Welcome to the Accessibility in BlackBoard Learn Workshop!
There are many students that come to us with various abilities and disabilities, as you probably already know. Some of these disabilities are not obvious, and in fact, may be totally invisible until you work with that student, or she discloses information to you.
Sometimes, students with invisible disabilities are perceived as lacking in intelligence, or as not paying attention. That happened to Nate before he was diagnosed with a learning disability: "They'd look at me and they'd be like, oh, well, you're faking, you're playing around, you're just not trying hard enough or something. But I was trying.” But these disabilities are real and can get in the way of learning when we do not work with students appropriately. Simply being respectful and willing to work with a student’s disability in a fair way is the first step.
Note that not all students with the same disabilities or medical diagnoses respond to the same accommodations or treatments. Each individual is unique and it is always important to treat them as such. Do not just assume because one student has a disability that required a particular accommodation that the same accommodation is appropriate for another. However, having experiences with multiple students and learning to work with each one will give you a wider base of knowledge and understanding that you can take with you to work with any student, of course.
Students with invisible disabilities may not even need accommodations in your classroom at all. Each student will self-disclose and provide you documentation of their accommodation needs individually – do not assume based on a perceived need that a student needs a particular accommodation. Our goal at the college level is to provide all students with an equal playing field. Simply because a student has a disability does not mean he/she is seeking to be treated differently or given extra advantages that other students do not receive.
Ultimately, be willing to be flexible with students with disabilities. When there are issues, maintain patience and be willing to change things around to adequately accommodate that student. This does not mean that you have to make the course different or “easier” for the student; instead, we need to provide them with reasonable accommodations so that they have the same chance at an education that all of the other students do. Keep this in mind, as it is also possible to be “too flexible” in an effort to help the student as best you can. Instructors frequently find themselves in binds when dealing with such issues without support. Luckily, Disability Services and the OLT are here to help, so be sure to ask anytime you need it!
For information on models of learning styles, consult these links: Kolb’s Experiential Learning model: http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/styles/kolb.html Felder and Soloman index of learning styles: http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Learning_Styles.html Gardner’s multiple intelligences http://www.edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-research and https://howardgardner.com/multiple-intelligences/
Teaching and learning with all students can present various challenges – as you know it’s not just our students with disabilities we need to worry about, but it’s really everyone. Students have many abilities and many learning styles. While some may not be considered to have a “disability,” they may process information at a different rate, may understand things better if spoken than written, and so forth. When delivering your course, consider offering as many ways possible to help students get to the goals you set forth. Some ways to do this include providing students with detailed lecture notes or transcripts, offering alternative projects or a choice of projects where appropriate, recording your class sessions with Echo360 and making the links available online after class, and offering virtual office hours or synchronous sessions with WebEx. The latter could be especially valuable if you teach an online or hybrid class.
We throw the word Accessibility around an awful lot, but what does it mean? In short, it refers to making sure that your electronic documents are usable and/or readable by all who might need it, including those with disabilities. It sounds like extra work to consider the needs of persons with disabilities when you’re working online, but in reality, it really isn’t if you keep some basic things in mind while you are creating and posting. This presentation will give you some insights and tools that you will need to make your online courses more accessible to all students.
Not everyone uses computers the same way, but with assistive technologies like screen readers, everyone can use them. The problem is that there are many things that many of us take for granted every day that can be serious barriers to persons with disabilities. For example, many times we communicate something in pictures, letting a picture, graph, or diagram tell a story. That is a wonderful thing, but what about the student who is visually impaired? Without being able to see the image, the meaning will be lost unless it is explained in words as well. The videos linked on this slide show some examples of persons with disabilities and the issues they encounter in daily life with computers and in school. There are disabilities and limitations that we may not always be able to see, and may not always be documented. It is important to recognize that by using accessible strategies, you are helping not just the small number of students with documented disabilities through the Disabilities Services Office, but also those with less obvious limitations, as well as even those students who may not even have a “disability” at all, but who just simply have a different preferred learning style.
The 10-second Web Accessibility Test is a great eye-opener to see whether any Web page you’re working with has any accessibility barriers. This uses the WAVE Toolbar, a fantastic tool for Firefox that allows you to see at a glance all errors with graphics, headings, and other issues. You can use this within BlackBoard or on pages outside of BlackBoard – you can even use it on publisher-created pages to test their accessibility! If your page has video, is it captioned? This is another important item, as videos that must be reviewed should have either captions or a text transcript available for students to read if they cannot for any reason hear the video. This is the subject for next month’s workshop series as well. Follow the links on this slide for some great resources and demonstrations of accessible and inaccessible Web page design.
BlackBoard has a number of good features for accessibility, and it works reasonably well with most screen readers and other assistive technologies. In most cases, users can use the Tab key to get around any BlackBoard course, rather than a mouse, which can be a great feature for those with visual or mobility disabilities. The link on this slide takes you to a comprehensive overview of accessibility features built into BlackBoard. But, note that there are some features that are dependent upon you setting them up a little in order to make them work best for your students.
First of all, be sure to describe and title your pictures when you enter them into any Item in your course. You are always prompted to provide this information when inserting an image, and you don’t have to write much – maybe a phrase or a short sentence is all that is needed. For example, an image showing a person studying might say exactly that – “Student studying a book.” If you are working with a more complex graphic, such as a table or chart, it may be necessary to provide more detail. Depending on the nature of your graphic, you may wish to provide a paragraph or more that describes what is in the figure in detail, or you may even wish to ask Disability Services for help in providing the student with an appropriate description. Every graphic and every student is different, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need some guidance.
Be sure to properly explain what a link or a file in your course is, using the description boxes available, rather than just assume that everyone will know what to click on and what they will find there.
There are many other programs that have accessible features, including Office products, SoftChalk, Weebly for websites, and others. The Web2access.org.uk site provides evaluations of different apps that are available in terms of their overall accessibility, and can be a useful resource.
The key thing to note in creating accessible online resources for your students is that anything can be made accessible with a few basic considerations. In documents, use your headings, layouts, and style sheets wherever they are available. That means, use Heading 1 when creating a large headline in a Word document, rather than just change the font to bold and make it larger. This makes the screen reader call out that it is a heading not just any random bit of text. Also, when creating a PowerPoint, it is best to stick with the premade layouts, as these are already set up to be fairly accessible to screen readers. Also, do not use bizarre fonts and color schemes that are harder to read. The simpler and higher contrast it is, the better. Finally, do not convey all of your information through images alone. That means that yes, those fabulous TED-style slideshows you have put together may need some tweaking! Consider that some of your audience may not understand – for a number of reasons – the visuals that you have available. A text version or explanation along with those visuals can help tremendously.
PDFs can be a big problem for users with disabilities. In some cases, scanned images may look like text to you and me, but to the viewer with a screen reader, it may actually be a picture and thus, the words are invisible to them. It is important to make sure that your PDF files contain actual text – you’ll know the difference if you can drag your mouse over the words and highlight them while you are viewing the PDF. If you can do that, then you’re in good shape. If possible, you should also consider tagging your PDF documents, or having someone assist you with this process. Our office and the Disability Services office can assist with PDF tagging. In some cases, this can be a laborious process, so if you have many PDFs with complex figures, charts, and tables, be prepared for a long road ahead. In some cases, it may behoove you to find an alternate reading or resource for students. If you use Word to convert documents you write or edit into PDFs, that’s great, but be sure you’re actually using Word Styles like Heading 1, Paragraph, and so forth. This is not often a default action for many of us, but if you look at the Home ribbon you will see an item called Styles, and easily selectable options there that correspond to heading levels and paragraph types. Use these when you are constructing a document to avoid trouble and extra tagging needs later on.
Captions are a great thing for many people, not just the hearing-disabled. They can enhance meaning in a video, and can help even those who can hear it just fine understand what is going on. They can also help students for whom English is not their first language understand the video that much more clearly, as well as practice their English comprehension skills. Automatic captioning is a technology that has come a long way in recent years, but it definitely should not be relied upon just yet! Try a random YouTube video and turn the automatic captioning on, and you’ll see exactly what we mean! Sometimes the results are downright silly (and sometimes even offensive!) so avoid relying on them. Instead, you can actually edit your own YouTube captions for any video you upload, making sure that they are correct if someone turns captioning on. Camtasia also has built-in captioning assistance to help you write or import your captions in and align them easily to each scene of your video. Another alternative to captioning is to provide lecture notes or transcripts. Similar to this presentation you’re viewing right now, you can use the Notes feature of PowerPoint to provide more detailed notes on any slide, providing a rough transcript of what would be said should the presentation be given before an audience. Sometimes PowerPoint slides can even stand on their own as a transcript or lecture notes depending on how detailed your video or presentation is.
Publisher-created content is used frequently in our courses, and well it should – it is often of high quality and goes along with what we are teaching. But sometimes, publishers do not provide appropriately accessible materials. In this case, be sure to contact the publisher directly on the student’s behalf about your concern. Sometimes publishers will also have help or alternative versions available under a Support link on their website, but it is often best to guide students through this process, rather than expect them to seek out help on their own. When you’re not sure of what to do or who to call for help, contact Disability Services as soon as you can for advice.
One of the most common needs of students with disabilities is more time on an assessment. In BlackBoard, there is no current way to do this easily, but you can make a copy of the exam and set it up through Adaptive Release to release that version to only that student. This does create extra columns in your gradebook, unfortunately, but luckily, after this semester this will no longer be an issue. In the summer, you will have access to an updated version of BlackBoard that should have functions for allowing extra time for individual students right within a single assessment. For more information on this process, consult the links on this slide.
Please consult these resources to learn more about different types of accessibility online
Please consult these resources for more advice and insight into accessibility for students at the college level
Please contact us and visit http://pnc.edu/distance for all workshop notes, links, and training needs. Thank you!
Helping All Students Succeed
Many of our students
come to us with
disabilities - some you
can see and some you
You may look at a
student and not see
anything different than
any other student in
Students who have the same medical
diagnosis for their condition may have
different preferences and accommodation
It is important to work with each individual to
figure out what's best in a specific situation
What you learn from working with students
with disabilities will help you work better with
Students with invisible disabilities may or
may not need accommodations in a college
classroom. If they do, it's the students'
responsibility to self-disclose, provide
documentation of the disabilities, and
Be respectful and open
to working with
Be willing to provide
alternative content or
more time on tests
Reach out to Disability
Services for advice –
can present various
of who is in your class
Students have various
abilities as well as
Try to consider
everyone’s needs in
your regular teaching
Ways to help
Provide detailed lecture
projects or choice for
Record your class
sessions with Echo360
Offer virtual office hours
(websites, PDFs, etc)
should be usable by all,
including persons with
Contrary to popular
belief, it’s not hard to
keep accessibility in
mind while developing
your online materials
Not everyone uses computers and the
Internet in the same way, but everyone CAN
use these tools successfully
Assistive technology can help people with
visual, mobility, and other sensory, cognitive,
or physical disabilities use technology
Strategies that we employ in our online
development can also make a user’s
experience that much better
TerrillThompson’s 10 SecondWeb
1. Try tabbing through the page.
2. If the page includes video content, try playing a
video to see if it's captioned.
3. Run the website through the WAVE tool
W3C-WAI Demo site:
Very compatible with
most screen readers like
But there are additional
things you can do to
make your course more
When uploading and
inserting a picture, be
sure that is has a
This should be a simple
title of no more that one
or two sentences, or a
Complex images like
graphs should be
described in more detail
as a download or Item
SoftChalk (30 day trial
Microsoft Office tools
PowerPoint can all be
Evaluating other apps:
Use Headings, premade
layouts, and Style sheets
Use highly contrasting
Avoid “strange” fonts
Do not convey
See if the program can be
controlled by the
keyboard, and if screen
zooming is available
Is it easy to download
Some PDFs that are
scanned from another
source are actually
images and cannot be
read in a screen reader
Make sure your PDF files
are actual text and
tagged as well as
Use Styles (Headings,
Paragraph, etc.) inWord
if convertingWord to
for converting fromWord
For Accessible syllabus
Captions can do wonders
for many students in
understanding a video,
not just the deaf
captions are not ideal –
use your own or a
Lecture notes and
transcripts should be
able to take the place of
the video if you use them
Making your own videos?
Useful tips on caption
For long videos, contact
Disability Services for
caption service options
When you use publisher-
created content, there
may or may not be a
guarantee of accessibility
When in doubt, consult
with the publisher directly
about any concerns or
Also don’t hesitate to
contact the Disability
Services Coordinator -
Testing and giving extra time
UseTest Availability Exemptions to help you set
up extra time accommodations
W3CWeb Accessibility Initiative:
Helpful video accessibility checklist:
Many other excellent articles on making various
materials accessible: http://webaim.org/articles/
WAVE accessibility checker for websites and
Presentation resources: http://www.pnc.edu/distance/caring-
Purdue Calumet (thanks to Pam Riesmeyer):
University ofWashington DO-IT
▪ Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking andTechnology
University ofWisconsin – Madison DoIT: Division of
Penn State University: AccessAbility