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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2015)

Colleague 2 Colleague, Author
Cover, page 10 of 21


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Meet the ADA Challenge: Three Recommendations for Proactive Compliance

By John P. Jones, Wichita State University

Earlier this week I met with a team of hardworking, dedicated faculty developing content for online courses. I brought up the challenge of making sure the learning objects we developed were accessible to disabled users.

“Well, as long as we’ve been teaching this class…" they said.

At this point, you can all sing along. You know the words too well.

Most of us have been waiting years for a new technology will appear on the scene that will save us. We pay lip service to the challenge, talk about the necessity. Still our courses continue to go out with inadequate accessibility.

It’s not what we’re used to doing. It’s extra work. It’s not really necessary, is it?

Of course it’s necessary. We tend to avoid it, because it’s hard to make people comply, but it’s only a matter of time before this becomes a challenge for each of us. And, even more important, it leads to better design.

Three Recommendations:

1. The Script Comes First

An instructor used to walking into a face-to-face classroom and lecturing off the cuff is going to expect to be able to get by with the same ease and lack of effort when they sit down to prepare learning objects for an online class.

If we create a process which allows faculty to present to a microphone or video camera first, and then requires captioning after the fact, we find ourselves in the untenable situation of asking for extra effort after the instructor feels they have completed the project. And no one should be surprised that our ability to get that “extra” work done is not very good.

What we must do, then, is create a process which requires a script of the presentation before the video is developed. It might be a text document, or full-text notes on slides, but in whichever way works best for the individual subject matter expert, set the expectation that the script will be provided before other work is done on the project.

This has more than one benefit. At the outset, it gives us the tools we need to solve our ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) challenge. It also provides very effective pressure on faculty towards brevity and succinctness (see below). And it gives you and your team of designers the opportunity to work on the content before the video is recorded.

2. Prioritize Simplicity and Brevity

While in most cases we focus on providing captioning and other text alternatives for content in our efforts to be ADA compliant, there are other parts of the standard to which we need to pay attention.

For example, the ADA also asks that we design in was that are not challenging for users with visibility issues like color blindness. Color choices should be high-contrast, and not jarring.

Often we work with faculty who expect that there should be a 1:1 relationship between minutes they spend in a face-to-face class room and minutes they spend talking into a camera for their online classes. While this varies from one subject to another, it’s important to keep in mind that when we create a learning object to replace a lecture component of a class, we are not at the same time replacing the other, more interactive parts of that class session.

Student questions and discussion, for example, are handled in another part of the tool. Reminders about upcoming assignments and other class business are also handled separately. When these and other non-lecture pieces are boiled out of the lecture content, the remaining content should be a fraction of the full class session.

3. Build Value for Faculty

If we’re going to ask faculty to do the extra work necessary to deliver scripts, to deliver more succinct and effective lecture content and everything else, we must reward them for those efforts.

What that reward looks like depends a lot on your team. Your team might be able to add graphic flourishes to presentations for faculty who provide their scripts ahead of time. Depending upon the tools you use, that script might grant access to special tools or functionality.

The challenge here, of course, is to not provide that tool, and that level of service, to instructors who are not complying with those standards. If they want the support of your team, and the services that they can provide, they need to play by the rules and produce the scripts that you need to work with the efficiently AND to ensure that there are accessible versions of the content available.

The temptation, of course, is to try to share our excitement about our tools with faculty and let them use our services without complying to these rules. After all, that excitement is critical for getting new people on board. But even if you’re compelled to allow your faculty to sample the tools, make sure that beyond that sample they pay the price of admission.

About the Author

John P Jones is the Director of the Media Resources Center at Wichita State University. He may be reached at
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