Whether it occurs in or out of the classroom, digital learning has opened new opportunities for students to engage with content and communicate with teachers. Just like traditional learning, though, digital content is not always accessible to all learners, and students with physical and cognitive disabilities may need alternate means of engagement to fully participate.
There are a few steps you can take today to make the content you provide to students online more perceivable, operable, and robustly understandable for all learners. The following steps are a great starting point and can be easily incorporated into your lesson planning process.
Bonus: The following tips can also help your classroom’s online learning practices conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. These guidelines provide a wide range of recommendations for making online content more accessible, making them a great resource for educators interested in supporting their new methods with expert-backed best practices.
Add Alt Text
While visual graphics are common in many kinds of educational material, they are not readily perceivable to students utilizing screen readers and speech input software.
To make digital images visible to these types of alternative engagement devices, teachers should utilize alt texts (also known as an “alt tag”). Alt text is a set of written information that is embedded in an image’s data and describes either its aesthetic or functional qualities.
For example, the above photo appears on a webpage beside a set of text describing different cat fur colors. Because this photo only serves to visually supplement that information, a short description of the image’s content will suffice.
“A grey cat seated on a blanket”
By comparison, the above image serves a functional purpose on a website. When clicked on, it leads users back to the website’s homepage. As such, its alt text should effectively communicate this function, rather than its visual appearance.
For more information on how to implement alt text, check out the W3C’s Web Accessibility Tutorial on alt text usage.
Utilize Closed Captioning and Transcripts
Closed captions are another proven method for making audio-based video content accessible to viewers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. These synchronized subtitles
YouTube’s speech recognition software even allows for auto-captioning, which teachers can edit as needed to create quick, effective captions (Note: auto-captions by themselves do not provide adequate accessibility unless that have been properly checked for accuracy).
While implementing closed captions may take some practice, you will find that they can be seamlessly integrated into your video post-production process. This WC3 checklist can help you understand both the skills and tools you’ll need to make a habit out of closed captioning.
Follow Text Best Practices
Text is one of the most common problem areas when it comes to online accessibility. Since text often communicates essential information, you should always check your text formatting to ensure it is accessible to as many users as possible.
Here are just a few recommendations for keeping your text legible in a variety of digital formats:
- Fonts – always use a font that provides full readability in a variety of sizes and contexts. Tahoma, Calibri, Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, and Times New Roman are preferred, while stylized fonts should be avoided.
- Color – always choose a font color that maximizes visibility and contrast. In almost all cases, black text on a white background is best.
- Bold and Italics – Avoid using bolding and italics to emphasize a particular word or words. Most screen readers do not announce these text styles. Semantic markups should be used in their place.
- Justification – In most circumstances, text should be left-justified by default. Full justification should be avoided and center justification should be used sparingly on no more than one line of text at a time.
Working Together to Make Learning Accessible
Making online learning accessible doesn’t need to be an intimidating challenge. With the right planning and knowledge, you can create an inclusive online learning environment that provides learners with multiple means of engaging with curricular content.
The Learning Technology Center (LTC) is committed to helping Illinois K-12 educators create robustly accessible content for both their physical and digital classrooms. Learn more about our latest resources – including tutorials, trainings, and auditing tools – over on our Accessibility hub.
The LTC also strives to keep K-12 school districts up-to-date on the latest state and federal accessibility guidance – including Illinois’ new online learning tool accessibility mandate. Legal briefs for these standards and requirements can also be found on our Accessibility hub.