Three Resources to Help Higher Education Professionals Cultivate an Accessible Online Presence

Tarantino, McDonough, and Hua (2013) report a significant increase in the use of social media across all generations. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that 83% of young adults (18-29) engage over social media. As a direct response, higher education professionals have increased their presence on these outlets in hopes to increase student engagement on college campuses.

Person on Phone With this increased focus on virtual communities, it is important for colleges and universities to fulfill their responsibility to create accessible communities online. Did you know, people with difficulty seeing are 31% less likely to use the basic services provided by the internet when at home, work, and/or at school (American Foundation for the Blind, 2016)? This means that they are less likely to search the web or engage across social media platforms than their peers who do not have difficulty seeing. This is one example of the barriers that we as institutions are creating when we do not utilize a universal design approach in our work.

Phone Photo

As professionals, we must ask ourselves questions such as:
(1) are we actively and consistently describing the text on images we posts; (2) are we actively and consistently captioning the videos we produce; (3) are we appropriately tagging presentations or online content that we educate others with; (4) are we abiding by the mandatory guidelines for website development?

Many of our offices produce content that we distribute across our campuses but very rarely are we proactively utilizing methods in our content production that invites people into our offices who otherwise may feel isolated or devalued.

As a way to help professionals accomplish this task, we have listed three (free) resources that any department, institution, or professional can utilize.

  1. Accessibility Syllabus Website (Tulane University): This resource was developed by Tulane University as a way to promote student engagement and agency through accessibility classroom resources and strategies. It discusses best practices through the four categories (1) image; (2) text; (3) rhetoric; and (4) policy.

  2. Self-Paced Access MOOC: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners (Empire State College and Buffalo): This course was created as a resource for higher education professionals to gain a better understanding of accessibility as a civil rights issue. In addition, the creators intended to develop the knowledge and skills needed to design learning experiences that promote inclusive environments.

  3. Minnesota Adult Basic Education Disability Specialists (Developed by PANDA grant): This website is a fully-accessible disability website that was designed for Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs and teachers. It was supported by the PANDA grant. It provides an extensive list of topics relating to students with disabilities, classroom challenges, and instructional strategies.

Hopefully, this post will serve as a starting point for your department or institution. To continue the conversation, please feel free to check out jphighered.com for our upcoming JP Webinar titled, “Appealing Ads for All: Creating Accessible Advertising.” This program will be facilitated by Amma Marfo and will go live on Tuesday, January 10 at 3:30PM (EST).

Creating equitable, flexible, and intuitive designs will aid in the success of students with diverse abilities. An identity-conscious approach to the work we do in higher education is mandatory if we as a profession want to close the opportunity gaps so apparent in higher education.