Accessibility in the Online Classroom

As instructional designers, we are tasked with designing courses that produce quality learning experiences and greater learning outcomes. An important part of our job is to ensure that all learners can access and utilize the course content. This means that individuals who struggle with vision, hearing, motor skills, or cognitive deficits must be incorporated into our design plan. Working as an instructional designer for adult learning courses in higher education, I see the importance of accessibility each day. A large majority of our adult learners struggle with visual impairment to some degree. As we age, our eyesight begins to diminish and this can have an impact on our educational pursuits. Accessibility bridges the gap for not only adult learners but for all students who are visually impaired.

Many times, when someone mentions accessibility for the visually impaired, they immediately think of tools like a screenreader. But, there are many examples from everyday life. Reading a webpage on your smart phone, if you’re like me, involves squinting and enlarging the page. The first image below shows a standard webpage on a smartphone.

Smartphone web browser in standard mode.
Smartphone web browser in standard mode.

After I clicked the “reading view” feature the webpage transformed into an uncluttered, easy to read page with a larger font size. This simple step allowed me to read the content without squinting or holding my tablet 2 inches from my eyes! That’s the power of accessibility: it creates a level playing field for everyone to engage and learn.

Smartphone web browser in Reading View mode
Smartphone web browser in Reading View mode

Accessibility is simply giving everyone access to education. It’s not just transferring knowledge or skills from one person to another, by opening the doors to education, we are empowering change. Nelson Mandela said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. If education holds the power to change the world, then the future must include a commitment to making education accessible to all people.

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