Updated: Nov 28, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced educational institutions across the world to not only experiment with remote teaching but also develop long-term virtual-learning solutions. Universities across the globe were quick to release their general plans for remote learning during the fall semester of the upcoming academic year.
What hasn’t been widely discussed, however, is how these institutions intend to drive engagement and deliver online learning content for students with disabilities.
At BIBC, our goal is to implement technologies which serve as solutions for the following user stories:
Ellia is a high school student with visual impairment. She often uses a screen reader to access online content. When her school switched to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, they worked quickly to ensure that there were audio recordings available for the text on the course site. However, many teachers began to link other web-pages to the learning content, and when these websites were poorly coded or didn’t have alternative text for images, Ellia would encounter many problems.
Alex is a student in college who is hard of hearing. He knows both sign language and written language. When his college began remote learning during the pandemic, he encountered some problems with the YouTube videos his instructors linked to the course content. Specifically, many of these videos were not professionally captioned, and the automated captioning was inaccurate and hard to follow.
The following would serve as effective technology solutions for the user stories described above, respectively:
All text on the course’s main website will be available in audio format. To activate the audio, the student can click on the speaker button located at the top of the page in the right-hand corner.
Furthermore, when a teacher is linking external web-pages to his/her online course content, he/she will get on-screen notifications if those websites are not perfectly compatible with screen readers, or contain images that do not have alternative text. From there, the teacher will be shown links to similar online content which is more accessible for those who are visually impaired.
Each time an instructor links a video which only has automated captioning, or no captioning at all, the video will get professionally captioned within two hours after the video is linked to the course content. Students and instructors will receive an update when the video has been accurately captioned.
I believe that it is extremely important for educational institutions to make quality education accessible for all people. During high school, I had the opportunity to tutor a student with a disability, and although he enjoyed learning very much, it was clear that the current education system did not make it a smooth enough process.
For the upcoming school year, students can continue to demonstrate inclusion and embrace accessibility by doing the following:
Maintaining communication with students with disabilities through group video calls and group chats.
Asking students with disabilities whether they would like to join any virtual study groups that are formed with peers, in order to create a supportive community even as we study virtually.
Being aware of any accessibility issues which may occur during remote learning and by informing the authorities at educational institutions about any such issues.