Accessibility in Online Classes

Chapter 7 of Rhetorical Accessibility, “Accessibility Challenges for Visually Impaired Students and Their Online Writing Instructors,” discusses exactly what it is titled—accessibility in online writing instruction (OWI), specifically in regards to blind students. 

To begin, the chapter addressed many professors’ attitudes towards accessibility; this attitude typically being one of cluelessness, lack of interest, or complete refusal to accommodate students according to the survey used to gather the information. It also discussed how typically all of the responsibility is placed on the disabled student. They are advised to contact their instructor and get in contact with disability services and do all the things on their own. One thing that is frequently forgotten is that not all students are on campus and can access these things as easily. 

Despite recent enactments of policies to make classes more accessible, some professors and teachers are still unaware of how to make their courses more accessible. Confusion arises when people think that making things accessible means simplifying them, but really it means making sure everyone has equal access to the material. An issue that has come about with making things equally accessible is that there is an abundance of technology that is supposed to make things accessible, but in reality they are poor quality. The synthesized speech doesn’t sound right or some interfaces don’t work with how screen readers attempt to read them, among many other things. One point that is made in the chapter is that screen reader quality varies, but none offer the quality of speech you hear in places like public transportation systems. Ones that do have good quality tend to be expensive.

The main takeaway from the chapter is that accessibility for blind students is obviously important, but there is no one-size-fits-all method of accessibility. Different students have different methods that work for them. Students tend to have to jump through hoops just to have classes that are as equally accessible to them as they are to other students. All this considered, professors and teachers should also keep in mind the material they choose for the class and see how screen readers and other programs read the book along with seeing what audio descriptions are available. When assigning videos they should keep in mind not only the captions of the words being spoken, but the description of the video itself too. The chapter recommends professors speaking one on one with the students over the phone or in person to help plan for the semester to make the class accessible. 

The Importance of Accessibility for Every User

Chapter one of this book portrays challenges faced when developing technology to suit the need of all users. Developers in the past have avoided changes in technology to cater to people with disabilities, because this task is difficult. This chapter describes how autistic people are either not involved or are part of an “object-centered” design process when it comes to technology development. These users should be approached with a “user-centered” design process. This process focuses on a user and their needs individually. This process is much more personal and can help people with Autism not be overlooked when it comes to the design process.

When research is centered around an individual, it opens a lot of oppurtinity for users’ to use their own skills. Everyone should be included when it comes to assistive technology. The intended audience must be reached in an efficient and easy manner or the technology loses purpose. Since every user is different and has their own unique skill set, making technology completely customizable with different methods of suiting the needs of users can be very effective.

When creating this customizability, researches must keep in mind every individual. This assistive technology is made to strengthen user’s abilities. Proper research on how different people preform these abilities can influence how developers can make their technology customizable to fit their users. Developmental changes should not be cast aside due to the fear of user-error. Just because something is difficult to identify, doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. Research more thoroughly and allow the technology to be customized to the needs of the user.

Empowering Readers

Diversity is throughout the earth, and without accommodations, some writers exclude certain individuals. Looking into Chapter 2, one can see the difficulties in being able to hold readers. There is a large range of types of people, which means different types of learning. The types of challenges are physical, mental, and environmental elements and the writer needs to be aware off this.

There are many different ways people need to read and comprehend, but they are mainly divided into four sections. Identifying these are important so one can help and empower those struggling or grasping concepts differently. Individuals with lower literacy skills, elderly, stressed or anxious, and people relying on screen readers are the ones that are at a higher risk of these issues. We have identified some of the issues, but to fix them we need to take action.

Action needed:

-Write simply.

-Break information up.

-Have visual clarity.

-Have gradual information from simple to detailed

Having these guidelines assist us in an umbrella method. One can be certain that they included the majority, making things easy to see, comprehend, and accessible to those with difficulty. This can include many off us, even if we are just stressed or overwhelmed one day. As writers or designers, we need to be aware of our readers strengths and weaknesses and be able to accommodate them.

Writing Easy-To-Read Posts

When you consider your audience, you realize that not everyone is going to be on the reading level. Whether it be because of physical problems, cognitive problems, low literacy, or reading in nonnative language, there will be readers that have a harder time than others. Even expert readers generally prefer information that looks easy to read and gets to the point quickly. Chapter two “Rhetorical Accessibility” gives six guidelines to make information easier for everyone to understand. These guidelines are familiar to me, as I learn similar ways of writing in my journalism classes.

  1. Develop information from bite to snack to meal. It is best to write in the inverted pyramid style. This means you write from most important information to least important information. Readers drop off as the article goes on, so this is the best way to get the important information to as many people as possible.
  2. Use informative titles, headings, and links. If you make the titles and headings useful, you are more likely to get more readers.
  3. Break up information with short sections, paragraphs, lists and sentences. No one likes long, dense readings. Paragraphs with one or two sentences are fine and even preferrable.
  4. Write in plain language. Use words that are simpler, more common, and less abstract. We are not trying to impress the readers with vocabulary. Writing in active voice is also always preferred.
  5. Design for visual clarity. Text needs to stand out clearly from the other elements on the page. The best layout is often simple. Manipulate spacing between words to group words into meaningful clusters.
  6. Provide feedback and guide interaction. Unnecessary diversions distract and make tasks more difficult. Users should feel like they are in control, and that they are making steady progress. When possible, give immediate feedback for user actions.

In conclusion, in the case of writing for social media, less is often more. Short, simple, and to the point is the best way to reach the biggest audience.

Accommodating Learning Disabilities Among Students

Chapter 2 in Rhetorical Accessibility was all about learning to accommodate people who have difficulty reading. This could be a wide range of people, but most of the ones we discussed have a disability such as dyslexia or visual impairments. When reflecting on this chapter, my mind mostly gravitated toward how this sort of situation could be viewed from an educational standpoint. Specifically, I was reminded of the way the education system so often fails disabled people. People with learning disabilities are often seen as lazy or sometimes even as liars. Teachers believe they are struggling to understand the subjects because they aren’t trying hard enough or don’t care about their grades, but that isn’t the case in most circumstances.

The reality is that some people simply learn differently than others. While some teachers or other students may perceive certain individuals as being “dumber” than their peers, a very real possibility could be that that individual simply has a different style of learning than many other students. I believe teachers should be more accommodating to students with learning disabilities of any kind. I believe students who learn differently than their peers often end up feeling isolated or “less than” because of their struggle to learn. They may even be too ashamed to ask the teacher for clarification for fear of looking dumb. 

In these kind of situations, I think teachers should take the time to meet one-on-one with the student and discuss how they can help them to understand the concepts they are having difficulty with rather than making assumptions about the student. As this relates to social media, I think the internet is a technological advancement which can significantly help with the process of providing more inclusive education styles for all different types of learners. I think it would also be beneficial to consider some of the lessons we have learned from previous readings about understanding our audience. The first step to creating a more inclusive learning environment is to gain a better understanding of the challenges our audience is facing in their education and what their needs are so we can help them to meet those needs.

Being empathetic towards readers

This week we really focused on media and how our viewers respond and react to things that are posted. In chapter 2 of Rhetorical Accessibility , I read about how to design for people who have a hard time reading. This may be due to a lack of time, physical problems, technological limitations and even low literacy. It was interesting to read about the hardships that people may face when it comes to reading. I didn’t think about the fact that there are so many people in the world who cannot read well or just come across so many challenges when trying to read. There were three challenges that were highlighted in this chapter : physical challenges, emotional challenges, and cognitive challenges. Out of all three, I personally think that cognitive challenges may be the most common. Overall , there were guidelines provided to help us figure out how to make reading easier for everyone. I thought that the most important point was to write in plain language. After looking it up and educating myself a little more on the subject, I found that plain language is :

  • short sentences and paragraphs 
  • active voice 
  • common,everyday words 
  • positive tone 

Plain language just makes reading things much easier for those who struggle with reading in general. It can be hard to write using plain language because, so often, we want to seem as though we are the smartest. It’s common to think that using big words and harder language will gain a writer more respect or make them seem more credible but this chapter has helped me to learn that less can truly be more.

Reading Issues

We’ve read a lot lately about designing and writing to make sure all of our audiences can read and understand what is being said easily so they can get their answers from us quickly. Writing should be in more basic English around a 3rd grade English level to match the reading level of the average person. Going further from this though is writing with text color, size, font, ect. in mind. I don’t think people as often think of these things but they’re very important in making sure your writing is as accessible as possible. I know people who are colorblind and have issues reading some texts in their classes or online when the text and background do not contrast enough in color. This is an example of why it’s so important to keep in mind as much accessibility as possible with design.

I also found the section on stress and reading very interesting and informative. This shows that people under stress physically can not comprehend reading at the same level. It’s not as easy to get things into long term memory because the brain is so focus on whatever the stress or “threat” is. If writers think about this ahead of time they can help make sure even stressed readers can understand what is being said. Professors especially could benefit from these tips or section of the textbook. Using basic language with an easily readable font size that is colored to contrast with the background (such as white on black) can help some but they can help a lot when added in with bullet points, headers, subheadings, short paragraphs, ect.

How Accessibility Influences Web Design

This chapter I read talks about how disabilities can affect everyone in the real world, and through online experiences. A teacher teaches a web design class how to make their websites accessible to those who may have disabilities, because it teaches them creative or innovative ways to appeal to these people, while also possibly working better for people who don’t have a disability and would just enjoy a more convenient way of experiencing a website. Teaching a web designer how to work their way around disabilities can make them more creative or cause them to think more about what content will be in the site. This challenge can also help students learn better how to organize their sites and what would be easiest for people to understand.

For example, the first steps they take into understanding and designing for disabilities is to look up the understood and applied definitions of disability. Once they know it and how it applies to real situations and online clicking, they look at what websites are following this disability accessibility idea, and what sites may not be doing it correctly. Next, they talk about a more broad definition to define accessibility, and look at different examples and how to possibly rework them. The next to last step is the start making their own website while keeping these ideas in mind. Finally, they review their sites to make sure everything is following the accessibility mindset and write a memo describing in detail how they created their websites.

Accessibility for All Users

Chapter 1, “Embracing Independence: Technology Developers, Autistic Users, and Technical Communicators”, discusses the challenges faced by developers in order to make a more user-friendly way of communicating in all areas, specifically, people with disabilities. It introduces the struggles made in years past, and how many avoidances have caused a lack of reliability in products designed in order to make communication easier. It suggest that their consumers who fall under the umbrella of mental deficiencies, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, tend to be overlooked due to the idea that “differences and potential treatments are difficult to identify and measure objectively” (Meloncon, p.16). Therefore, researchers tend to ward off any developmental change in assistive technology because of user-error, and the idea that it’s too hard to create a broad enough program to reach all specific needs and accommodations.

It concludes by suggesting that in order to progress, assistive technology needs to be “user-centered”, in which I agree. It explains the importance of centering research around the individual using their products. Due to the argument previously stated, “difficult to identify” and that all cases “measure objectively”, there should be an importance placed on the ability to create something each individual may use for their unique set of skills. Assistive technology should be able to assist all intended users, and allow oneself to strengthen their abilities. By conducting proper research, beyond what may be assumed, could allow this field of technology to grow and develop into much more than what it has already become. I would suggest creating something designed to be customized for their consumers needs, and feel like this could elevate the use of many products and the participants.

Embracing the Difficulty of Reading

In Chapter 2 of Rhetorical Accessability, where it explains the difficulty of people who do not read easily, I found it fascinating of all the many different ways people read. Difficulty starts when physical, mental, and environmental elements causes interruptions while you read. I learned that these issues include: fatigue, stress, cognitive problems such as aphasia, and lack of necessary background knowledge. Reading can be as difficult as the font on the page to the formatting of complex sentences. “Reading is a complex process that starts with identifying marks on a page–or dots on a screen–as text. Reading ends, for the skilled reader, with a grasp of the meaning.”

Researchers have broken it down into four specific groups of people who have difficulty reading. These four groups are: people with lower literacy skills, people who are older, people who are under stress, and people who must rely on screen readers. So, are there any solutions to help us change the difficulty of reading for us? Well there have been several of studies that analyze and clarify the answers we need in order to succeed in reading. Luckly, there is are guidelines to make information easier for everyone.

  • Break up the information into lists.
  • Write in plain language.
  • Design for visual clarity.
  • Develop the information from bite to snack to meal.

When doing these things it helps us put our focus back into what we are reading instead of getting distracted or confused. What I’ve learned from this chapter is that not everyone comprehends things the same way and things cannot be solved for everyone the same way. We have to figure out for ourselves what way is going to fulfill our learning needs best.