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Accessible Online Learning in the COVID-19 Pandemic

As Ontarians continue social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities are implementing online learning. Moreover, elementary and high schools may also turn in-person classes into remote lessons students access online. Remote learning will allow students to complete their current year of study while staying healthy and safe. To ensure that all students have the benefit of remote learning at this time, schools and school boards must make the process accessible to students and educators with disabilities. Accessible online learning in the COVID-19 pandemic will help all students in Ontario learn in a safe environment.

Accessible Online Learning in the COVID-19 Pandemic

When a school or school board offers lessons online, it must first choose the  educational apps or online platforms that will host courses. To reach every student, schools and school boards must choose platforms that are accessible for students and educators using assistive technology. For example, the website students log onto should be accessible using:

  • Screen readers
  • Screen magnification
  • Keyboard or voice commands, instead of a mouse

However, because schools have turned to online learning quickly, they may not have thought about accessibility when choosing a learning platform. Nonetheless, they must still provide access to lessons for students who cannot access the learning platform. Therefore, they should work with the student, and their school’s accessibility professionals, to find solutions. For instance, schools may need to provide lesson content through email.

Accessible Slides, Audio, and Video

When teachers present lessons in-person, they often use slides, audio, or video. Moreover, teachers should have experience making these formats accessible to learners of all abilities. For instance, students who do not process visual information may not be able to read slides. Instead, they will rely on the spoken words of the lecture. Alternatively, they may find other ways to access visual elements of the lesson, such as:

  • Pictures
  • Charts
  • Diagrams

For instance, a teacher may reproduce them in an accessible format, such as Braille or large print.

In contrast, learners who do not process audio information may not hear a lecture or the sound on a video. Instead, they will rely on the text and images on the slides. Alternatively, they may access information through communication supports, such as Sign language interpretation or real-time captioning.

As teachers turn their in-person lectures into online lessons, schools and school boards must ensure that all students can continue to receive the support they need to access lesson content. For instance, students may connect to a Sign language interpreter remotely. Likewise, teachers can create detailed verbal descriptions of visual elements.

Exercises and Tests

In addition, schools and school boards should ensure that the online versions of class activities and tests are accessible to all students. For instance, educators should avoid activities that rely on seeing, hearing, or moving and clicking a mouse. Types of exercises to avoid include questions that ask learners to:

  • Choose one item in a picture
  • Identify a sound
  • Click and drag items on the screen to move them around

There are easy ways to avoid these kinds of questions. Educators can:

  • include lists of choices and ask students to select all that apply
  • use buttons screen readers recognize, such as radio buttons or checkboxes

A range of question types, such as multiple choice, true or false, check-all-that-apply, and short-answer, can provide variety while remaining accessible.

Accessible online learning in the COVID-19 pandemic should be available for learners of all abilities. There are many things schools, school boards, and teachers can do to make online courses that everyone can learn from.