Excellent content on how to create accessible content is available in multiple resources.  Accessibility Lesson Plan (The Ws) focuses on how to use that content to develop a lesson that teaches accessibility to engineering students and integrates that lesson plan into assignments.

Why Teach About Accessible Content?

As professional educators, one of our many responsibilities includes creating accessible content for coursework.  In the U.S., many universities and colleges are governed by the following: Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended; Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996; Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended.

Beyond the legal requirements, generating accessible content establishes a benefit for all students.  The goal of accessibility is to develop a mindset of creating an equitable experience for all instead of an “alternative” for some.  For example, using captioning on videos helps more than those with hearing impairments.  Students that are watching the videos in a noisy environment or with poor audio quality have a chance to follow along.  English language learners are able see the material while hearing it to help internal dialogue translations, reduce misunderstandings, and strengthen language skills.  Some students with attention disorders find that reading along helps to increase focus.  For new vocabulary or advanced terminology, students are able to see the spelling and context of the wording.  Finally, students with poor time management skills can watch the video on a higher speed and read through the material faster (although, not ideal, it is better the students are getting some content rather than none at all).

With an understanding of the benefits of accessible content, a new lesson plan is proposed:  require students to create accessibility within their assignments.  Teaching students that it is easier to develop accessible content from the beginning versus after creating the material is a prime example of best practices for accessibility.

Who Can Help?

There are many people that can help with content development already on campus.  Many institutions already have trainings available for accessibility.  Contacting the hosting department of those trainings is an easy step.  The training modules may already be created and can be released to faculty.  With a few modifications to convert the material to be student-friendly (versus faculty oriented), the lesson plan can be built.  Other resources to help produce the lesson plan includes marketing or communication departments and disability resource centers.  All of these entities should have readily available material that can be converted into lesson plans.

Next, students can be encouraged (or required via syllabus material lists) to use common and easy tools to check for accessibility.  Many common software packages including Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word have built in accessibility checkers which generate inspection reports.

What Should Be Taught?

The lesson plan occurs in three parts:  discussion of benefit, training on how to create accessible content, and requiring assignments which are compliant.  There are many videos and documents available that go into depth about the benefits of accessibility.  The Let’s Talk Accessibility | Barclays by Barclays, (a British multinational banking entity) YouTube video is highly recommended because it creates a real-world example that is relatable for students training to enter the workplace.  Next, the lesson plan should go into depth about the instructions on how to create accessible content.  This content should be available from other entities within the institution.  The lesson plan can take many forms from self-paced modules that include reading segments, a video production, or a lecture.  Finally, the lesson plan needs to be reinforced by requiring that students perform an accessibility check and submit assignments where all accessibility issues are resolved.  Students may submit screenshots of a final inspection report or the final inspection report itself as a separate document/assignment.

When Can We Teach Accessibility?

There are many appropriate placements for the accessibility checked assignments.  An example is Senior Capstone Design classes where extensive documentation and final reports are submitted.  Any course that requires video presentations or written reports are also excellent for integrating accessible compliant content:  lab reports, summaries, documentation, meeting minutes, theses, defenses, pre-recorded segments, e-mail correspondence (especially with fundraising, service learning, or corporate sponsors), marketing tools (surveys or web pages), business plans, or design competitions reports.

Where Do We See Benefits?

There are many benefits for students learning about and using accessibility techniques.  Thinking of students as engineers-in-study demonstrates the inherent career preparation benefit.  As these engineers-in-study prepare for the “real world environment,” they must know about legal regulations and standards.  Accessibility regulations are similarly important as technical code or standards for all employees including engineers.

As a primary Student Learning Outcome of ABET, having the ability to create an inclusive and collaborative environment is vital for the workplace, for education, and for society.  Accessible content is another step towards inclusion.  Creating accessible content develops better teamwork.  With the implementation of the Accessibility Lesson Plan, multiple students have given positive feedback.  Many students have noted that having the content as part of the curriculum made them feel included with their teammates as they did not have to request their teammates to create special material for them to be able to participate.  Team members also stated that in the past, they fall behind or self-isolate because they were too embarrassed to ask their team members to work with their disabilities.  With the integration of the lesson plan, those team members do not even need to ask.

Finally, the students remarked that the lesson plan as a whole creates a classroom environment where everything is more coherent; accessible content is not an afterthought to the curriculum or course.  Students comment on how being upfront about accessibility shows an embracing of diversity.  The students appreciate that disabilities are not stigmatized; ultimately, accessible content is a significant benefit for the entire class.  Teaching how to create accessible content is another way to ensure an inclusive and positive learning environment.