Around the world, more students than ever before are reliant upon digital learning tools and eTexts in order to continue their education under these exceptional circumstances.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close, faculty and school administrators rushed to quickly create and implement remote learning opportunities. As the school year comes to an end and our focus turns to preparing for the summer and fall semesters, we must ensure we are maintaining an appropriate focus on accessibility, so all students—regardless of ability—can have quality learning experiences.
As administrators consider the appropriate tools and technologies to enhance their distance learning programs, they should keep an eye out for a few critical features that have proven invaluable to students with disabilities. These include:
Navigation Support: Smart, intuitive design and functionality features can make a huge difference for students with disabilities. These include table of contents and search bars to help navigate content quickly and easily.
Screen Reader Compatibility: Each program should be easily integrated with screen reader tools, such as Microsoft Narrator, JAWS, NVDA, TalkBack, and VoiceOver, which use spoken word, vibrations, and other audible features to help students with visual impairments effectively use and interact with content.
Content Controls: These features allow students to make adjustments, including changing screen colors, using ‘night mode’ to adjust brightness, and magnification, so the program can be adapted to each user’s unique needs.
Study Aids: Adopting programs that incorporate useful study aids can help students practice what they’ve learned and reinforce content absorption.
Clear Accessibility Designations: Faculty should be able to determine if the publisher has authored the content to accommodate student needs, and students should be able to evaluate the accommodations publishers included before making a purchase.
We must all remember that accessibility is a journey, not a destination. Just as technology is continuously evolving and changing, so too are students’ needs. This is why, many years ago, the VitalSource team made a commitment to accessibility, and VitalSource has since become an industry leader.
We go beyond simply adhering to industry standards, as we are also actively involved in helping create those standards through participation in and leadership with key accessibility partners. We believe that choosing digital learning materials does not mean sacrificing ease of use and successful learning because the content should be equipped for all users. At VitalSource, it isn’t just about having the best tools—it’s about serving the most users in the best possible way.
To learn more about our commitment to accessibility, read our position paper.
Rick Johnson is the Vice President of Product Strategy & Accessibility at VitalSource. He can be found on Twitter at @RickJ.