Creating Accessible Course Materials

What does this mean:

In order to actively participate in the learning process, students need to be able to access and engage with the course materials and information shared in class.           Course materials that are aligned with the UDL principle of Multiple Means of Representation will offer a variety of different options for students to access the learning materials and required texts, supporting deeper understanding and enhancing learner engagement. This section provides best practices and guidelines to ensure that the different types of materials and media selected, whether images, printed or electronic text, graphs and/or videos do not create an access barrier for students.

Why is this important:

Selecting course materials to represent information and engage students in the learning process is an essential part of the teaching and learning process. The most common materials selected to represent information are textbooks and PowerPoint slides. While lectures remain the instructional strategy most widely used in post-secondary classrooms, being able to access information provided in class and to engage with the course material in a meaningful way is key to the learning process.  However, choosing a single method to represent information or to engage students, may create a barrier to learning for some. Visually impaired students, for example, are not able to access print materials, such as textbooks. While accessing auditory information during a lecture will create a barrier for students with hearing impairments. UDL can facilitate the creation of course materials that are accessible by all learners in your classroom. 

If access to course material is considered from the outset and the selected course material is flexible enough to respond to the learner variability found in todays' classrooms, this will reduce the need for individualized and time consuming retrofits and adjustments later on.

How is this achieved:

Accessible class materials can come in a variety of forms, and foster purposeful, motivated learners.

  • Offer alternatives for auditory information and visual information, use PowerPoint slides, videos and podcasts
  • Provide electronic handouts in word or pdf format ahead of class
  • Give students access to PowerPoint slides during a lecture
  • Suggest electronic versions of textbooks, whenever possible
  • Use audio or video recording, whenever available in class
  • Ensure that digital material, such as PDF and word documents, are accessible for screen readers and assistive technologies

 

Practical Tools

PDFs

Providing digital texts is a great way to make some of your course content more accessible to different learners. However, it is important to note that text in digital formats is not automatically accessible. Often times, low quality PDFs or PDFs that have not had an optical character recognition (OCR) performed on them, will not function properly.  However, there are steps that can be performed on these documents before they are distributed to students that can eliminate these potential problems.

To learn more, please refer to the following resources:

  • Adobe Tutorial (PDFs) : Basic Instructions on how to use Adobe Pro DC (the newest version of the program) to make accessible PDFs and to check your PDFs for accessibility problems
  • Adobe Tutorial (Forms): Creating and using accessible forms
  • Microsoft Tutorial : Instructions on how to use Microsoft Office programs (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) to create accessible PDFs
  • WebAIM

PowerPoint presentations

PowerPoint is used frequently to accompany lectures and seminars in post-secondary classrooms. PowerPoint presentations provide instructors with the ability to present information in a variety of formats such as text, images and graphics. The use of PowerPoint as an alternative way to represent oral information provided in class aligns with the UDL framework and allows students to access information in more than one way, facilitating enhanced student engagement. However, if your PowerPoint presentation is not accessible, it may create barriers for some students. Visually impaired students, for example, rely on text-to-speech software to decode the written and graphic world.

Here are some practical guidelines to create accessible PowerPoint presentations:

Images

Images, whether presented in written materials, or used during lectures, can create barriers to a variety of learners.  Course instructors can easily increase access to images and pictures by employing a couple of practical strategies:

  • Provide a verbal description of images used during lectures
  • Provide an explanation of the image in the notes-pane or by adding alternative text to images 

Videos

Using videos to highlight ideas or deepen understanding and knowledge has become common practice in post-secondary classrooms. Typically, video provides a representation of information primarily in an auditory and visual manner.  For students with hearing or visual impairments however, or those who sit in the far back of a big lecture hall, it may be difficult to fully benefit from this multi-modality medium.

Here are some practical tips to ensure that videos and auditory information provided in class is accessible for all learners:

  • Ensure, whenever possible, that videos are closed captioned
  • If closed captioning is not available, provide a transcript of the video

See practical examples of UDL implementation HERE.