Week Eleven: Accessibility Issues

 

The article on accessibility issues was actually different than what I assumed it would be. When I saw “accessibility” I assumed physical disability issues that might prevent someone from being able to use the Internet or different parts of a course. That’s actually a topic I hope we still cover, as I know several students who are disabled and have “accessibility issues” but not the ones mentioned here.

It is funny because the ones discussed in this article apply to me. As I mentioned at the beginning of this course, I live out in the boonies and do not have access to high speed Internet (although I’m told a tower will be installed within the next year that might end that problem). In order for me to “access” my courses, both this one that I am enrolled in and the ones I teach online, I typically have to use computers and wi-fi on campus while I am teaching my face-to-face classes. Therefore, much of what was discussed was close to my heart and I could relate to.

That being said, perhaps I am also a bit too unsympathetic (for lack of better wording here) than perhaps I should be for those who have accessibility issues. I was just at dinner the other night with a friend who also teaches online and she said she currently has a student in one of her online courses who does not have Internet at home, so he sometimes has trouble downloading files she has up in Blackboard because the computers he works off from do not always have the most current software and he finds himself constantly having to either update, upgrade, or switch to another computer. He was frustrated, as was she. She was emailing him the files directly that he might need, but it was not always practical to simply copy and paste the file’s content into the body of an email to avoid any downloading whatsoever. As her and I discussed this student I wondered whether this was his first online class and thus this was the first time he might be experiencing these issues. If so, this might be a real learning experience for him in the sense that he might shy away from online courses in the future unless he can get access to better facilities and computers. If this is a student who is taking courses online regularly, I am surprised he has continued with so many hurdles and that he has not yet found a way around some of these. The instructor, I felt, could only make so many accommodations.

I agree that the instructor has the responsibility to make sure the website is not so specialized that it is difficult for most people to access. The guidelines referred to in the Web Accessibility Initiative suggest, for example, that different browsers like IE and FireFox be used to access the site to ensure that the page is visible to both users. In my courses if I have to give them a .pdf file to open, I make available a link immediately by that .pdf for them to update their version of Acrobat Reader, because I understand that can be a common issue in accessing a file. I also feel .pdf’s are a common type of file they will open often in their coursework, so I don’t feel too bad in giving that to them and letting them know they may need an update to read that assignment.

Where I began to feel a bit unsympathetic was in regard to how much access to the Internet the student may or may not have. That is simply something the student has to decide to have or not and make it work. The instructor cannot feel responsible for that. I do not expect the student to be online every day, although I know of some instructors who expect a student to log-in to the class each day. I think that is unrealistic because a student in college doesn’t even typically go to a face-to-face course every day of the week, so why should an online class require that? But if we ask the student to log-in at least three times per week, I feel that is realistic and typical of an online class. It also gives the student a head’s up of the amount of time they need to plan ahead in order to find access to the Internet – just as I do each week in getting around my dial-up.

Overall, this was informative because it did give me several suggestions in technical areas I might not have thought of, or may have only superficially given thought to before. However, I also feel that the instructor can make the course technically accessible and should, but has no control over the student getting online.

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