Accessibility

Introduction

The university is legally required to provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, and faculty play a critical role in this process. 

A broad range of disabilities can affect a student's performance online or in the classroom, and each student’s specific disability and academic needs are unique.

Accessibility is a general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible. Having firsthand experience of how people with disabilities interact with digital content can help you understand the barriers they face every day. 

This page is designed to support you with identifying areas in your course that may be inaccessible. Once identified, resources will be provided to you on how to work on remediation of materials to reduce and remove barriers.

UMB/SSW Accessibility Services

ESDS provides services for UMB students with accommodations, and also provide information and some services for faculty. It is a good idea to reach out to ESDS for more specific information when you are looking for the best ways to ensure your content is accessible. Also, see ESDS' upcoming training and community events.

SSW Accessibility Liaison: Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Dawn Shafer (dshafer@ssw.umaryland.edu). Student Affairs can help plan and navigate, as well as remediate PDFs that are inaccessible.

IDEA Team: can help you determine aspects of your course/content that are inaccessible, provide resources for making content accessible, steer you toward accessibility services and brainstorm techniques for inclusive, equitable, universally designed online/hybrid courses. 

DREAM - a Student Government Association (SGA) sub-group that aims to advance disability justice at SSW

Is Your Content Accessible?

First, you should know that Blackboard Ally has been enabled for all courses as of Spring 2022 and going forward. Be sure to read up on Ally for Students (or for Instructors).   There are a few things you can do immediately to determine if your content is accessible and you don't need any fancy tools or knowledge: 

PDFs

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to accessible digital content is PDF documents. PDF files were not originally designed to be read using computers, but to be printed. Because of their portability and ability to be opened by many people, companies increasingly use PDF files to exchange and send out digital information using a universally accepted format.

Here is a page from UMB that address how to remediate PDF's: https://www.umaryland.edu/cpa/toolbox/website-manual/accessibility/creating-accessible-documents/

Here are the written steps:

If  your course has Blackboard Ally enabled, use that first to download a new copy of the PDF to see if that fixed any issues. 

To check a PDF you can use a full version of Adobe Acrobat. 

If you do not have a full version of Adobe Acrobat, you can perform a manual check with Adobe Reader (or Preview on the Mac)

If neither option works, you have a digitally inaccessible document that will need to be remediated. You can run the PDF through OCR at DocDrop.org/ocr to make the text readable to a screen reader: https://docdrop.org/ocr/

Accessibility and Screen Readers

You can check the experience of a student accessing any web page, document, PDF, etc. by using a screen reader. Note that screen reader capability is  now built into both Mac  (Voiceover) and Windows (Narrator) systems. Informational links are below:

Information on Blackboard Learn Accessibility and Screen Readers

Screen Readers Info from American Federation of the Blind


Text, Color and Contrast (in all documents)

It is important to use colors and contrasts that are able to be processed by all students. This can mean making judicious use of colors when differentiating between concepts, files, examples, etc. For example, people with color blindness often cannot differentiate between various shades of colors like red and green. This doesn't mean you can never use those colors, but if you refer to "the red items in the list below" and that is the ONLY way to discern what those items are, that is a problem for some people. Therefore, it is also best to:

PowerPoint Slides

The next biggest barrier is PowerPoint presentations. Because PowerPoint presentations are largely image based, a screen reader is likely to struggle to understand the content conveyed. Here's a presentation from Becky Menendez from the UMB Grad School AIDE team on developing accessible course content (Sharepoint, requires UMID login). 

Images

For universal access and to be understood by a screen reader, all images should have an alt-tag or alt-text added to them. Most software programs including Blackboard allow you to add a alt-text when inserting the image. Alt-text is a simple description of the image. If the image is decorative, you can simply type "" in the alt-text box so that screen readers skip the image. See WebAIM's comprehensive guide to alt text or this resource on images from W3C.  

A good way to treat images and alt-text is to question if the image is a barrier to entry for a person with a visual impairment

Tables

Tables generally are not considered accessible. Avoid under most circumstances the use of a table instead add the data using tabs instead. 

Closed Captioning

Both Voicethread and Zoom have transcriptions and captions available. Here are the respective instructions for Voicethread and Zoom. Voicethread also has a Universal version which is available here.


Remediating Digital Content

There are two ways to remediate digital content. You can review the Guides for faculty on how to create accessible Powerpoint slides, PDFs, Microsoft Word documents, etc... from ESDS or you can run PDFs through https://docdrop.org/ocr/ to generate a more readable PDF. 

Below is a video from our March 2021 issue of "Now, That's a Great IDEA" e-magazine which covers some tips and tricks on how to quickly get content accessible:

Also below is a video from Towson University that shows you the steps required to remediate a Word Document. Note: many of the techniques shown in this video can apply to PowerPoint slides, Images and other materials. 

Zoom Closed Captions and Live Transcriptions

Zoom now has live captions and transcriptions available. See the faculty Zoom Tips  for more info. 

Final Note

The push to access digital content is not going to go away. Not only are we legally obligated to provide accessible content, but it is also the good and right thing to do. Taking just a few minutes to check the content and remediate it yourself will allow students, both current and future, to live in a world where it is digitally barrier-free. 

Blackboard Ally

Blackboard Ally is a tool that can provide additional formats for students to assist with accessing content. Please visit these pages to learn more:

Blackboard Ally for Faculty

Blackboard Ally for Students

Related Links

ESDS - UMB Office of Educational Support and Disability Services

Office of Student Affairs

DAO

DREAM