#teachingbydesign: Complicating Accessibility in the Tech-Mediated Classroom

#teachingbydesign: Complicating Accessibility in the Tech-Mediated Classroom

Cat Mahaffey (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA) and Ashlyn C. Walden (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 29
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7987-8.ch003


Much attention has been drawn toward issues of accessibility, but changes in course design have been slow at best. This chapter aims to expand notions of accessibility beyond students with visual or hearing impairments to include students with colorblindness, dyslexia, or anxiety; and students disadvantaged by socioeconomics, gender, or race. More specifically, this chapter serves as a call for instructors to incorporate accessibility practices in their course designs and to explicitly teach students what accessibility is and how to incorporate its principles into their writing/designing/creating processes.
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Much attention has been drawn toward accommodating students with visual and/or hearing impairments--position statements (CCCC, 2011; CCCC, 2012), collections (Hewett & DePew, 2015), and organizations focused solely on issues of accessibility (CEUD, 2014; GSOLE, 2016; Teach Access, 2019)--but scholars continue to point out that change in the classroom has been slow at best (Oswal, 2013; Oswal & Meloncon, 2014; Foley & Ferri, 2014; Boyle & Rivers, 2016; Hitt, 2018). Meanwhile, the bridge between secondary and postsecondary education grows increasingly flimsy, with all but the most prepared or technologically inclined students falling between the cracks. Consider the following from Maryanne Wolf’s latest book Dear Reader, Come Home:

[Neuroscientists] are convinced that the next generation’s deep-reading processes will be most endangered by the digital medium if we do not teach the proper uses of digital learning and screen reading from relatively early on, rather than leaving children to develop willy-nilly digital habits of mind that are counterproductive. (p. 176)

These “willy-nilly digital habits of mind” put students at a disadvantage that neither they nor their instructors fully comprehend, creating barriers to academic success that must first be revealed and then compensated for. For this reason, discussions of accessibility need to expand such that all learning paths, all those “willy-nilly digital habits of mind,” become valued and accommodated. It is time to push beyond concerns regarding access for students with visual and hearing impairments and begin to also consider the varied learning preferences our students bring to the classroom. Furthermore, attention is needed to ensure success for students with unseen barriers like colorblindness, dyslexia, or anxiety. Most importantly, it is imperative to align course design and delivery to accommodate students disadvantaged by socioeconomics, gender, or race.

Key Terms in this Chapter

User-Centered Design (UCD): A design methodology that puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving.

Accessibility: A way of designing physical/digital/virtual spaces, products, environments, and devices for stakeholders with various disabilities. This chapter complicates this notion by asking the readers to think beyond disability, and to also consider issues of socioeconomics, gender, race, and learning preference, all of which informs how users engage with content.

Online Writing Instruction (OWI): Acronym for online writing instruction, a branch of scholarship that seeks to raise awareness about teaching and learning in digital spaces, particularly through methods that are online or hybrid.

Access: A way of entering or engaging with a physical location or space. For the purposes of the chapter, the primary definition is used as a way of engaging with course content and materials.

Digital Design: The practice of developing digital compositions that may include text, hypertext, media, and various design elements to communicate meaning.

Course Design: This includes the overall technical structure of the course including syllabus, course expectations, grading, scheme, resources, and assignments that instructors use to develop the basic outline of a class.

Rhetoric: The practice of generating and/or analyzing arguments that can be written, spoken, visually designed, or performed.

Universal Design (UD): A design approach that informs the creation of various environments, products, and/or communication. This method of design can be used in any type of an environment (physical, digital, or virtual), to ensure that the content, objects, or physical space is accessible to any person.

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