Ensuring Accessible Academic Video and Course Content

Meeting the needs of all learners
Cindy Jennings, Director of Learning Technologies, Academic Affairs, University of South Carolina Upstate
Cindy Jennings,
Director of Learning Technologies,
Academic Affairs,
University of South Carolina Upstate

It is vitally important—both ethically and legally—for higher ed faculty members and other content creators to make sure course content and instructional materials are accessible to all learners, regardless of ability or disability.

This web seminar explored how to ensure the accessibility of academic video and instructional materials across campus. The director of learning technologies at the University of South Carolina Upstate outlined strategies for developing a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to guide the design and creation of accessible course content at any institution.


Cindy Jennings
Director of Learning Technologies, Academic Affairs,
University of South Carolina Upstate

Cindy Jennings: We all know that in the work we do, accessibility and universal design topics touch every service that we work with, every tool that’s digital, every tool that’s used by students and our employees. We also know that creating inclusive and accessible learning environments is a shared responsibility.

Our original charge was careful study and planning for a campuswide universal design and accessibility policy and process development. It was important that offices such as faculty governance or an HR group did not take control of development. The policy needed to be broadly representative and inclusive. Reflecting a step in the right direction, our chancellor changed the group’s name from the Access Committee to the Universal Design Committee, signifying our commitment to universal design as a framework.

We have worked very hard and intentionally to move away from a culture of compliance and accommodations to a culture of inclusion and intentional design decisions that meet the needs of all learners. Universal design speaks to how we design learning experiences and opportunities for everyone, not just for someone who might need a particular accommodation.

One of the big things we asked was for each department on campus to build a progressive, five-year plan for reviewing all of their courses for accessibility. We asked faculty to do three things: to think about assessing their instructional materials for captioning, assessing for alternative text or long descriptions for images, and assessing the accessibility of documents that they use for instruction. Over the course of five years, they would review all of their courses and then report back on their progress.

We also asked every academic department to appoint someone to provide support, to answer questions, and to serve as a communication channel or conduit for resources. They were called Access Advocates, people who provided additional training and support. These were our department cheerleaders.

We did a captioning needs assessment. The cost of third-party captioning can be daunting, and the prospect of suddenly needing to caption all of the video we were creating through a third-party agreement was not a practical solution. An important part of the development of this whole process from strategic plan to course review was adopting an educational video platform that provided integrated, automated, editable, ADA-compliant, user-friendly captioning. Our video platform was TechSmith Relay. We investigated different options, including server-based products, but those would require significant resources to implement and maintain. We also wanted to find a solution that was practical and easy for faculty to integrate into their workflow. TechSmith Relay does all of these things, and it does them very well. We rolled it out to campus during the last academic year, and we marketed it in all of the ways you would imagine. The adoption of Relay has been excellent—better than we imagined.

I’d like to share five tips and takeaways:

1. Consider Tom Tobin’s idea of “plus-one thinking.” Start small, do one thing differently, and think about giving students one additional way to do something. Then, think about a small change you can make that’s not overwhelming. What is something you can do in 20 minutes, or in 20 days, or in 20 months? That changes the flavor a little bit—it makes things much more approachable, and creates goals that are much more achievable.

2. Emphasize shared responsibility. We promote the idea that we all have a contribution to make, and it is about a shared responsibility for all of our learners on campus. Designing for accessibility and inclusion is not an add-on.

3. Create accessible instructional materials. This is a process, not a destination. It’s not an endpoint. That plus-one thinking is helpful.

4. Provide resources. While we were working to promote the idea of shared responsibility for accessibility on campus, we were also working to provide resources, such as a reasonable captioning workflow. We provide some preformatted documents to departments, so they can hand those off to adjunct faculty members. Then, we provide refresher workshops.

5. Create an infrastructure of support and shared responsibility.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit UBmag.me/ws020619

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