Author: Austin Craven, UNCG Accessibility Fellow
In my 9+ years as a lecturer in the UNCG Biology Department, I’ve learned a little about planning ahead. This year I’m working as a faculty fellow on accessibility, and proactive planning is an essential component in the message I share with faculty about online accessibility. This position has a strong focus on improving awareness of online accessibility practices among the faculty here at UNCG. I’ve always tried to be mindful of making my content accessible to my students and prided myself on working to make biology as accessible to our diverse student body as possible. A recurring topic in this process has been attempting to discover my own bias so I can minimize the impact they have on my successful communication with my students. Speaking as someone who has worked in the lab, I can say that biases are often obvious after they’ve been found but can also require a lot of work to remove once they are. In the lab this may mean retooling an experimental design. In education this may mean reworking vital resources that your entire semester is built around.
These reworks often require a lot of effort. However, if the issues are addressed in development, it’s much easier to design around them, saving ourselves the time of stress of a redesign and redevelopment. This reminds me of the adage, a stitch in time saves nine.
To highlight this point regarding web accessibility I want to recount one of my experiences during the pandemic. During the switch to online education, I generated more than 30 hours of video lecture material for one of my courses. This obviously took quite a bit of time learning which program I wanted to record on and setting up a stable recording environment at home. As I learned early in that process, having an error early on such as an inappropriate background required quite a bit of re-recording.
The next semester while teaching the same lecture, I received an OARS accommodation letter for a student who required transcripts and/or captions for audio materials. This caused a similar issue as the inappropriate background. Considering students with accommodations must have the same amount of time with the course material as other students, I had to rapidly create captions for my 30+ hours of lecture material to stay ahead of the delivery dates of these materials to the class. While developing new techniques to combat the current learning challenges of the pandemic I now had to learn about the generation of captions, and the re-rendering of video with a caption file added. Luckily, I was assisted by the UTLC with funds for paid captioning services which allowed for the creation of high accuracy captions. This saved me an immense amount of time in the editing or generation of the captions myself. Even still, considering the material was moving through a third party vendor and that I was on a deadline to deliver the material to the student, it still involved quite a few late nights of work. While the captioning vendor generated the caption files, I still had to upload these files to each video. Learning how to do this was a process, but it was not a difficult one. But it still required extra time, and often I was under a time crunch to upload the files. Between the extra time needed for uploading the files and the pressure to have them added by the deadlines, this semester was quite stressful. If I had only employed the best practice of captioning when I created my videos, I could have paced my workload much more efficiently.
After this experience, I began the journey of learning more about online accessibility with educational content. This journey included completing the Web Accessibility 101 Canvas course offered here through the UTLC. Through this process I’ve learned about many best practices with online content such as heading structures coded into word processors and alternative text for images allowing them to be read by screen readers. These best practices, and others found on the Accessibility Resources site, are of most benefit when implemented during the development of material and becomes second nature after only a little practice. Which brings me back to my main point, that when it comes to online accessibility practices, a stitch in time will always save nine.