As higher education makes the transition to emergency remote instruction, we continue to prioritize all of our students’ right to fully access and engage with their courses. This page will orient you to support services available on campus, major considerations for accessible teaching, and point you to resources that outline the accessibility features of supported technologies. If you have any additional questions about accessible teaching practice, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conversations about educational accessibility are often occurring on at least two levels. Reviewing both approaches can help you get in touch with your own instincts and values and can contextualize conversations you have with students and colleagues:
- Legally, universities are required to grant enrolled students equal access to education, no matter their disability status. For instructors, this means complying with documented accommodations approved by the Disability Services Office or the Connors Family Learning Center.
- Pedagogically, all students have vastly different, individualized needs, and some faculty work with students to figure out what reasonable adjustments might help that student learn to their best potential in a particular class. This approach views approved accommodations as the beginning of a conversation rather than as a finalized contract.
Campus Support Services
As students start learning remotely, it may be that their approved accommodations are newly relevant or require adjustment. Some students who did not request accommodations for in-person courses may discover that accommodations are required for online learning.
At Boston College, students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD are supported by the Connors Family Learning Center, and students with medical, physical, psychological, or temporary disabilities are supported by the Disability Services Office. Students who are looking to document and receive approved accommodations for a particular disability can find information on those processes by consulting the respective websites.
If you are working with a student with documented accommodations and are unsure about how to meet their needs, you can also work with the student’s disability contact person (Rory Stein at DSO, Kathy Duggan or Ildiko Szekely at CFLC) to receive support in your efforts.
If you are an instructor with a disability and are in need of additional supports at this time, the Office of Institutional Diversity provides information on how to claim the accommodations you require. Edilma Hosein, the Assistant Director of OID, is available to answer any questions. ABLED@BC, a newly organized affinity group, is also a space where you can meet others facing similar challenges and organize for positive change. The CTE is also available to think through pedagogical solutions that might ease a particular teaching burden that has been exacerbated by the sudden transition. Email email@example.com to be connected with a staff member.
Accessible Teaching Priorities
Designing courses that strive to be entirely accessible to everyone from the start in the spirit of Universal Design for Learning is aspirational for many instructors who are making rapid adjustments to content delivery and assignments at the moment. While UDL may be aspirational this term, there are relatively small, simple things you can do now to make your course more accessible to all of your students.
- Open pathways of communication: As noted above, students may be experiencing new barriers to learning during emergency remote instruction. Being clear about your commitment to making sure all students can access the course and being transparent about how students should seek support (through you and/or the relevant campus office) is the most significant step you can take to ensure that your course will be accessible to all your students.
- When in doubt, simplify: If you are contemplating using a new technology or teaching method, and you are overwhelmed at the thought of making it accessible to all of your students, err on the side of simplicity. Low tech solutions (posted readings, discussion boards, etc.) can be engaging for all students, require less labor on your part, and are less likely to create difficult-to-surmount boundaries for some students. Additionally, consider removing constraints on assignments if they are not integral to core learning goals. For instance, if quick recall is not relevant to students’ core learning, consider removing time limits on exams.
- Leverage readily available accessibility checkers: Many of the tools you are likely using have built in accessibility checkers that are easy to use, flag any issues in the design, and suggest solutions. Consider starting with a review of your Canvas site using the UDOIT accessibility checker.
- Practice creating accessible materials: Whenever you are presenting content to students, think about different ways students might engage with that material, and practice making them accessible. This includes creating accessible documents and trying to represent content more than one way whenever possible (e.g. verbally describe any images on a slide if those images are providing additional information, assign students to take notes on a Zoom conversation and distribute the notes, share lecture notes along with a recording). Not all of these actions meet the level of legal compliance for students with approved accommodations, but all of them do help to create a more accessible overall class experience.
Accessibility for Supported Technologies
If you have questions about the accessibility features or limitations of particular supported technologies, please consult the following resources.
- Accessibility in Canvas
- Accessibility in Google Products
- Accessibility in Panopto
- Accessibility in VoiceThread
- Accessibility in Zoom
- Perusall has some limitations regarding accessibility; see their accessibility statement
- While Proctorio software meets all legal accessibility requirements, some of the settings within Proctorio can make it more difficult for students who rely on assistive technologies. If you anticipate using Proctorio for a final exam, set up a test run with students to identify any potential barriers and strategize around solutions. There are a few settings that potentially necessitate troubleshooting around student access.
- Verify ID: The verify ID option, which requires students to frame their ID in a particular orientation in camera, can be a barrier for some students. If you want to enable that setting for the class in general, it is possible to accommodate particular students by creating a separate test with amended settings for that student. You can do so by excusing the individual student from the exam with the verify ID setting, duplicating the quiz and disabling the verify ID setting, and assigning it to the individual student.
- Verify signature: Proctorio allows you to require students to sign a statement affirming their commitment to academic integrity. However, the program necessitates the use of a mouse or stylus, making it difficult for some students to complete. If you’d like your students to sign an academic integrity statement, the CTE recommends beginning the exam with a multiple choice statement that allows students to agree or disagree to an academic integrity statement.
- Disable right click: Proctorio allows you to disable right click in order to prevent students’ from downloading the test, copy and pasting, or accessing the page’s source code. However, we’ve heard of limited cases where students using screen readers had difficulty when this setting was enabled. If you are concerned about students copying and pasting, the disable clipboard feature also prevents students from copying and pasting any material.You may want to inform your students that Proctorio is compatible with the following screen readers: JAWs, VoiceOver, NVDA, ChromeVox, any ARIA-label compatible screen readers.
- Record video/record audio: If these options are enabled, Proctorio will flag certain behaviors as suspicious, including head movements, talking to oneself, or pacing. Disability status can contribute to some students being regularly, inaccurately flagged for suspicious activity. All labels of suspicious behavior in Proctorio requires instructor review, of course.
- Sheryl Burgstahler, “20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course,” Access DL
- Richard Jackson & Scott Lapinski, “Structuring the Blended Learning Environment on Campus for Equity and Opportunity,” in Transforming Higher Education Through Universal Design for Learning: An International Perspective, eds. Seán Bracken and Katie Novak.
- Aimi Hamraie, “Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19,” Mapping Access
- Cat Hicks, Emeline Brulé, Roberta Dombrowski, “You Have to Put Your Class Online: Simple Things to Think About”
- Lindsey Passenger Wieck, “An Equitable Transition to Online Learning – Flexibility, Low Band-Width, Cell Phones, and More,” Pedagogy Playground
- “Designing an Accessible Online Course,” Explore Access: Tools for Promoting Disability Access and Inclusion