Arguing for Proactivity: Talking Points for Owning Accessibility in Online Writing Instruction

Arguing for Proactivity: Talking Points for Owning Accessibility in Online Writing Instruction

Patricia Jenkins (University of Alaska – Anchorage, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1718-4.ch007
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The field of composition studies has come to value online writing instruction's potential because it has matured theoretically. Despite its status as a viable means of instruction, research shows that those who teach it fail to comply with the obligation of accessibility and inclusivity in their online courses. When meeting ideals for accessible and inclusive online writing instruction remains unimportant and difficult to put into practice, instructors fail students with disabilities. The author argues that instructors need to advocate for a proactive approach at their institutions to address the issue of not providing accessible and inclusive online writing courses. A proactive approach supports instructors in attending to the online learning environment before launching a course so that it meets the needs of students with disabilities. This essay offers ideas for framing a conversation to address the issue described above and to encourage establishing a culture of proactivity, and it provides a vision for the features of a proactive culture.
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Students with disabilities have a right to equal access to all courses, programs, services, and activities offered through a university, guaranteed by two federal laws: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.1 Both laws mandate that universities provide students with disabilities the necessary accommodations to ensure equal access to all academic and co-curricular programs and services. Furthermore, changing demographics point to the potential for an increase in the number of students with disabilities enrolling in our online writing courses. Oswal and Meloncon (2014), drawing from D. M. Hinn (1999), claim that this is a result of a growth in the number of online writing courses: “[It] has opened up learning opportunities for students with disabilities because ‘Web-based instruction may be the only way that some students can independently access courses and course materials—something that is a powerful reminder of the need for accessible distance education’” (p. 271). Griffin and Minter (2013) point to a changing demographic in light of a broad range of institutional contexts for online courses: “[D]emographic analysis of postsecondary degree-seeking students suggests that, increasingly, writing classrooms will see greater numbers of underrepresented populations, English language learners, and students with disabilities” (p. 146).2 Referencing a report published by the US Government Accounting Office, the University of Alaska notes that “more students with disabilities are pursuing higher education” and that “[i]n particular, veterans with newly acquired disabilities are enrolling at high rates” (Disability Support Services, n.d.).

Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the ideals for effective online writing instruction (OWI) with regard to inclusivity and accessibility and the reality of meeting those laudable goals.

Key Terms in this Chapter

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973: A federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability of people who are served by programs conducted by federal agencies, who receive Federal financial assistance, or who work for the Federal government, including Federal contractors. Some state universities are obligated to pay attention to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities. While the 508 standards address electronic access to federal agencies, state universities that receive funding through the Assistive Technology Act must comply with these standards.

Proactive Approach: Refers to a process where instructors attend to the learning environment (e.g., their website, materials, and activities they plan to assign), particularly with regard to accessibility and inclusivity, before launching a course so that they minimize the possibilities for excluding students from the learning situations they create and also offer courses that have the potential to provide an efficacious learning experience for all students.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Based on research about how humans learn, provides instructors with guidelines that enable them to design curriculum for all learners regardless of their needs. The guidelines are provided in the form of principles, which are based on the idea that meeting the needs of diverse learners requires instructors to provide options for processing information, expressing knowledge, and becoming engaged and motivated to learn. The three principles are 1) Multiple means of representation, the what of learning, 2) Multiple means of action and expression, the how of learning, 3) Multiple means of engagement, the why of learning.

Inclusivity: Refers to providing courses, programs, services and activities that offer all learners the same opportunities and experiences.

Quality Matters (QM): A program that teaches best practices for instructional design, provides a rubric to assess online course design, and includes a peer-review process for continuous improvement of hybrid and online courses. The QM rubric, a centerpiece of the program, is a set of eight general standards and 43 specific standards that can be use to evaluate the design of online courses.

The American with Disabilities Act of 1990: A civil rights law that addresses the needs of people with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications based on disability. Its intent is to guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Accessibility: Refers to providing courses, programs, services, and activities that are accessible to all learners.

Adaptive Technologies: Objects or systems that are designed to increase or maintain the capabilities of learners by providing adjustments to suit their particular learner characteristics or needs. Examples of adaptive technologies include large print books, alternative color display, computer voice output systems, speech synthesizers, track balls, and alternative pointing devices.

ADA Compliant: Refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design, published I 2010. Meeting the standards requires that all electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities.

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