Faculty share their experiences as they create accessible course materials

More than six months after LCC’s accessibility project was announced, many faculty members are deep into the process of cataloguing their program’s accessibility needs, getting trained and creating fully accessible course materials.

While all faculty will have a unique experience, many agree the work is time-consuming but important. Adjunct English faculty Amy Larson’s rationale for prioritizing the work is simple.

“Every student matters,” she said.

Ensuring our students and employees have the materials they need for success is in line with LCC’s mission. In addition, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, LCC must provide access to all, regardless of disability.

“I think it’s a noble cause, I really do,” full-time Criminal Justice faculty Ed Thomas said. “I think that if we’re trying to attract all types of learners, we don’t want to give someone a disadvantage from our end. We want everyone to have the same opportunity to succeed.”

The college’s accessibility project focuses on making all courses, documents, forms and materials available to students, employees and the public. This involves a whole-college effort from faculty and staff.

Training helped, several said. Faculty said they utilized workshops offered by the Center for Teaching Excellence, online material supplied by eLearning and specialized training hosted by Technical Careers. After learning how to make materials accessible, the actual process is straightforward, full-time Adult Corrections professor Tamara McDiarmid said.

“Evaluating all of my course materials (is the hardest part),” McDiarmid said. “Actually making them accessible (is easier). Once the evaluating of documents is done, while time consuming, it is quite easy.”

Adjunct Electrical Technology professor Wolfgang Miller said he began the project with a thorough inventory of the Electrical Technology Program’s course documents, a course of action recommended by both the CTE and eLearning. In his three courses, he said, he found 275 documents that needed fixing. The program’s 37 courses have more than 1,000 documents that require attention, he said, and only two full-time faculty. He said this is “a bit overwhelming,” but that prioritization is key.

“Given the number of documents to fix, I focused on documents directly used by students that would be graded,” Miller said. “These were homework, labs, quizzes and tests.”

The college has set a summer 2019 goal for creating fully accessible classes, and several faculty members emphasized the need to devote time to the project.

“Don’t rush it – be meticulous in looking through your course,” Theatre faculty and interim Performing Arts production coordinator Paige Tufford said. “For me, that was a challenge. I’ve taught this course face-to-face so many years that I thought I knew immediately that the material was accessible to all students – but it wasn’t. I took the time to look at the material – unit by unit – through the eyes of a student who might struggle with reading (or) comprehension, or who might have visual/hearing impairments.”

Starting early can help relieve some of the stress of the workload, Miller said.

“Forget denial – start now!” Miller said. “The college is moving forward with this. There is no sugarcoating it. This will be a lot of work for most courses.”

Different programs will face different work. Accessibility can mean many things for many kinds of resources, and diverse disciplines can have widely varying experiences. In general, accessible design includes making text documents readable by a screen reader, including alt-text for images, providing accurate captions for videos, and making forms navigable using just a keyboard.

For example, Larson said she relies largely on Microsoft Word, but that making images accessible is much more complicated.

“Most of my materials are Word documents,” Larson said. “Those are easily made accessible by keeping the formatting very simple. … One aspect I find difficult is alt-text. It seems every platform and version of a program will have their own way of incorporating descriptions for visual information.”

Alt-text can be challenging technically and even more challenging to write in a way that substitutes the information found by looking at an image. Visual-heavy disciplines therefore face some unique challenges.

“I felt like I made a lot of changes, but there are some courses, like in geography – those guys use a lot of pictures,” Thomas said. “Most of my changes were fonts, and changing some text here and there. I do understand, I do have compassion for some other curriculums that are heavy in their visuals.”

Third-party sources can also create challenges.

“My biggest concern involves outside sources,” Larson said. “There are links to interesting websites, citation support and supplemental reading. I cannot control the accessibility of these sources.”

While the project is complex and sometimes complicated, the end result will be worthwhile, many faculty agreed.

“No student should be unable to miss the message of the lecture you are presenting,” McDiarmid said. “If that happens, they are not gaining all of the information from the class.”

The college has established a July 31, 2019, deadline for this project. Faculty with concerns or questions about meeting this goal should promptly confer with their administrative supervisor.