Debunking an Old Myth: Accessibility for Whom?

Meet Dr. Dood

Silhouette of a professor carrying a briefcase and lecture stick

Dr. Dood’s (fictitious) department was in the thick of preparations for a new fall semester. Dr. Dood, like his colleagues, was balancing his time between personal class preparations, faculty meetings, and some professional development opportunities. One of the development opportunities that he attended included a section about accessibility.

Dr. Dood listened politely, but left feeling frustrated because he felt his time could have been better spent.

After all, he reasoned, he hadn’t received any letters from student disability services (SDS) announcing students with disabilities in his course. As such, he felt like it wasn’t necessary for him to consider accessibility in his material and course design.

  • Have you heard others voice similar thoughts/feelings? Or have you felt this way yourself?
  • What, if anything, do you think is flawed in Dr. Dood’s logic?

Myth: Accessibility exclusively benefits people with disabilities

This is a prevalent myth because accessibility has historically emerged from explicit design to provide access to spaces, materials, and content for people with disabilities. In fact, one of the most important legislative acts in the U.S. with regards to accessibility was the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

A great deal of language in policy and procedural guidelines still maintain focus on people with disabilities when speaking of accessibility. This is all for good reasons! People with disabilities do need to be accounted for when designing environments and learning experiences, and that has obviously not always been the case (and still is not always the case)!

However, since we have begun designing proactively for accessibility (ostensibly for people with disabilities), we have come to learn that what is necessary for some almost always benefits everyone. One good example of this is closed captioning, which has been shown to improve attention, retention, and comprehension of educational videos for everyone.

(Check out our blog series that explored the story of one UTK math professor who put this to the test!) 

Some accessibility design elements (e.g., providing alternative text) are obviously more beneficial or possibly exclusively beneficial for people with certain disabilities (e.g., blind people). However, many of the best practices that we promote to provide accessibility to those with certain disabilities also enhance usability and learning for everyone. Check out this great TED Talk on the topic!

Some topics for accessibility that benefit a wide range of people including, but not exclusively people with disabilities include:

  • Using principles for designing documents to be accessible
  • Captioning videos
  • Providing transcripts for audio files
  • Providing alternatives to text (e.g., audio versions)
  • Ensuring material on websites or other platforms aren’t keyboard dependent

How do you think these may be beneficial even if users don’t have disabilities? Would you like to learn more about how to answer that question and how to actually go about making things accessible?

Opportunities to Learn

Learn more about designing accessible documents, PowerPoints, captioning videos and utilizing Read&Write software on the UTK course I developed, “Accessible Learning Materials & Tools”.

Check out AEM’s Quality Indicators for the Provision of Accessible Educational Materials and Technologies.

Explore the connections between accessibility and UDL in the relevant module of my Implementing UDL on Canvas MOOC.

With all of these options, jump in and learn how to designing for accessibility, for everyone’s benefit!

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