Story by Emily Bord
Suppose a student with dyslexia approaches her instructor and shares that she would benefit from her course materials being formatted so she could have them read aloud. The instructor is concerned how long it will take to make the modifications and the student worries that she will be a burden to the instructor and won’t be able to catch up with the coursework. Does this sound familiar? Unfortunately, this is the scenario for many students with disabilities at universities across the country.
The great news is that the process of making materials inclusive is so easy and can be done as the course materials are created. Making digital content accessible gives all users including those with learning challenges or non-native English speakers control of course material. “Basically, we have the opportunity to include people or exclude them depending on how we design our content and tools,” says Marla Roll, occupational therapist and director of the Assistive Technology Resource Center at Colorado State University.
All students can participate
Universities and colleges across the country have seen an increase in students who rely on assistive technology. While technology has grown to address the many problems that students with disabilities face, rendering course materials universally accessible requires faculty training and action.
“It takes faculty to get on board with this idea. We can’t make content work with the assistive technology unless faculty design the course materials so that assistive technology can access the content,” says Roll. “The outcome we want is that each student can participate in an equivalent way, despite their disability or learning style.” By doing so, colleges and universities can address legal mandates and support inclusion of diverse students.
Roll, Allison Kidd and Anna Walker from the ATRC and Craig Spooner from the Center for Community Partnerships created an idea to educate faculty about the benefits of inclusively designed instructional materials. Last year they submitted a proposal, “The stories behind universal design, accessibility and diversity: A video curriculum for faculty” which was awarded a CSU Ventures Creative Works Commercialization Award.
This project will consist of seven short storytelling videos of student and faculty perspectives of how they use assistive technology and universally designed course content to be successful. The project hired Be Reel Pictures, a full service video production company to shoot the footage. Videographers Shari Due and Mona Maser are versed in the use of storytelling in film and video. The hope is that the method of storytelling will help students and faculty to understand why accessibility matters.
Electronic curb cuts
The video curriculum communicates the need for a larger cultural shift in practices for disseminating information. Roll calls them “electronic curb cuts”. Much like adjustments to the physical environment, making the electronic environment accessible benefits all students and faculty, not just those with a declared disability. “We really want faculty to know that making materials inclusive is about people, not just policies or legal mandates,” says Kidd. “We also want them to know that there are simple and easy steps they can begin to take – that it doesn’t need to be an overwhelming burden to them.”
Roll, Kidd, Walker and Spooner showed a trailer of the video curriculum at the 20th Annual Accessing Higher Ground Conference in November. This conference gathers people from all around the country to learn about and discuss accessible media, web and technology in higher education. They hope that this video curriculum will provide resources to help promote equal access at institutions across the nation.
For more information and a list of comprehensive training videos in universal design of electronic content visit https://accessibility.colostate.edu/.
The Assistive Technology Resource Center and the Center for Community Partnerships are direct services and practice outreach arms of the Department of Occupational Therapy, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.