Shane’s bi-weekly: You Want Accessibility, You’ve Got It! Reflections on the university experience and disability services

Shane from Supersense
3 minutes reading time
February 12, 2021

Thanks so much to all those who reached out to me regarding my last post about college inaccessibility. It served as a little more than a venting space to express my experience entering a new virtual semester, and at the time of writing, I understood this to be relatively common. However, given your questions and comments, I wanted to take a more in-depth, more constructive look at the accessibility problems in university and give a few tips on how I’ve handled them. And I hope you’d forgive me as my article became something like a tri-weekly than a bi-weekly due to my college assignments. But I am sure that you’ll give me that when you read my experience with textbooks and all.

A college library, where people are working at a long desk and shelves full of old books.
Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

Let me begin with an update on my own situation. At the beginning of this semester, I had issues with the formatting of several textbooks. Each paragraph in my Federal Tax course, for example, was separated from its fellow paragraphs by unrelated pictures from one or two pages prior. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it was. It was practically impossible for me to gain valuable information from the book because of how it was organized.

In this case, there was very little I could do, short of reformatting the book myself, which was not going to happen! Instead, I turned to tutoring for help. I am fortunate in that my university offers free tutoring for all students to take advantage of, and I am not shy about using the service when needed. In this case, I have been able to have in-depth conversations about the subject matter with my tutor and go over the graded assignments to make sure I didn’t miss anything. This system works well because I’ve also remained in constant communication with my professor to ensure that I have the assignments in advance.

For my Tax course, as well as several others, the assignments are hosted on publisher websites. These are sites like Pearson, Flatworld, Wiley+, etc. I often find that the course materials (usually homework and quizzes) hosted on these websites are minimally accessible at best, and at worst, I can’t even create an account for all of the pop-ups and unlabeled elements. Thus, I always need to have a conversation with the professors relying on these platforms about making the materials accessible with screen reading technology, and that solution usually takes the form of the same material being presented on a different platform. With my tax course, for example, the quizzes that were on Pearson’s My Lab website are instead hosted on Moodle, the learning platform my college uses. Moodle is completely accessible with NVDA, my screen reader of choice, and I actually enjoy using it because it is so efficient. I highly recommend Moodle as an accessible learning platform and frequently manage quizzes and assignments through it.

When it comes to homework or in-depth problems with more than a simple response, the solution is simple there as well. I work with professors to pull problems from the textbook that equate to those that would have been answered by my peers on the publisher platform. Finding an accessible copy of the textbook is not always easy either, but I can highly recommend sources like Bookshare and Access Text to make this process immensely easier. Bookshare is open to anyone with a reading disability, but as far as I understand it, Access Text is only available to disability services staff or teachers of the visually impaired. I am very fortunate in that the disability services coordinator at my university is wonderful and has represented my needs to professors incredibly fairly accurately. It is important to have a disability services coordinator who understands or is at least willing to trust your perspective as the student needs accommodations. In my experience, professors have sometimes questioned my technology needs, and it is 100% the role of Disability Services to ensure that if this happens, the student’s perspective is immediately supported. We know what we need, and trust me, if the professors feel that making accommodations is inconvenient and time-consuming, imagine what the student is dealing with.

We are incredibly fortunate as a society to be moving toward the age of self-grading assignments and smart learning platforms. As long as we move toward this innovation with accessibility in mind, we will all be able to take advantage of the new normal.

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