Keeping Accessibility in Mind During the COVID-19 Conversion of Courses

By Lindsey Rae Downs: For More Info, Go Here…

For many K-20 faculty it must feel as if the rug has been pulled from underneath them. In the midst of what for many is also a personal panic, declarations that schools are closing, and teaching will move online were made.

For those of us who work with others who chose to teach online, we may forget that not everyone knows how to set up videoconferencing, how to use an LMS, or produce media for teaching. Of course, even for teachers who know and use technology well, it can still be a crush of work just to figure out good online pedagogical practices.

We know that posting materials online does not equal online learning.

Accessibility Concerns for Students in “COVID Converted” Courses

However, let us also remember that this is an emerging blow to many individuals with disabilities too. One day they have strategies in place to access courses and materials, and after a brief pause, they may be unable to get the needed instructional content. This could be due an inaccessible LMS used by the district or institution, applications that are not accessible, readings delivered by the library that were simply scanned as an image, or instructor materials that pose problems.

Last week the U.S. Department of Education shared three important pieces of information that are good to review. March 16th they unveiled their “Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Schools While Protecting the Civil Rights of Students” March 17th the Office of Civil Rights posted a brief 7-minute webinar specific to online education and website accessibility. In short we are reminded that we must not discriminate against those with disabilities as the transition to online learning occurs. Then on March 21st, the Department posted a “Supplemental Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities”. In it, we are reminded that while online learning must be accessible, the law does not mandate the specific methodologies to make it so. Where issues exist, educators are urged to make sure they provide equally effective alternative access.

The Balance: Meeting Accessibility Needs + Being Kind to Faculty Converting to Online

During this COVID-19 crisis it is important that we are kind to all who are literally working in a state of emergency to transition their content and pedagogical approach for the new online reality, while also learning how to use the tools many of us take for granted. We must also be advocates for students with disabilities, who may just now be aware of the inaccessible mess that resulted from the COVID-19 response in education.

These simultaneous thoughts (i.e., being kind to both teachers and students with disabilities) led to this blog. While I am a disability ally and advocate, I can appreciate a faculty member hearing for the first time, “oh yeah and we need to make sure your materials are accessible.” While I may recoil as I know that accessibility requirements have been around for over 20 years, every opportunity for change is a good one.

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