What is Accessibility?
Accessibility is the degree to which a document, website, product, service, or environment is usable to any given user, including those with a disability. For example, if a building on campus has a wheelchair ramp leading to its main entrance, that entrance is accessible to wheelchair users. Instructional materials posted in the Canvas learning management system are accessible if they are usable by everyone, including those who use assistive technologies like a screen reader or screen magnifier. This is an example of digital accessibility; an electronic document without barriers to the information it contains.
Why is Accessibility Important?
Removing the barriers to information on webpages, in electronic documents, and in video content benefits all users, including those who have a disability impacting their vision, hearing, mobility, or cognitive functions. The National Center for Education Statistics found that more than 19% of undergraduate students reported having some type of disability (2019). Examples of physical disabilities include blindness or low vision, deafness, or mobility issues that may impact the ability to use a computer. There are a broad range of cognitive disabilities including autism, dyslexia (difficulty reading), dyscalculia (difficulty with math), and attention deficit disorder (ADD). Functional categories of cognitive disabilities include problems with memory, problem-solving, attention, reading, and verbal comprehension.
When instructional materials are accessible everyone benefits from features like:
- Content is usable on any device (laptop, tablet, phone)
- Content can be modified for optimal use (adjust text size, contrast, color)
- Layout can be adapted
- Volume, playback rate and timing of multimedia can be adjusted
- Colors can be modified to enhance perception
It’s the Law
Michigan Technological University policy 1.15- Accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT) supports an inclusive teaching and learning environment where everyone can access and use course materials and information, and participate in course assignments and activities designed to help them meet learning goals. Federal laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the 1998 amendment to this act (Section 508), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), specify rights for people with disabilities and requirements for information and communication technologies (ICT). In January 2018, the technical requirements of Section 508 were aligned with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 (A/AA conformance level). Michigan Tech has adopted these guidelines to measure, coordinate and implement compliance with the Accessible ICT policy.
Resources for Creating Accessible Instructional Materials
Document creation tools: