Accessibility in Higher Education

Accessibility, Being a TA, TA Guides

The list below represents important aspects of how Teaching Assistants (TAs) can incorporate more inclusive and accessible practices into their classes (online or face-to-face formats). Not all suggestions below may be applicable in all departments on campus. Please use the list as a guide only as this list is not exhaustive but encompasses a diverse array of aspects.  

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is defined as a set of principles for curriculum development and teaching to provide students equal opportunities to learn (CAST, 2018).

UDL Principles:

I

Provide multiple means of representation

  • This refers to presenting information in more than one format (e.g., visual, audio, text). 
  • As a TA, consider using multiple approaches to explain a concept such as text, audio/discussion, exemplars, and/or diagrams/graphics. 
I

Provide multiple means of expression

  • This refers to allowing students to demonstrate their learning in different ways using a variety of formats (e.g., audio, visual, text). 
  • Allowing a variety of assessment strategies can help students demonstrate their learning in different ways.  
  • Most instructors are implementing this principle to assess how well students are learning the material by combining quizzes, discussions, writing, etc. 
  • In terms of accessibility, completing certain types of activities will be easier or more challenging depending on the learner.  
  • If a course is discussion-based with a large class capacity, it may be difficult or cumbersome for a hard-of-seeing student who is trying to navigate a lengthy discussion with a screen reader.  
  • If a course is mostly timed multiple-choice test-based, it may disadvantage a student with neurodiversity or someone for which the timed exam aspect causes more anxiety (SBCTC-a). 
I

Provide multiple means of engagement

  • This element of UDL stresses learner motivation.  
  • When you apply this principle, you are looking to find ways to link material to students’ lives, interests, and experiences by giving them choices.  
  • As a TA, you should allow students to find ways to self-assess and reflect on how the material impacts their interests and their lives. 
  • Explain the importance and relevance of the intended learning outcomes of the course, allowing them to be flexible enough for students to find ways to connect the intended learning outcomes to their lives.  
  • Invite students to draw the connections and find relevance to their lives, interests, and current events (SBCTC-b). 

What are the characteristics of accessible education?

Digital Accessibility

Perceived information; what students need to get in the door 

Includes: 

  • Creating an inclusive environment that is respectful of all students’ unique characteristics 
  • Providing a proactive and inclusive teaching practice for all students 
  • Designing accessible materials and creating positive learning spaces for students 

Universal Design for Learning

Student choice, making it relevant for students 

Includes:

  • Defining barriers to learning with students and show them how you have tried to remove those barriers in your work as a TA 
  • Providing multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement 

Why is accessibility important?

By designing accessible classes for all, it can help make learning more equitable and decrease the time associated with arranging individual and specialized accommodations for different learning needs. Ensuring learning spaces are accessible for all students can also help improve their learning journeys. As a TA, accessibility has a direct relationship with educational productivity and interacting with students and ensuring any educational resources students utilize in class are as accessible as possible. 

What is accessibility in teaching?

Creating learning spaces that are accessible for all and help students succeed throughout their learning journeys. By designing accessible curricula for all, students spend less time figuring out individual accommodations and have more time to focus on the course material.  

    Strategies for accessible teaching (a selection)

    • Allow students choices on their assessments
    • Provide flexibility with deadlines to accommodate student schedules
    • Start off the semester with a needs assessment survey for your students to get a sense of where your students are
    • In design courses or in labs, create Twitter hash tags for the class can encourage students to post ideas to Twitter and share results with each other
    • Provide a voice note to students to explain their assignments as a form of feedback
    • Increase student engagement and empower others to be innovative in preparing new educational material with using new features of applications 
    • Provide multiple means of engagement – encourage learner autonomy with choice of topics or assignment formats or invite students to co-design elements of classroom activities or assignments 
    • Include the UVic Accessibility Statement and other statements that showcase your care and support for students in a course syllabus or outline

    Strategies to improve accessibility of classroom resources

    • Caption your videos 
    • Use standard and sans serif font in presentations 
    • Maintain consistent high contrast within the document 
    • Ensure electronic documents (Word, PowerPoint, PDF, etc.) have accessibility checkers embedded 1
    • Include alternate text describing images, graphs and charts in your documents 
    • Use the Microsoft “Styles” tool to organize your document (this will allow  for headings, sub-headings, emphasis and quotes to be interpreted by screen readers) and keep pages and titles consistent
    • Provide accessible electronic learning materials in advance to students in order to be prepared and familiarized with the subject and content (e.g., an old document scanned and shared as a PDF is likely not in an accessible format) 
    • Record lectures where possible and post for all students  
    References
    1. CAST. (2018). The UDL Guidelines version 2.2. https://udlguidelines.cast.org/  
    2. Coolidge, A., Doner, S., Robertson, T., & Gray, J. (2018). Accessibility Toolkit – 2nd Edition. BCcampus. https://opentextbc.ca/accessibilitytoolkit/  
    3. Council of Ontario Universities. (n.d.). Educator’s Accessibility Toolkit. Ontario’s Universities – Accessible Campus. https://accessiblecampus.ca/tools-resources/educators-tool-kit/ 
    4. Kachani, S.., Ross, C., & Irvin, A. (2020). 5 principles as pathways to inclusive teaching. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/02/19/practical-steps-toward-more-inclusive-teaching-opinion  
    5. Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC-a). (n.d.). Multiple means of action/expression. SBCTC’s Library of Accessibility Resources. https://sbctc.instructure.com/courses/1578604/pages/multiple-means-of-action-slash-expression?module_item_id=33185578 
    6. Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC-b). (n.d.). Multiple means of engagement. SBCTC’s Library of Accessibility Resources. https://sbctc.instructure.com/courses/1578604/pages/multiple-means-of-engagement?module_item_id=33185579 
    Appendix

    Additional suggestions for creating accessible documents can be found below. For all formats, ensure that all websites are hyperlinked and have a descriptive title versus a long web address. 

    Word document

    An accessible Word document:  

    • should be followed and understood by any student 
    • should be readable by a screen reader 
    • has effective alternative text (Alt Text) 
    • contains captioning or transcripts for any embedded audio or video 
    PDF

    PDF is a format that looks the same on the screen as it does in print; to have an accessible PDF, the Word document should be used to create the PDF and properly tagged and check information to access to all the information within the document.  To do so: 

    • Under “Options,” make sure to check the “Document structure tags for accessibility” box 
    • Then, use the plug-in that is available within Word if Adobe Acrobat is installed 
    • In the top toolbar, click the “Acrobat” tab 
    • Select “Create PDF” 
    • In the “Save” box, select the “Options” button 
    • Select the “Enable Accessibility” and “Reflow with Tagged Adobe PDF”  
    PowerPoint

    To create an accessible PowerPoint document:  

    • Use high contrast across colours between the slide background and text 
    • Use the Microsoft slide layout templates as they have been designed to be accessible 
    • Use simple slide transitions and if using animations, make sure they are brief and do not distract from the slide content 
    • Complex transitions, such as checkerboards, can be distracting during presentations; they may also cause problems with screen readers or other assistive technologies if someone views the presentation electronically 
    • Use simple language 
    • Do not overcrowd slides with text 
    • Use titles on each slide so flow of the presentation is easy to navigate 
    • Use brief animation to avoid any distraction from content 
    • Use the notes pane to insert lecture notes 
    • If using embedded videos, it should be captioned and that the player controls are accessible 
    • Make the slides available electronically to your students on a learning management system, on the course website, or by e-mail 

    This guide was developed by work study students in consultation with the LTSI TA Coordinator and updated during the Teaching Assistant Consultants’ (TACs) seminars 2022-2023.

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