In this Section
At the University of St. Thomas, our mission and convictions fuel a commitment to create inclusive classrooms that support the well-being of each member. Providing an equitable and effective learning environment for all students requires that we provide teaching and learning materials in ways that are accessible for all, including students with disabilities. We also recognize that when course materials are designed with this intention, ALL students benefit.
Taking steps to ensure that your course materials – documents, videos, presentations, software – are accessible is a vital way you can promote equity while creating an inclusive classroom. You’ll find that accessible course materials enhance learning for a variety of students, including:
- Those with disabilities
- International students
- English language learners
- Students with undiagnosed learning disabilities
- Those with certain psychological disorders, including PTSD
It definitely takes intentionality and a certain amount of effort to develop the habits needed for creating accessible materials, but don’t let the idea overwhelm you. Every year you can add a few small strategies. Over time it will become second nature to create accessible documents, videos, etc. You’ll learn how to check to make sure that software packages you use for teaching meet accessibility standards. We are creating resources to help and support you, and we need you to sign on to this effort by making use of the resources you’ll find here.
You might wonder why you need to start now to make your materials accessible, especially when you do not have students in your course who are requesting accommodations. Although many students at St. Thomas choose to request accommodations through the Disability Resources Office, many students choose to not disclose their disability. Starting now to make your materials accessible benefits all St. Thomas students and promotes equal access to the content and resources in your course. In a truly inclusive classroom, instructional materials are designed with accessibility in mind alleviating the need for making adjustments for students requiring accommodations.
We’re motivated by our mission and convictions, and also mindful of emerging law in this area requiring us to ensure that all of our electronic and information resources be accessible. This means that our learning materials, digital, web-based or otherwise, must be immediately accessible. Translation: any delay on the instructor’s part in making material accessible for an individual student with a disability may be a legal violation. You may not have students with disabilities in your class right now, but one day you will, and you’ll benefit from being prepared with teaching materials that are accessible and ready to be used by all. In the meantime, the steps you take will benefit all your students in countless ways and make your classroom more inclusive.
So why make materials accessible? In short: it’s embedded in our mission, it’s the law, and it’s the right thing to do.
Just like beginning study in a discipline starts with basic concepts and skills, creating accessible instructional materials also starts with a few fundamental concepts and practices. These concepts and skills are things that you will be able to use in all areas of your university life -- in committee reports, meeting minutes, scholarly presentations, and electronic communication. Empowering yourself to learn a few skills and to start to apply them to your course now will help St. Thomas build an inclusive and welcoming experience for everyone.
You can begin to incorporate accessible practices now by learning a few key concepts and deciding how you want to apply them to your course. Your syllabus is a good place to begin and gives you an opportunity to practice and apply many of the accessibility concepts.
- Learn a few key accessibility concepts: Learning a few key concepts about accessibility will help you create accessible documents, presentations, and emails. These concepts are simple, easy to learn (you might already be doing some of them!) and quick to implement. Don't worry if these concepts are new to you. Every member of the St. Thomas community - faculty, staff and students - can learn and practice them.
- Create an accessible course syllabus: To help you get started making your syllabus accessible, we've developed an online tutorial with the basic concepts and downloadable syllabus template for you to use. Once you've gone through the tutorial, simply download the syllabus template and replace the preformatted placeholder text in the title, headers, etc. with your own information, and you will be one big step closer to cultivating an inclusive classroom. You can also take your existing syllabus and use these tips from the University of Minnesota to check the accessibility of your syllabus.
- Accessify the rest of your course: To make your course more accessible, whether online, blended or face-to-face, consider the accessibility of all parts of your course including:
Core Accessibility Concepts
Learning and applying a few core concepts when creating accessible documents, presentations and emails will go a long way toward building an inclusive classroom. These general concepts are simple, easy to learn (you might already be doing some of them!) and quick to implement. But, don't worry if these are new to you. Every member of the St. Thomas community - faculty, staff and students - can learn and practice these skills.
The core concepts are:
- Headings and document structure
- Bulleted and numbered lists
- Images and alt text
- Video captions and transcripts
To ensure accessibility, documents like a syllabus, assignment, or paper should make use of both structure and headings. Your software's paragraph styles are used to create headings and document structure in a Word document or a Google doc. Headings make the structure of your documents accessible to screen readers while improving both scannability and organization.
See the University of Minnesota's page on creating headings and document structure for a quick read on what headings are and how to create them, and then go through their short tutorial on creating accessible documents.
Documents and emails with hyperlinks that are concise, descriptive, contextual, and embedded all increase the usability and accessibility.
Learn how to create accessible hyperlinks. It's quick and easy.
Lists are a frequently used element in documents and presentations and are formatted in various ways -- sometimes by using the built-in list function in the software and sometimes by spacing, tabbing or inserting other special characters. Screen readers and assistive technologies need to know what is and isn't a list and rely on the underlying document structure to convey lists to a reader. Your document will be acessible, scannable and easier to read when lists are created using the formatting tools in your software. Look for the formatting tools in your software to create accessible lists. Most software has the ability to customize the look of a bulleted list.
The U of MN has a brief guide to create bulleted and numbered lists.
Screen readers can scan your document for tables but need to know how the table is structured to convey the information within the table. A person using a screen reader relies on the table structure to know whether they want to further explore the contents of the table. Using "header rows" in a table creates this structure thereby making the table accessible.
Alternative text (alt text) describes the content of images, graphs and charts. An alt text description of the image should be added to every image in instructional materials that conveys content. Images that are purely decorative do not need to have an alt text description. A good rule of thumb about including alt text: Could your students complete the assignment, understand the theory or concept or participate in the activity if the image was missing? If the answer is "no" you need to include an alt text description. When an alt text description is included, it should answer this question: "What is the content conveyed by this image?"
The alt text tutorial from the U of MN gives examples of alt text descriptions, how to add alt text in Microsoft Word and Powerpoint, and in Google Docs.
Captions (for video) or a transcript (for audio) should be included for all instructional multimedia content, including recorded lectures, podcasts, videos, and narrated slideshows. Captions and transcripts have many benefits beyond meeting accessibility requirements. How captions are created depends in part on on the type of media and the software used, and whether you are creating the media yourself or are using media created by a publisher or someone else.
At St. Thomas, Information Technology Services (ITS) offers captioning services for instructional content, including YouTube videos that do not have captions or that are poorly captioned. Request video captioning from ITS.
Disability Resources Office
Students qualify for services through Disability Resources upon self-disclosure of a disability and the presentation of documentation. Reasonable academic accommodations are arranged on an individual basis in order to provide students with disabilities equal access to all university programs. The Disability Resources Office is located in room 110 of the Murray Herrick Center; and their web site has information for St. Thomas students and faculty on:
Note to Faculty: The purpose of a disability statement is to help students feel more comfortable in approaching the disability resources office about their disability and to facilitate arranging accommodations in a timely manner. Please add the disability statement below to your syllabus.
Academic accommodations will be provided for qualified students with documented disabilities including but not limited to mental health diagnoses, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder, chronic medical conditions, visual, mobility, and hearing disabilities. Students are invited to contact the Disability Resources office about accommodations early in the semester. Appointments can be made by calling 651-962-6315 or in person in Murray Herrick, room 110. For further information, you can locate the Disability Resources office on the web at http://www.stthomas.edu/enhancementprog/.