possible. Over time, this will hopefully increase accessibility.*
  • The library ensures that both Required and Recommended readings are available so that learners can obtain them on reserve.
  • The library attempts to source Open Access materials when possible. This will hopefully increase both accessibility and availability.

…[I]f you give the Campus + Community Store a list of Required and Recommended readings…the Library can get the books in the format that someone with accommodations needs.

If you are still unsure about working through the Campus + Community Store in order to increase the accessibility of your course, please contact your library liaison.

Job done, right? You only deal in materials from books that go through the bookstore, right?

Choosing materials: articles, ebook chapters, streaming video

You want your learners to engage with — and they want to engage with — what is relevant and current in the field. Our library has collections of electronic journals and books, captioned streaming video, as well as databases of newspapers, magazines, and many other sources available to you electronically. However, you normally print a PDF and scan it into Moodle.

Why not use the Tripod permalink?

Here are the benefits to using the Tripod permalink:

  • From a user experience (UX) perspective, journals frequently move between publishers; electronic books may have different full-text options available; and web links to newspaper or magazine articles often break. The library’s catalog — Tripod — pulls all of the different electronic options together for easy access. If multiple options for full text exist — for example EBSCO versus ProQuest versus JSTOR — the learner chooses which interface or format — ePub versus HTML versus PDF — works best for them.
  • From a data, usage, and analytics perspective, clicking on a journal article credits your colleague with engagement. Your learners are reading the article on the journal’s site rather than downloading the article from your downloaded or scanned version on your Moodle site. This credits your colleague. The library also monitors the usage statistics from the journal or database site which, in turn, helps inform subscription renewals and new acquisitions.
  • From both a user experience (UX) and accessibility (a11y) perspective, a person who uses assistive technology because they either need to or like to — for instance, I like to read and listen, or co-read, when I am reading something very theoretical — is likely to know on which database their assistive technology will work best or easiest for them. This removes barriers to their education.

…clicking on a journal article credits your colleague with engagement.

There is no permalink. Now what?

Great question, and thanks for looking out. Reach out to your librarian straightaway to let them know you’re looking at a particular resource. You can always suggest a purchase for the library, as well.

Choosing materials: testing

If you find yourself testing-curious, here are the steps folks in the Accessibility Working Group (AWG), in the Libraries, and many of the Accessibility@Swarthmore student workers know to take:

  • Check on the Library Accessibility Alliance’s testing website. Does your resource have a testing report? What does it say? Did the resource respond? When was the report and response published?
  • Try the keyboard test. Navigate around the site the material is on without using your mouse. This is how most users with assistive technology need to navigate on their devices. This is true whether they’re using a screen reader — JAWS, NVDA, TalkBack, VoiceOver — text-to-speech, or a switch. 
  • Copy and paste pieces of the actual material from various places into a word processing document or something like Natural Reader in order to see the quality of the text. Does it make sense? Is there gibberish?

The AWG also has a bit of specialized knowledge about publishers, laws, etc, such as:

Creating materials

If you’re a homeowner, you know it’s simpler to have a house built the way you want it rather than to remediate it to the way you want it. Same with accessibility. We often use phrases like: “born accessible” or having accessibility “baked in.” 

We’ve put together a guide for you — “Fast Five” Essentials to Preparing Materials — that walks you through how to create accessible materials in great detail.

We also have a Practical How-to on our Accessibility@Swarthmore site. This has tips for emails, captioning, course materials, and more.

When you’re creating content for your courses, use the “Fast Five,” the How-to, and other resources available to reach the widest audience of learners.

You can always schedule a meeting with one of our team members to discuss how to make your syllabus accessible. We are ready to discuss your material no matter what format you use. These steps will inform you of principles to make other materials accessible, such as worksheets, assignments, lab documents, problem sets, and tables.

We also invite members of the community — yearly — to become more knowledgeable about accessibility through courses. If you are interested in learning more, let us know of your interest through this form.

Publishing in accessible formats: Going the extra mile

You’ve read this far; you’ve taken all of the above steps. Now you want to ensure what you’re creating, writing, or publishing is accessible. Here are some steps you can take:

Do you have other ideas for engaging with publishers, editors, conference hosts about the accessibility of your next work or presentation? Join the conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Embedded Tweet discussing accessible publishers in academia.

Large portions of this post are thanks to Jessica Brangiel, our Electronic Resources Management Librarian. Special thanks, as well, to our Accessibility Working Group for reviewing the content.

*Please note that something that is electronic is not necessarily accessible. 

As with the current case study of Twitter, we know that this can also come and go in waves and is not necessarily a straight line.


Added a hyperlink to Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) website on the Open Access text. 4/13/2023