A third facet of accessibility is related to the fact that some students have physical impairments that may interfere with their use of certain components of your course.
Students With Visual Impairments
Students with visual impairments have difficulty seeing. This may be for a variety of reasons. The student may have:
- Poor visual acuity -- they have trouble focusing on the words on the page.
- Color blindness -- not all people can see all colors. Some people who are colorblind may see only black, white, and grey. Others may see some colors but not all.
- Blindness -- complete loss of light perception or vision so poor that cannot be corrected by lenses.
Students can make adjustments to the ANGEL viewing screen by clicking on the 508 button on the lower left side of the ANGEL screen and then creating a "new" profile. Clicking on Next will allow them to continue with the set-up. They can select different colors, fonts, and screen enhancements to provide them with better viewing of the materials on the ANGEL site. When they have all of the settings the way they want them, they should click on Finish. Once they have created the profile, they should click on that "new" profile and activate their "new" ANGEL settings. The system will default to that profile of settings until told to do otherwise. The student can always go back and edit the settings at a later time, if needed, by clicking again on the 508 button at the left lower portion of the ANGEL screen or revert back to the basic ANGEL viewing default by selecting that profile.
Students with visual impairments may also use electronic screen-reader software product to help them deal with written documents in their courses. Many students at LCCC use a product called the Kurzweil E-book Reader. This software is made available to the student through the Office for Special Needs. Instructions for how to load and use the software is on the Kurzweil portion of the Special Needs webpage. This software is can read a number of document types and has a converter to change certain document types into compatible formats. There are additional adaptive technologies available to visually impaired students, as well. Some of these are listed on the assistive technology portion of the Special Needs webpage.
Be aware that the electronic screen-readers cannot "read pictures" so it is good to "tag" pictures in your learning materials with alternative text or long descriptions of what is seen in the picture. This may help to convey some of the information about that image to your visually impaired student. These tags can be detected by electronic screen readers and are read to the student.
Students With Auditory Deficits
Students with auditory deficits often have interpreters that accompany them to classes on campus. Using sign language, the interpreter can convey information from the instructor to the hearing deficient student. Students can even use a Smartpen device to help record information from a lecture.
While this type of system may work well with the "live" portion of a blended class, it will not impact the online portion of a distance-delivered class. As a result, the instructor must be cognizant of the issue that a student with an auditory deficit may encounter in his/her course. For the most part, online materials present little issue for those students with auditory impairments, with the exception of video and audio clips.
In your course design, it is important to intentional about being inclusive for your students with auditory impairments. All audio (verbal) and video clips included in your course should have be closed captioned or include written transcripts for that course material. If the video/audio segment is associated with a PowerPoint (e.g. as might be created with Camtasia) and the accompanying slides contain the vast majority of the information that the student will need, no further accommodation would likely be needed.
Music audio clips will likely present a huge accessibility issue for your auditory impaired student as finding accessible "alternatives" will be nearly impossible.
Students With Neurological or Mobility Disabilities
For courses with online components, there is rarely an issue for students with physical disabilities gaining access to the course components that the instructor will need to address. Those with neurological conditions (e.g. multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, etc.) or traumatic brain injuries (e.g. stroke, cerebral palsy, etc.) may have problems maneuvering the mouse and keyboard on their computer, but such students generally have assistive technologies at their end. Those with physical mobility issues will also usually have the assistance they need at their end to get to the computer.
One thing to consider, however, when designing your course and the various activities that students will engage in for this population of students is whether or not you have some type of "outside" assignment that the student will need to do. If the student will need to "go" somewhere or "do" something that will require them to be somewhere other than at their computer for the course, this may create a problem. You should be prepared to offer an alternative assignment that will be similar, but accessible, for these students -- if the need arises.
Students With Chronic Health Conditions
Some students with "physical disabilities" are really students that have ongoing medical issues. This might be a student with systemic lupus, seizure disorders, cancer, etc. Sometimes these students will have no issues what-so-ever during the semester and at other times, they will miss a significant portion of the course. If such a student identifies him/herself to you, be prepared to make accommodations for them -- accommodations will be discussed later in this module.
If a significant portion of the course is missed due to illness, the students may need to be considered for an Incomplete. In order to be eligible for an incomplete, the student must be currently passing the course. Students who are failing the course at the last attendance date are not eligible for an Incomplete.
There is an Incomplete Contract document (for many divisions on campus) that must be completed by the faculty member and signed by the student delineating the materials that must be completed to fulfill the requirements for the course. On that document, you will also indicate the date by which the student must complete that work. I try to work with the student to get it done as soon as possible, perhaps within a few weeks after the semester is done if they have only a few items to complete. I would recommend not letting it go more than 6 months. If the student takes longer than that to complete the course, they lose much of the continuity and knowledge that is necessary to be successful in learning the material that remains for the course.
Limitations Within a Course
For some course content, it may not be possible to provide complete accommodations. For example, in the online Human Biology course that I teach, a significant component of the lab involves learning anatomy with the use of images of anatomical models. While I have provided "accessible" labeling throughout the lesson and lab documents associated with the course, this is not an option for the quizzes in the course. For those quizzes, the students must identify specific parts of the body using images of those same anatomical models. It is not possible for me to label those pictures with alternative text without "giving away" the answers. Therefore, I have included a statement in my syllabus indicates there is a significant visual component to the course and that may cause issues for students with severe visual impairments.
It is pretty much impossible to find an alternative for a music clip. Without closed captioning or a transcript, the student will not get a great deal out of a video. As a result, the student who is hard of hearing may not be able to engage in all activities in a class if these types of materials are present. One solution to this may be to provide an equivalent alternative activity that will allow the student to gain information about a topic via a different format. The key here is that it should be an "equivalent" alternative, not just an alternative. In other words, if there is a great video that demonstrates the concept effectively but lacks a transcript to be inclusive and the only other option to offer the student is to read about the topic in a book that is really not equivalent. If you cannot find another effective learning tool that presents the information nearly as well, perhaps you really should consider creating your own transcript for that video. While this may be rather time-consuming, we have a legal and moral obligation to our students to make our course materials as accessible by all as possible.