Starting with Accessibility: Reflections from an Online Math Instructor

Image by Денис Марчук from Pixabay

Accessibility is an important part of teaching online and, at times, it can benefit students, as well as faculty.  Early on in my career at MiraCosta, I recall watching a colleague photocopy problems out of the book, cut the problems from printed pages with scissors, and tape them to a new piece of paper to create the problems. He would make a handwritten note or use whiteout to modify a problem. He had files of these tests in his office – decades worth. But he never used the same test twice and this process would continue every term. His process was time consuming and, at times, frustrating to students who struggled to read the problems. Imagine being able to save your own time and help students too! 

Most faculty use typed exams but may not spend time thinking about how these materials create challenges for some students. While it is common for math instructors to spend time adjusting font size, making itemized lists for parts of a problem, and producing handouts to increase understanding, it is less common that we think about students who rely on screen readers, accessible technology devices used by people with vision impairments.  

Many faculty also make videos for their students, even short videos like the one above. If posted to YouTube, the captions are created automatically – but be careful! Those captions are pretty good, but aren’t perfect. Imagine a video where you described a new algorithm for “sub track shin” or “Polly know meals”. If you’re a math teacher, the intent was ‘subtraction’ and ‘polynomials’ but those misconceptions will confuse students who are following the automatic captions. It is time well spent for all students to update the captions by adding punctuation, capitalization, and fixing these incorrect translations.  Learn how to edit your YouTube captions for accuracy (a 7-minute video by Katie Palacios). 

Making Accessibility Part of Your Course Content Workflow

In the video embedded above, which is just over 200 seconds, I share some quick tips to save you time while making documents, PDFs, or Canvas pages accessible to students who use screen readers. It takes a lot less time to format pages with lists automatically rather than typing them manually. I will also show how following accessibility guidelines helped when a student who was blind needed a Braille version of the course materials. We were able to provide this quickly and without much additional work (it even included Braille graphs) because the content was made with accessibility guidelines in mind. 

Posted in accessibility, Course Design Showcase, Rubric Section D, Uncategorized.

Scott is a tenured instructor of Mathematics and the Faculty Director of the STEM and Math Learning Centers at MiraCosta College. He is also the lead author of two work/textbooks for students who struggle with the traditional approach to mathematics. His work is centered in Equity; he recently attended the Center for Urban Education conference and shares the lessons learned with other colleagues in math and other disciplines. Since August 2019, he has worked to promote modern techniques for teaching introductory statistics as a co-facilitator with Roxy Peck, Kathy Kubo, and Shawn Firouzian through the Chancellor's Office - Statistics Institute (COSI).

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