Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students

Chapter 3: Ensuring Accessibility

Getting Started with Universal Design

At a minimum, accessible web resources should be designed with good color contrast, be organized by clear, logical, structural hierarchies, be easily read by text-to-speech tools, and navigable through the keyboard and/or commands (not simply by use of a mouse or trackpad). When you design digital components for your classroom, make this easy-to-use WebAIM checklist your first stop when considering accessibility. Once you have familiarized yourself with the basic principles represented by this checklist, a more comprehensive set of guidelines is available through WAI-ARIA. Once you have created your digital resource, you can run it through automatic evaluation tools; here, you can submit a URL to access the WAVE Web Accessibility tool or run the tool as a browser extension for Chrome or Firefox.

The Mellon-funded *fluid project focuses on developing accessible software but also provides a helpful Design Handbook for you if you are designing a website or other web-based resource for your course. It covers not only issues related to physical disability, but also economic inclusion and global access. We also mention the brilliant book, Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age, which offers most of its thorough and very helpful content for free online. The University of Washington’s Center for Universal Design Education website provides a wealth of information that will help you; their Principles and Applications is a great place to start. And finally, our chapter mentions Jay Dolmage’s wonderful guide to UDL principles, which can be downloaded here.

Organizations related to particular disabilities, whether supported on the local, national, or international level, can provide further resources and information. BrailleSC, based in South Carolina, features a set of blog posts that are helpful for anyone interested in helping the visually impaired, but also lists regional resources. What is most relevant for most digital pedagogues is that BrailleSC has been working with MITH (Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities) to create a plug-in for making WordPress sites visible to the visually impaired. You can learn more about this project, and its mission to spread the word that “disabled users need to be able to participate fully in humanities research and teaching,” from this poster.

Faculty Focus has a great series of resources, including a post about how to deepen students' metacognitive skills and one on using multimedia tools to make your lectures more accessible. More general tips for using multimedia can be found here. To test the accessibility of websites that you are building for your students or are requiring them to interact with, browse this list of tools that can automatically check for you from the Web Accessibility Initiative, or, for checking manually, go through this checklist. If you are inspired by our chapter to consider screencasting, there are tips for accessible screencasts here.

Accessibility in the Digital Humanities Community

Early work in the DH community about accessibility focused on (and still focuses on!) issues of technological and economic inequality that present barriers to access for impoverished or marginalized communities. One recent article by Rick Godden and Anne-Marie Womack on Hybrid Pedagogy, “Making Disability Part of the Conversation,” provides a good introduction to these issues. Check out this report from Pew to learn about these matters, and keep in mind that first-generation scholars are disproportionately affected by this “digital divide.

Search for the work of George H. Williams to learn about DH-specific initiatives related to accessibility. His exhortation in Debates in the Digital Humanities that “we need to plan for a future in which our current digital resources continue to be not only useful but usable” has spurred many DH practitioners to consider accessibility. ProfHacker has published a piece he wrote with Jen Guiliano, “Accessibility and the Digital Humanities,” which advises DH scholars to make tools and resources that are accessible. His Make Your WordPress Site More Accessible, a ProfHacker post, focuses on this very popular and easy-to-use platform for blogging (which many teachers use to construct course websites). And an open-access digital copy of his chapter for Debates in the Digital Humanities, “Disability, Universal Design, and the Digital Humanities.” A more visually-oriented introduction can be found in Melissa Fortson’s slideshow, “Accessibility and the Digital Humanities.”

In its mission to create an accessible academic journal, The Journal of Interactive Pedagogy has published a truly helpful and comprehensive set of resources by Anne Donlon. It is organized into two parts: Practices to Implement, which provides a short set of guidelines and plugins to make digital assets more accessible to those with visual or cognitive impairments, and Readings and Further Resources, which links to other such arguments and lists of resources. Make sure to browse Issue 8 of JITP, a special issue on “Disability Studies Approaches to Pedagogy, Research, and Design.” Those who want to pursue accessible courses beyond these guidelines and resources should consider attending a two-day Accessible Future workshop.

Digital Humanities and Social Justice

Social justice is related to the digital humanities in many ways, from using digital tools to recover untold stories to creating standards to keep everyone safe online, and from mapping global DH initiatives to ensuring the accessibility of digital assets. This digital humanities social justice project, a collective site initiated by Roopika Risam, maintains a “living document,” Creative and Critical Precepts for Digital Humanities Projects, as well as a list of scholars interested in DH and social justice, a bibliography, and a list of relevant DH projects. Andrea Rehn started a very thorough wiki that documents projects, communities, research, assignment sheets, and hashtags that connect the digital humanities and social justice. Follow the wiki’s matching hashtag -- #DHsocjust -- to learn more information. Better yet, contribute tweets with the #DHsocjust. The collective FemTechNet is a great activist community whose mission is clearly articulated in their manifesto. They also maintain a rich resource about ensuring accessibility. We recommend following FemTechNet on Facebook to keep up with their activities. Another source of DH social justice is in the TransformDH community, rooted originally in the #pocodh or #dhpoco movement; search the #TransformDH hashtag or follow the @TransformDH account on Twitter to see their work. The Disrupting the Digital Humanities movement, which will soon be a book, is a related movement spearheaded by Dorothy Kim and Jesse Stommel. You can read two years of MLA position papers for Disrupting the Digital Humanities address problems of gender, race, and disability: 2015 and 2016.

Some of these social justice matters are rooted in institutional injustices that seem hard to control, but remember that your position as an educator does give you some power -- at least in the classroom! That is why it’s important for you to protect your students’ privacy and do what you can to ensure their safety when they are in your classroom or doing work for your course. If you are in the United States and want to learn more about FERPA laws about protecting student information, this official FAQ is a great place to start. Canadians can find information about the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act here, and those in the UK can consult this overview of data protection. Yale’s guidelines for student field trips provides a solid checklist for ensuring the safety of students if you take them off-campus or out of the classroom; its guidelines for transportation are especially helpful.

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