Key Accessibility Considerations for Remote Learning

Key Accessibility Considerations for Remote Learning

Introduction

  • The online learning environment is subject to the same laws governing seated classes insomuch that educational institutions have an obligation to ensure that learning opportunities and experiences should be accessible. In the online environment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as Amended, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and additionally the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are applicable. The latter describes the features necessary to meet minimum accessibility requirements in the online learning environment and are comprehensive. Please note that ARS is not resourced to remediate inaccessible course materials; departments and instructors should be aware of UNC's Digital Accessibility Policy created and maintained by The Digital Accessibility Office.

  • Please note that not all students with disabilities and chronic medical conditions will connect with Accessibility Resources and Service (ARS), and so there may be some students whose needs only become apparent in the remote environment and as a result of the unique challenges it may pose for them.

  • Instructors with any concerns that a student may be experiencing an academic barrier as a result of a disability or chronic medical condition should encourage the student to utilize the Connect with ARS form and also notify ARS at their earliest opportunity.

Syllabus Statement

Instructors are encouraged to include a syllabus statement to inform students of the availability of reasonable accommodations. More information on the steps and documentation required to initiate an accommodations request can be found in the ARS Policy on Student and Applicant Accommodations.

The following syllabus statement should be used:

  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill facilitates the implementation of reasonable accommodations, including resources and services, for students with disabilities, chronic medical conditions, a temporary disability, or pregnancy complications resulting in barriers to fully accessing University courses, programs and activities. Accommodations are determined through the Office of Accessibility Resources and Service (ARS) for individuals with documented qualifying disabilities in accordance with applicable state and federal laws. See the ARS Website or email ars@unc.edu.

Key Accessibility Considerations, for students with accommodations and supporting needs in a remote learning environment

  1. Zoom

    1. Ensure auto-captions are enabled for all Zoom sessions; these can be utilized by student participants in 2 ways: (1) as subtitles across the bottom of the screen, and/or (2) as a transcript in a panel to the right-hand side of the main Zoom window. The transcript panel also includes an option for the transcript to be saved by a participant. Please note that the saved transcript option disappears as a matter of course when the meeting is closed so please remind students to select save before you end the meeting. 
    2. Adopt a universal design approach by recording Zoom sessions to the cloud - these will be automatically subtitled. Recordings can be directed into the Panopto plug-in in your Sakai site or retained in the cloud for sharing via a hyperlink/URL. Alternatively, allow students to make their own recordings with auto-captions enabled. Making recordings available with captions has the potential to assist all students, but especially those with executive functioning challenges, those with sensory impairments, students with English as a second language, and students whose domestic and learning circumstances are challenging as a result of the remote learning environment.
    3. The requirement to stay "on-camera" during a class meeting can be particularly challenging for some students with disabilities. ARS may support some students with an accommodation to waive this requirement; this determination is made on a case by case basis, and with the benefit of strong supporting documentation.
    4. Being called-on within Zoom meetings can be particularly challenging for some students with disabilities. ARS may support some students with an accommodation to waive this requirement; this determination is made on a case by case basis, and with the benefit of strong supporting documentation. A UDL alternative approach is to allow responses and contributions to be made via the Chat function or through polling. 
  2. Document accessibility

    1. Supplementary readings should be provided in Word or accessible PDF files. To review for a basic level of accessibility, check to see if you can select text in the file and copy it to another location. If you cannot do this the document is not accessible and it should not be used. Also reference the accessible documents resources from the Digital Accessibility Office for assistance.

    2. Please use the hierarchical heading structure in documents to signal chapters and sections. This helps with navigating through a document. Both MS Word and PowerPoint have an accessibility checker: File --> Options --> Ease of Use. 

    3. Images in documents should have alternative textual representations or “alt-text”. 

  3. Webpage accessibility - Sakai, blogs, audio and video etc.

    1. Accessibility is an important consideration when creating content in Sakai and other teaching platforms on the web. A feature that makes this easier is the “Check Accessibility” feature in Sakai. Use this tool to find problems that you may have overlooked while creating your course content. The tool provides suggestions for resolving access issues. 

    2. Ensure that all images have alternative text or an “alt-text” tag. This is the phrase you see when you hover your on-screen pointer over an image and is used by assistive technologies to give information about the image to the user.

    3. Use a font that is maximally accessible, e.g. 14pt/16pt, Arial, and left justified. This may appear a little large but will address the needs of many students who are print challenged by adopting a universal design approach.

    4. Also reference the authoring website resources from the Digital Accessibility Office for assistance.

    5. For instructional material from, for example, YouTube, TED Talks, or other website videos, check to ensure that captions are available and accurate. Open the video and look for the  in the player. Please ensure that captions exist and are accurate. 

    6. Captioning/subtitling a video you have prepared to share online: 

      • Record your presentation with narration and then upload to YouTube and use the automatic captioning feature to get 90-ish% of the captioning done, then tidy up the subtitle file and upload. Set your video to "private" and pass the URL to your students - see Captioning YouTube Videos which describes this process.

      • Upload your video to Sakai and into the Panopto plug-in. This will produce subtitles if they were absent from the original.

      • Another possibility is to use Office 365/PowerPoint. In the Slide Show menu, check "Always Use Subtitles" and then share your screen through Zoom. This is not a substitute for CART needed by some deaf students.

    7. Instructors presenting course content remotely, whether in real-time or using a recording, and who are moving between different presentations/displays, should ensure that they verbalize their actions and supplement visual material orally to support students using assistive technologies and those who have difficulty with attending to visual material.

    8. Note that there may be some students who are using Communication Access Rea-time Translation or CART for short; this is where auto-captions are insufficient in accuracy. CART is provided by a third-party contracted by ARS. ARS will reach out to instructors for assistance and with information about this.

  4. Remote testing with accommodations

    1. Both Sakai and GradeScope can accommodate individuals and groups needing extended time for time limited tests/exams.; remember to obscure the name of any groups created to manage testing accommodations, for example refrain from using "ARS Accommodated Group" or "+50%" etc as group names are easily visible to all students.

    2. Exams formatted in an LMS to progress only in a linear fashion can be particularly challenging for some students with disabilities. ARS may support some students with an accommodation to remove this format to allow them to move back and forth when testing. This determination will be made on a case by case basis, and with the benefit of supporting documentation.

    3. For students in receipt of a stopped clock accommodation, we suggest adding an additional 10% of testing time. Sakai and GradeScope allow for this accommodation.​

    4. Short quizzes are notoriously challenging to administer with accommodations when delivered in the context of a time-limited class meeting period. By all means, use them, but consider the extent to which they contribute to the course grade if students’ testing accommodations cannot be met.

    5. Extending testing time for all students is sometimes not enough to meet the university's legal obligations to provide reasonable accommodation. There are times when the additional time afforded to all students will have to be extended by the percentage determined as reasonable for an individual student. If you need help with this circumstance, please contact the ARS Testing Coordinator via email at ars@unc.edu.

    6. Some students may need more individualized and unique testing accommodations which may be managed by the ARS Testing Center. If you have a student needing the physical assistance of an examination assistant, or more complex accommodations beyond your scope in an remote setting, you are encouraged to reach out to ARS's Testing Coordinator via ars@unc.edu to explore options or ask the student to complete our modified Non-Standard Scheduling Request Form. This information will also be shared with students in our scheduled communications.

    7. The ARS Hub has historically been used to schedule exams to be taken at the ARS Testing Center. We have modified this tool to allow for alternate use in remote settings. The Hub will now send out notifications about upcoming exams and the students' accommodations. Please be sure to note the following if you receive a notice of an upcoming exam from the Hub:

      • Instructor Scheduling Reminder - no ARS proctor: This is used by students to remind their instructors of accommodations before an upcoming exam. Students are still required to send Accommodation Notifications at the beginning of the semester in order to receive their approved accommodations in a course, but several instructors require advanced notice before an upcoming exam as a reminder of a student's accommodations. Students can use this tool without ARS assistance for advanced notification that does not require ARS intervention.

      • ARS Remote Proctor: This is an exam scheduled with ARS in a remote setting, where the student's testing accommodations may not be easily facilitated in the online platform (reader/scribe, etc.). Students are required to submit a Non-Standard Scheduling Request (NSS) form at least one week prior to the requested date of the exam, to allow ARS and the instructor time to agree on appropriate arrangements and to prepare the exam and test setting.

      • ARS Testing Center, SASB 2126: This is an exam scheduled with ARS in the physical Testing Center, due to the student's need for a physical proctor or accommodation (paper exam format, etc.). Again, students are required to submit a Non-Standard Scheduling Request (NSS) form at least one week prior to the requested date of the exam, to allow ARS and the instructor time to prepare the exam and test setting.

Additional resources and information

  1. UNC's Digital Accessibility Office which has a comprehensive and growing calendar of training opportunities

  2. Explore Access - Designing an Accessible Online Course

  3. WebAIM tutorial describes how to use headings, add alt text, create links, and use Word’s Accessibility Checker to identify accessibility problems

  4. Using Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can run optical character recognition on any pdfs

  5. Using Powerpoint Translator - Microsoft 

  6. Flipped instruction with PowerPoint Recorder 

  7. Generating automatic captions and a transcript for your Microsoft Stream videos

  8. Creating accessible PowerPoint presentations - Microsoft 

  9. Creating accessible Word documents - Microsoft

  10. 20 Tips for Instructors about Making Online Learning Courses Accessible from DO‑IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internet working, and Technology) at The University of Washington)

  11. And for those of you with more time on your hands! Accessibility in Online Courses and Materials Applying Universal Design for Learning by Samantha Harlow is the Online Learning Librarian at UNC Greensboro

  12. Universal Design for Learning Guidelines