Universal design principles for online learning environments are based on the knowledge that a broad range of human abilities exist. Therefore the creation of content needs to be made as usable as possible for as many people as possible regardless of age, ability, or situation.
Usable content accommodates people with disabilities, older people, children, novice technology users, and others in ways that benefit all users. Online courses and communities add the dimension of anytime, anywhere access. This creates many different scenarios for students and instructors engaged in the process of teaching and learning not defined just by ability, but by time and place as well.
Designing for a wide range of users from the beginning of the building process can increase usability without significantly increasing the time it takes to build. The results benefit everyone and reduce modifications later when students, instructors, or content changes.
Universal design for learning seeks to provide:
- Multiple means of representation
- Multiple means of expression
- Multiple means of engagement
In today's educational settings, the mix of students is more diverse than ever. Educators are challenged to teach all types of learners, and they are evaluated against changing standards. Teachers want their students to succeed, but a one-size-fits-all approach to education simply does not work. There are some simple things you can do to make your course accessible for the learner. Making your course accessible will help the learner access the content with little to no issues.
Use descriptive headings to organize the content in a course. Headings are critical when creating accessible content as they provide the ability to directly jump to content and can save assistive tool users hours of time. Keep it simple and use the heading styles provided by the tool you are using.
Ensure that PDF files are readable by screen readers. Simple methods for "print" or "save" to PDF may create a single image of the file. Additionally, scanning documents to PDF will often result in an image of the file. The screen reader will not be able to interact with or read the image. For details about making accessible PDF documents, see:
PDF Accessibility Standards (Acrobat Pro DC)
Within your course, make sure your links are descriptive. Every link should describe what the user can expect to find when they click on it. Just providing the link with the web address or URL is not considered informative and should not be used.
Only use images that have a purpose and meaning. Otherwise it will create clutter and can be overwhelming to those with disabilities. Add alt text that is simple and describes exactly what the image is.
For example, alt="photograph of a human eye". If the image is a diagram that conveys complicated information, a long description, or textual format of the material is required.
Include descriptive captions or a transcript to your video content to ensure users with hearing impairments are able to understand it. Please see below for details on adding closed captioning.
Screen readers do not identify font styles such as bold and color. If you want to give a strong visual cue, make sure to use an accessible alternative like an exclamation mark at the end of your sentence. Screen readers intonate exclamation and question marks which means it won't read "question mark" but will give a questioning tone to the question.