People with disabilities have numerous challenges to overcome in higher education. Learning environments are rapidly changing with the rise of technology. Instructors have greater access to digital content and tools. Unfortunately, digital content is often designed without all students in mind. Many instructors claim they lack time, training and support to meet diverse student needs.
Institutions have a unique opportunity to transform educational outcomes for all students. People who have obtained bachelor’s degrees or more are more likely to be employed than those with less education. Schools can improve digital accessibility with the following suggestions:
1. Improve school infrastructure
Many schools lack the infrastructure to support students with disabilities. As a result, just over 16 percent of people with disabilities obtain a bachelor’s degree. There are several initiatives schools can invest in to improve educational outcomes for all students.
Schools can set up training sessions for members of the academic community. Yale University hosts information sessions to supplement a new university policy. The university requires all digital content to be accessible for people with visual, cognitive, learning, neurological, physical, or speech disabilities. Administrators, staff members, and students have access to supporting tools and materials.
Many instructors rely on dated solutions to address accessibility needs. Schools should encourage instructors to keep all learners in mind with updated protocols.
2. Create a supportive environment
Digital content creation can sometimes come with unintended consequences. Instructors can share and learn valuable lessons within a supportive setting.
For instance, an assistant professor and director at Michigan State discovered one of his students couldn’t take online quizzes because she suffered from extreme vertigo. The student missed out on important learning opportunities and ended up failing the class. As a result, the Michigan State professor decided to turn this unfortunate classroom experience into a valuable learning opportunity for colleagues.
Instructors can exchange experiences and best practices to improve outcomes for all students. Some of the best digital solutions are created through trial and error. Schools should support instructors as they continue to work through new challenges in the digital space.
3. Invite students to give feedback
Create effective digital content by recruiting real-time users for feedback. Many students with disabilities feel a drastic change in support when they start their careers in higher education. Tools and strategies such as descriptive text, navigation tools, and web accessibility checkers can unlock doors when utilized correctly.
Empower students to give feedback on their digital learning experiences. Allow students with disabilities to advocate for themselves and sharpen their communication skills through this experience. Self-advocacy and communication skills will be valuable for students in the future.
Instructors and students win when both parties are involved in digital content creation. Ensure that learning technologies meet all student needs.
Higher education still serves as a gateway to important work opportunities. Schools can enhance their digital accessibility by improving school frameworks, fostering a supportive environment, and inviting students to give feedback. School leaders have an incredible opportunity to improve academic experiences and life outcomes for all students.
Rosa Otieno is an operations manager and writer in San Francisco, California. She is passionate about health, wellness, and social impact. You can learn more about her work on www.rosaodie.com and follow her on Twitter at @rosa_odie.
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