Open University


May 12, 2017

PhD student Jessie Male has taken to heart her teaching of “English 2277: Introduction to Disability Studies.” Not content with lecturing on campus at Ohio State University, she has also designed an online course so that those with accessibility issues can study too. Creating an online course that teaches disability issues that is itself accessible for people with disabilities is a whole other ball game however.

Male has had to research, test, research, test …and get creative. “It’s interesting to think about establishing an online space of its own as a movement toward accessibility, but it doesn’t necessarily became an accessible space unless there are very clear moves that are made to make it as such,” she said.

She calls these design considerations “access moves”; they follow a clear thought process about how people with differing needs will experience the course and how this experience can be improved. For example Male has captioned her video lectures, makes transcripts of the lectures available and offers students choices of the format they can submit work – assignments can be in written, video or audio form (so long as the latter have been captioned). Other parts of the course where the assessment relies on being on the lecture theatre with her, she has had to rethink so they work online. Even student presentations and discussions (which are a significant part of the syllabus) can be done even without the student being physically present in the class – video clips followed by discussion threads on message boards all count towards the assessment. For her, it has been as much of a learning curve to think about online access to the course as it has been creating its educational content.

Her syllabus, drawn-up with the help of Margaret Price, the associate professor of English and coordinator of the disability studies program at Ohio State, clearly details the attempts to accommodate those with access issues. Price herself has made it clear to students that disability should not, and will not, be a barrier to education: “I assume that all of us learn in different ways, and that the organization of any course will accommodate each student differently. For example, you may prefer to process information by speaking and listening, or you might prefer to articulate ideas via email or discussion board. Please talk to me as soon as you can about your individual learning needs and how this course can best accommodate them.”

It is also not something that everyone gets right – simply providing audio and visual content online does not make something accessible to those with disabilities as the University of California at Berkeley found out, to its cost. While a US Department of Justice investigation is pretty dramatic, it does highlight that more thought needs to be given to how people experience online content. And not least because there have been a number of university and college lawsuits over inadvertent discrimination against those with disabilities.

Male has made it clear that her course is designed for everyone with access issues not just those with disabilities; and she defines this as everything from students suffering agoraphobia to students with childcare problems that can’t attend the classes in person. It’s a level of support that is laudable and, in this day and age, should be standard for every educational facility.

Why not sign up for an accessibility review through Amnet Systems? Make sure the one billion people worldwide with disabilities are making the most of your digital assets.