Understanding Disability and Accessibility
Understanding disability and accessibility
Understanding what disability includes and why accessibility is important can make it easier to prioritize accessibility in your day to day work. Below are brief versions of the most important definitions and highlights.
SBCTC offers more in-depth training in the following microcourses:
- Understanding Accessibility
- Accessible Design Concepts
- Universal Design
UDL is a set of guidelines used to make classes and materials accessible. Universal Design is a concept borrowed from architecture. The idea was to design a building that could be used to the greatest extent possible by anyone, regardless of age, ability, etc. UDL attempts to do the same with learning by applying three principles:
- Multiple means of representation
- Multiple means of engagement
- Multiple means of action and expression
Accommodation is retroactive. Providing a note taker or creating an alternative version of a document after a student has requested one are examples of accommodation. On the other hand, Universal Design for Learning incorporates accessibility into the design of materials and courses, making it accessible and usable for everyone from the start. For example, documents and notes are made available online in accessible formats for everyone, without the need for a student to request them.
Not all disabilities are visible or evident. Hidden/invisible disabilities are prevalent on campus and include learning disabilities, anxiety, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury and others. This video also discusses the forms disability can take: "Hidden Vs. Visible Disabilities" (YouTube).
Assistive technology takes many forms. Specialized keyboards and mice, screen readers and voice-to-text tools all make it easier for certain people to navigate their computers and the internet. Understanding how tools like a screen reader work can make the steps for creating accessible materials make more sense. Often, students already have the assistive technology they need, and so the college has a responsibility to make sure that the materials they need can be used with that technology.
There are many ethical and professional reasons to create accessible materials, but there are also very real legal ramifications for not making materials accessible. From the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST): "Two disability-related civil rights laws govern the obligations of postsecondary institutions with respect to the accessibility of digital learning materials and online courses—Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)."
In "Legal Obligations Under Section 504 and the ADA," CAST breaks down what those laws actually say and the obligations institutions have to act in accordance with those laws.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which specifically addresses accessibility of electronic and information technology for federal agencies, was also recently refreshed in 2017. As a result of that refresh, Section 508 is now more sweeping, affecting public-facing and internal materials, and includes all of the materials we discuss in this section, like electronic public facing content (PDFs, Word documents, multimedia, etc.) and surveys, forms and applications.