Accessibility in online classes


How professors can accommodate disabled students amidst online shift

With the switch to online learning, the Office of Student AccessAbility and faculty members are having to make different adjustments in order to accommodate students with disabilities.

Clinical associate professor Kenneth Brewer said that in some ways, it’s actually easier to accommodate some students, as blind students can go back to listen to the recording of lectures done in Blackboard collaborate.

“The main problem that it has … is the chat feature,” Brewer said. “As an instructor, you’d have to essentially read the chat messages aloud, or at least we summarize them because that’s the only way students can get access to those chat messages.”

For the hearing impaired, the accommodations handled by the OSA range from captioning software built into Teams or other software to employing sign language interpreters remotely, Student AccessAbility Director Kerry Tate said. Not only that, but Tate said that some students who might not have needed accommodations before have started coming to the OSA for help with issues that have come up in the switch to online learning.

“We may have a student that has very limited hearing, but in a face-to-face class they’re able to ask the faculty member to repeat it or if they’re close enough to them just see what they’re saying and everything. We’ve had some students coming to us and going, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do it here. They’re narrating their PowerPoint, what do I do?’” Tate said. “So we have to try and get some captions up there so they can hear the same thing.”

Currently there is an FAQ on the front page of the OSA website providing general guidelines and information to both students and faculty about how to handle accommodations during the pandemic. However, Tate said that the office is happy to meet with any students having trouble online and has been sending out emails to ensure students’ needs are met. They’ve been making calls through both Facetime and Teams, and Tate said it adds a personal touch.

“I think it’s a difficult situation for all of us in general. I mean, none of us have ever experienced something like this … so we have to try to make sure that we’ll look at their needs; we’ve got to look at their situation to try and help them walk through it and everything,” Tate said.

In this new adjustment period, Tate said that faculty will have to think about how to approach making content accessible for all students regardless of disability and ask themselves the question of how to appropriately deliver their content.

“Turn the monitor off and think about how many clicks it takes you to get to something. So, if you’re in a program, you have to click five things to get into that program. Think of someone that’s blind or low vision that has to navigate that. So that’s why we try to encourage faculty to think about how you’re going to deliver it, to send it directly to them,” Tate said. “By the time they get to that, this click or that page, by then they’re frustrated and then where’s the learning?”


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