Like all higher education institutions, UMKC is committed to providing an environment and culture that supports and promotes the success of all students, including those with disabilities. But accessibility today requires more than physical access: it mandates technological access too. But technology dominance in education presents barriers to learning for college students that are significantly worse than ten years ago, especially in the online classroom.

A common misperception among college faculty and administrators is that students with disabilities constitute such a small percentage of online learners that their accommodations can be met successfully on an “as-needed” basis. But research shows that collectively, students with disabilities make up the majority of online learners. According to 2007 NCES data, 67% of students enrolled in distance education courses reported having mobility, sensory, and other long-lasting disabilities (Pittman and Heiselt, 2014). There is no scalable way for colleges and universities to hurriedly retrofit online course content to be accessible to such a large population with such diverse needs. Instead, the solution lies in shifting from this reactive “case-by-case” model to a new paradigm of “up-front, built-in” accessibility that emphasizes comprehensiveness, not accommodation.

desktop accessibility iconThis message of proactivity was delivered by Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, at AHEAD’s Accessible Instructional Materials and Technology Summit on June 18 in Columbia, Maryland. Hill reminded the roomful of instructional designers, technologists, disability services staff, provosts, and legal counsel that it is a student’s civil right to be included in classrooms, physical and online, and that it is higher education’s obligation to provide content and technologies that enable access. She emphasized that the time has come for colleges and universities to begin working to create an accessibility conscious culture – or risk legal and financial penalties from the Department of Justice.

The AIMT Summit yielded other valuable takeaways as well such as “engage leadership,” “teach the teachers,” and “incentivize accessibility practices for faculty.” Clearly, there is much to be done to ensure student success for every student. But where to start? For administrators, the implementation of new policies, systems, and resources must be addressed at the highest levels and will take time and effort to manifest. But for instructors, the answer is simpler: start today and make your course content accessible. In other words, ensure that your Word documents, PowerPoints, PDFs and lecture videos meet the standards set forth in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and in section 508 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Together, these standards and guidelines establish a foundation that when followed can create accessible online content that is clearer and more accessible for everyone.

If you are a UMKC instructor and would like to learn more about creating accessible materials for your courses, then register for Accessible Course Content: Best Practices for Word, PowerPoint, and PDF. This free, three-hour workshop is one of several UMKC Online faculty trainings offered throughout the year that provides strategies and resources for online teaching and quality course design. To view the complete training calendar visit the UMKC Online Workshops page and stay tuned to this blog for more news, tips, and tools related to accessible practices and education.