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What educators should know about accessibility

Modified on: Mon, Aug 26, 2019 at 10:03 AM


(What is the issue and why is it important?)

The University of Missouri (UM) “strives to assure that no qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of the disability, be denied access to, participation in, or the benefits of any program or activity operated by UM.” This explicitly includes online programs and activities.

You might already know that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires federal, state, and local government agencies to provide equal access to accommodations and facilities. In the physical world, these accommodations include wheelchair ramps, hand rails, parking spaces close to building entrances, and so forth.

The ADA also applies to the online world; moreover, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 specifies that federal agencies must make all electronic information accessible to people with disabilities.

In other words, those of us who create online content at Mizzou must take steps to ensure that those materials are accessible to individuals who have disabilities. Consider these examples:

  • A student with a hearing impairment will not be able to follow a video without closed captioning or a transcript.
  • A detailed chart or diagram is of little use to a visually impaired student without descriptive “alternative text” that a screen reader will read aloud to the student.
  • Individuals with some motor limitations may have difficulty using a mouse or keyboard.

Real-Life Examples / Lessons Learned

(Why should faculty and students care about this?)

Approximately 56.7 million people, or 18.7% of the 303.9 million United States citizens, had a disability in 2010. In Missouri, 15.3% of the population aged 18-44 is considered to have one or more disability. As faculty and students of the University of Missouri, we should consider the likelihood that at least one student in a class will have a disability.

Disability most commonly includes five major categories:

  • Blindness, low vision and color blindness
  • Deafness and hearing loss
  • Cognitive limitations (e.g., learning disabilities such as dyslexia or ADHD)
  • Low-mobility/limited movement
  • Photosensitivity (e.g., seizure disorders)

Remember that a disability is not always physical or visible. A soldier home from war might experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have anxiety related to being in the classroom. A student with ADHD might have difficulty focusing on an exam.

Recommendations / Best Practices

(My time is limited. Where should I start for the most impact?)

  • Review the “Rights and Responsibilities” of faculty as outlined by the Disability Center.
  • Review the Accessibility Quick Reference below to learn how to make specific file types accessible to students with disabilities.
  • Discuss universal design elements with fellow faculty or an instructional designer from Course Design & Technology to create an accessible course; see the eTopics article “Universal Design and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)” to learn more.

Sample Language for Your Syllabus

(What do students need to know?)

If you anticipate barriers related to the format or requirements of this course, if you have emergency medical information to share with me, or if you need to make arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please let me know as soon as possible.

Please register with the Disability Center (http://disabilitycenter.missouri.edu/), S5 Memorial Union, 573-882-4696, if you need disability related accommodations (for example, a note taker, extended time on exams, captioning).

For other resources for students with disabilities, visit theDisability Resources page from the MU Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative (http://diversity.missouri.edu/communities/disabilities.php).

To Learn More

MU resources

(Where can I go on campus for help?)

General resources

(Can you recommend 1-2 great resources where I could learn more about this topic?)

Accessibility Quick Reference



AccessAbility: Video  Captions and Audio Transcripts
  • Include captions  or transcripts
  • If hosting on  YouTube, don’t rely on automatic captioning.
Microsoft Word
WebAIM Accessibility  Guide for Word
  • Use heading styles (customizable)
  • Include alternative text for images
  • Avoid text boxes
  • Use descriptive hypertext language
  • Build content with the HTML text editor instead

WebAIM Accessibility Guide for PowerPoint

  • Use built–in slide layouts
  • Add alternative text to images
  • Don’t save as a web page
Microsoft Excel
AccessAbility: Excel Tips
  • Specify column headers
  • Avoid use of blank cells, rows, or columns for formatting
PDF Documents
WebAIM: PDF Accessibility
  • Scanned items must have optical character recognition (OCR) run on them
  • Accessible Word documents will make accessible PDFs
Google Docs
Using Google Document  Headings (Greg Kraus, University IT Accessibility Coordinator, North Carolina  State University)
  • Use heading styles
  • If in final state, export it to Word
  • Some users may not be able to edit documents

Narrated Presentations

  • Both LecShare Pro and Camtasia can be used to create accessible presentations
  • Work with the Course Design & Technology instructional design and development team to create a video!

Plain Language Checklist

  • Provide organization with headings and lists where appropriate
  • Be concise; write for your audience
  • Use action verbs and active voice

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