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Reasonable Adjustments in Online Learning

Online learning can provide many benefits to students with disability, particularly for those who may prefer not to disclose their disability, such as those with a fluctuating mental health or medical condition.  Online learning can also allow students to access teaching and learning at a time that best suits them, and for students with mobility disability, can allow them to engage with learning at a location of their choice, without the need to attend campus.

Another factor that might encourage a student to engage in online learning is the opportunity to modify electronic files, including e-reading materials, into formats that suit their learning needs, including converting text documents to audio files, particularly benefiting students who are Blind or have vision impairments, and those with Learning Disabilities.

Online learning materials might include recorded lectures, e-reading materials, PowerPoint presentations, videos, online discussion groups (video sharing and sound as well as text).  Students might be required to complete online forms, submit work to online ‘dropboxes’, access Turnitin reports on drafts assignments, respond to discussion threads and contribute to group tasks such as wikis (including picture elements).  While efforts can be made to make many materials and methodologies accessible, reasonable adjustments will vary by disability type and student.

Reasonable Adjustments

The idea of what constitutes a reasonable adjustment also requires consideration.  Reasonable adjustments are actions taken to enable students with disability to participate in education on the same basis as other students while balancing the interests of all parties (University of Canberra, 2014).  Depending on the circumstances, adjustments can be made to practices, services, policies or procedures in Australian educational settings.  In deciding whether an adjustment for a student with disability is reasonable, all relevant circumstances and information should be taken into account, including the:

  •        Impact of the disability on the student’s learning, participation and independence;
  •        Views of the student with disability, or their associate, about their preferred adjustment;
  •        Impact of the adjustment on relevant parties, such as other students, staff members, the student’s family and the education provider;
  •        Costs and benefits of making the adjustment; and
  •        Need to maintain the essential requirements or academic integrity of the course or program.

It is important to note that reasonable adjustments made for students with disability often benefit many other students who do not have a disability.

Principles of Accessible Online Materials

Considering reasonable adjustments in the online learning environment cannot occur without first examining the content and usability of online learning environments for all students and disability types.  A useful guideline for determining whether the online content is accessible to all students is to look at the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  If these are followed, the need for further adjustments to meet the needs of particular students with disabilities will be minimised.  The four Principles are:

Perceivable

Students can take the information in a way that works for them, whether that is sight, sound or touch

Operable

How students navigate their way through the content, or how they interact with the content

Understandable

The content is structured in a logical, predictable way

Robust

Content can be accessed on a range of devices and interact with many types of assistive technology

Universal design

Universal design, whereby online content management systems, functionality and appearance are the same across education providers would be ideal, but is unlikely to ever occur.  A standardised format across a single institution would be beneficial, though is also rarely the case and in some instances, the appearance and functionality varies among subjects/topics within the same course.  This creates difficulties for students with Learning Disabilities, anxiety, acquired brain injury and vision impairments as they are forced to learn the layout and functionality of each new system they encounter.  There may be a role for disability practitioners in the education and training setting to advocate for this within their institution.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn (Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)). Designing curriculum that provides multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression and multiple means of engagement minimises the need for later adjustments.

Examples of reasonable adjustments and who benefits

Universal design and standardised formatting

All students

Auslan interpreter on screen instead of the lecturer in recorded lectures

Students who are Deaf (should be negotiated as part of an access plan as some students may argue it disadvantages hearing students)

Live captioning

Students who are Deaf and hearing impaired

Videos and timed tasks that allow stopping and restarting

All students, especially those with disabilities that impact on ability to sustain concentration or result in fatigue

Captioned videos

Students who are Deaf and hearing impaired.  Automatic captions available through YouTube should not be relied on.

Captions have been found to enhance the learning of all students, even those students without disabilities (Taylor, 2005; Dukes & Kmetz-Morris, 2017)

Downloading of  videos embedded in recorded lecture as a separate file on the learning platform

All students as it allows for an easy review of video content

Transcription of audio visual material as a separate text file

All students as it allows for students to check spelling, acronyms, new terms and difficult phrases and provides a significantly smaller file size to download compared to the original video.

All materials provided in a version suitable for screen readers

Blind, vision impaired, Learning Disabilities

Alternative assessment tasks that break up the course requirements

All students, students with anxiety and students with fluctuating medical and mental health conditions

Detailed description of assessment tasks (more than is usually provided) in a Word document (or multiple word documents)

All students, students with Learning Disabilities, students with anxiety

Alternatives to timed assessment tasks, with emphasis being placed on completion of tasks and formative learning tasks instead.

All students, especially those with anxiety, mobility disabilities, acquired brain injury, some fluctuating medical conditions and learning Disabilities

Consideration of alternatives to virtual group tasks.

All students

Consistent formatting and use of headings etc in all uploaded documents

All students, It can assist any student using eReading software to easily navigate the content of the document by providing an psuedo index created from the heading structure. This is particularly important for students who rely on screen readers to access content.

Alt Tags – adding descriptions of images

Students who are blind or vision impaired, other students who rely on screen readers

Colour coding that includes the name of the colour in all functions, formatting and downloadable documents

Students with colour vision deficiency, students with learning disabilities, students with vision impairment

Consideration of how to present hyperlinks

Example of correct convention: For more information about incorporating course content in online courses, view Online Learning links formatting (not a real link)

Students who use screen readers

Audio description

Students who are blind or vision impaired, students with Acquired Brain Injury

Consistent formatting, use of fonts and colours, with sufficient contrast

Students who might experience screen fatigue easily, such as students with some medical conditions such as MS.

Captioned video file where the course coordinator/lecturer goes through the syllabus and/or course requirements

All Students, especially students with Learning Disabilities

Early posting of course materials/outlines (before the course start date) so that students can negotiate alternatives through an adjustment to their access plan

All students

Inclusion of learning supports such as glossaries, spell checkers, highlighters, predictive text capability and sentence starters

All students, especially those with Learning Disabilities

Supported tutorial for how to navigate the site, the functionality and, where necessary, negotiate modifications and alternatives

All students

Allowing sound files instead of written papers for some tasks

Students who have mobility disabilities or neurogenic conditions that affect dexterity

Translation of Turnitin reports into plain text

Students who rely on screen readers

Assistance or alternative strategies (such as emailing to lecturers) with lodging assignments in online ‘dropboxes’

Students who rely on screen readers, students with disabilities affecting dexterity and students who rely on voice command software

Teaching and assessment strategies that can be particularly difficult for online learners with disabilities, where alternatives should be considered

Virtual groups

All students, as contacting and ensuring equitable contributions are extremely difficult for virtual groups.  Students with anxiety and fluctuating conditions find group tasks particularly difficult.

Live online discussion groups that are voice or text only

Students with anxiety.  Students with fluctuating conditions, students whose disability has less impact at certain times of day, making coordinated access difficult.

Tasks involving use of additional technology platforms (such as wikis for example)

Many students who have disabilities are already operating more than one technology in order to access the course and complete their studies and learning a new platform under deadlines can create inequitable pressure.  Further, some conditions such as acquired brain injury may require a longer learning process that cannot be accommodated in this instance

Inability to accommodate breaks in study without having to repeat the entire subject

Students with fluctuating conditions.

 

References

Access and Barriers to Online Education for People with Disabilities.  Retrieved August 13, 2017 from  http://www.adcet.edu.au/resource/9389/webinar-access-and-barriers-to-online-education-for-people-with-disability/  or www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWch8mtyhUw

Accessibility at Iowa State University: Top 10 Tips to Make Your Online Course Accessible www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bJdKpOYKXY

Accessibility in Online Course Design www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3JoYNTeV5o&spfreload=10

Iowa State University (2014). Individual Access Plan for Digital Accessibility: Online Course Design.  Retrieved on August 13, 2017 from http://www.celt.iastate.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/CELTdigitalaccessibilityactionplan1.pdf

Iowa State University (2014). Quality Matters: Standards from the QM Higher Education Rubric, Fifth Edition. Retrieved on August 13, 2017 from http://www.elo.iastate.edu/files/2016/04/QM-Rubric.pdf

Kent, M. (2016). Access and barriers to online education for people with disabilities.  Perth, WA: National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.  Retrieved on August 13, 2016 from http://www.ncsehe.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Access-and-Barriers-to-Online-Education-for-People-with-Disabilities.pdf

Online Course Accommodations for Students with Disability www.youtube.com/watch?=yIHACQEKeak

Simply Said: Understanding Access in Digital Learning Materials www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H3GVEk_d0&spfreload=10

University of Canberra (2014).  Disability Standards for Education: A Practical Guide for Individuals, Families and Communities.  What’s Reasonable?  Retrieved on August 13, 2017 from http://resource.dse.theeducationinstitute.edu.au/content/whats-reasonable

Vision Australia (2014). Accessibility and Assistive Technology FAQ.  Retrieved on August 13, 2017 from https://www.visionaustralia.org/business-and-professionals/digital-access-consulting/resources/blog---accessibility-and-assistive-technology-blog/blog/accessibility-blog/2014/08/27/faq-and-practical-tips-for-word-and-pdf-accessibility