Designing For Accessibility In K-12 Schools
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Training Educators In Designing Accessible Content

Since the closing of campuses for protection from the spread of COVID-19, the field of online instruction has hit an unexpectedly large boom, and more educators are creating documents for online use than ever before. How many of them have had training for accessibility in technology? If not, they could be about to spend hours creating material that will later need to be removed or revised because it does not meet the minimum standards. This needs to be addressed immediately.

I design online educational content and I also work in a public school. Through my studies in course design, I received extensive training in digital accessibility. I now make sure that every page I write follows the Universal Design for Learning guidelines for online documents. For me, this meant breaking a lot of habits. I had to make a shift from designing for visual users to designing for all users.

These trainings are long overdue in public schools. Educators are trained in how to write in Microsoft Word or Google Docs and how to upload digital content for students. We are trained in using the technology, but we are not trained in designing the content.

#DesignMatters

Instructional Design is not about making content visually attractive. Instead, it refers to how the material is organized and presented so that it is accessible to users that rely on assistive technology.

A mother who is blind and has children enrolled in public schools is not capable of offering her children the same support as other parents if the schools do not follow accessibility guidelines. Even though the school website is accessible, she has trouble following emails from the teachers and reading the documents they send if they are not designed according to the guidelines.

Any document that an educator posts online for parents and students to use should be written with accessibility in mind, starting with the syllabus that is posted on the school website. Several states currently enforce Section 508 standards and the recent increase in online instruction will likely lead more states to enforce them as well.

What Is Section 508?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act establishes regulations to accommodate people with disabilities. In addition to physical accessibility, such as wheelchair ramps, it also applies to digital access to information and resources. Although compliance with Section 508 is required for any institution that receives public funding, most K-12 public schools are currently exempt. This is determined at the state level. Find out the current requirements by clicking on your state at "Accessibility Laws for K-12 Schools."

Due to lawsuits that have been filed across the nation against districts for not providing accessible content, many states were already reassessing their requirements before schools unexpectedly had to move online. Now that online learning has gone mainstream, the need for states and districts to re-evaluate their standards for online instruction has become a top priority.

Learn more about Section 508 guidelines.

Putting The Cart Before The Horse

Training in accessibility guidelines should take place before training to move content online. When schools across the country closed their campuses and moved to online instruction, there was no time to train staff on how to check for accessibility in the content they use. It was a very difficult and delicate process and there was so much else to consider. However, before more content is created for online use, this training is needed.

To be more prepared, districts that do not currently have a virtual learning program are building one. To do this, staff will spend numerous hours reviewing resources and creating new documents to be uploaded. They will be trained on how to create assignments and pages in Learning Management Systems, such as Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle, and encouraged to upload documents they use in class.

Teaching educators how to move resources online without teaching them to make the resources compliant is a mistake. Districts that value their staff’s time will provide compliance training before asking them to post materials online that will need to be revised or removed later.

Where To Begin?

Public schools should begin by providing simple and easy-to-follow guidelines for document creation. Find or record brief training sessions that teach how to use accessibility checkers and templates. Put together a committee that can review the standards and why they are needed, then determine what information is most important to disseminate. Condense the guidelines into sections that can be introduced by priority. Distribute a Quick Tip Sheet like this one to all staff.

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