by David dos Santos
By law, anything posted on a website or other electronic form by an educational institution in the United States must be made reasonably accessible for people who may have disabilities. Directly from the U.S Department of Education Office of the CIO is the following:
The Department of Education considers accessibility to information a priority for all employees and external customers, including individuals with disabilities. The Department has established these Requirements for Accessible Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) Design in order to support its obligations, under Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 794 and 794d. This is to ensure the accessibility of its programs and activities to individuals with disabilities, specifically its obligation to acquire accessible electronic and information technology.
Let’s explore some best practices and requirements that you as a professor should, and in some cases must employ to make your Blackboard course accessible to students with disabilities. In many cases, making as course accessible improves your course for students without disabilities as well.
Follow the General Best Practices for Designing your Course
The best first step in making your online course, whether your course is web enhanced, hybrid, or asynchronous, accessible is by following the general best practices for designing your course. Make sure that your course pages are properly labelled with an appropriate title and documents are posted in updated and universal formats. For example, post searchable “OCRed” PDFs instead of scanned JPEGs of any documents students are expected to read.
Course Layout – theme, fonts, colors, etc
The course theme, if not kept at the default, should be carefully considered. The Office of Educational Technology and the Office of Accessability has carefully selected the default theme that is the most accessible. According to the Office of Accessability, not all the themes provided by Blackboard is accessible. This is mainly due to some of the color schemes. You should also take into consideration your font colors when designing your course. General best practices dictate that you do not use too many different colors anyway but to someone who is colorblind, you may be inadvertently hiding text by mixing to many colors. If you are unsure about color contrast, you can double check with a tool like accessible-colors.com/. It is also recommended that you change the default font size from 12 pt to 14 pt. Students can zoom into your Blackboard course just like any website but it is more convenient for the default font size to be easily readable.
Understanding Assistive Technology
Assistive technology such was JAWS, a screen reader installed on all CUNY lab computers for blind or low vision users, rely on manual input from the content creator of a website. For example, if you post an image without alt text, the screen reader will be useless for a blind or low vision user. Be sure to post appropriate descriptive alternative text for any image that you post, this includes tables, charts, and other visual aides.
All videos must also be captioned. If you are posting a video into your Blackboard course, including your own lecture capture, it must be manually captioned which can be a tedious and long process. Our lecture capture software, Panopto as well as YouTube include machine assisted captioning which still needs to be reviewed manually by a person to assure accuracy. If you forecast posting many of your own videos without captions, you should contact your department about subscribing to a third party commercial captioning service like 3PlayMedia.
For more information about Assistive Technology and making your Blackboard course accessible, contact:
Hostos Accessibility Resource Center
CUNY Assistive Technology Services website: