By Amy Gorecki, OCT, Senior Manager, Programs, LDAO
Do you have your own classroom website, or do educators in your school have their own websites? When these websites are designed, is there thought being applied to those students who may have accessibility challenges? Students with learning disabilities (LDs) are not the only students who may have difficulty accessing online content, so it is good practice to design with accessibility in mind. The LD@school team has put together some background information on why designing accessible classroom websites is important, as well as some simple steps educators can take to ensure they are designing websites that can be easily navigated by everyone.
Background Information – What is AODA?
Ontario has a number of laws that are designed to ensure that the rights of every person with a disability are respected; this includes their ability to access online resources, which are becoming more and more a part of daily life. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a law that came into effect on June 13, 2005. The AODA provides specific guidelines for accessibility, depending on the sector and the size of the organization. The standards also exist in different levels: A, AA, and AAA, ranging from A, the most basic set of standards, to AAA, which provides for the most accessible website content (Access Ontario, 2016).
School boards are legally responsible for ensuring AODA compliance of their board websites, but because classroom websites are not designed for use by the general public, they don’t necessarily follow the guidelines developed by AODA. This doesn’t mean that an educator, creating a website shouldn’t take into account certain accessibility standards. We have created a summary of best practices to help guide you. To read the full guidelines and success criterion, click here to visit the Government of Ontario’s How to make websites accessible web page.
Best Practices for Designing Classroom Websites
There are a number of aspects to consider when designing a classroom website. Here is a list of broad considerations and why they are important.
- Use of text – Consider using images to support what you are writing. Try to minimize the amount of text on the page and keep the content clean, consistently-formatted, and easy to navigate. Minimizing the amount of text can be beneficial for students with LDs, particularly for those with LDs in reading. Remember that some of your students may access your website using technology. Keeping your formatting clean and consistent will make it easier for a screen reader to read content aloud to students.
- Colours and fonts – Use text colours that are easy to distinguish from your background colour. This means that there should be a certain degree of contrast between the two, for example, a white background with black or dark navy blue font. Choose fonts that are clean and easy to read, such as Arial or Verdana. Also, ensure that your font size is appropriate and not too small. For someone with reading difficulties, asking them to use extra effort to decipher the text on the screen can make a difficult task even more laborious.
- Use of alternative media – As you already know, differentiating instruction in the classroom is essential for some students, but beneficial for all. With this in mind, differentiating the types of media available on a website can help respond to the same needs of your students in an electronic medium. Consider using images, audio, and other visuals on your website in order to respond to the needs of all of your learners.
- Make your media accessible - While the use of different types of media is highly encouraged, do make sure that any media you choose to use is available in an accessible format. This means that images should be described and videos transcribed. Free software is available that will help you to transcribe videos so they can be read by screen readers (although you will need to review the transcription and probably make some edits to ensure accuracy).
- Add in link descriptions - Often when you visit a site, there will simply be a link typed out for users to click on. For someone using a screen reader, you should link to other websites by clearly labelling the text in order to describe the purpose of the link. For example, write: “Click here to visit...” instead of simply “Click here”, so that users know where they will be directed to if they follow your link.
- Ensure keyboard navigability - This means that someone should be able to navigate your website using just their keyboard, and not solely a mouse. (Crown Copyright, n.d.)
This list is designed as a starting point to ensure a basic level of accessibility for any students and/or parents who access your website. If you would like to suggest additional ideas that educators should consider, please share them in the comments section!
In addition to AODA standards, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outline web accessibility standards that are practiced around the world. Click here to learn more about WCAG.
The Center on Technology and Disability (CTD Institute) has created a Digital Accessibility Toolkit for education leaders. Although the resource is American, there is valuable information for system leaders regarding the procurement and benefits of digital accessibility. Click here to access the toolkit.
The Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA), in partnership with CNIB, operates a website that offers public library services for Canadians with print disabilities, including those with LDs. Click here to visit the website and learn more about their resources.
Accessibility Ontario. (n.d.). Questions and Answers. https://accessontario.com/aoda/aoda-faq/. Accessed 26/10/2016.
Crown Copyright. (n.d.). Accessibility: Dos and dont's on designing for accessibility. https://accessibility.blog.gov.uk/2016/09/02/dos-and-donts-on-designing-for-accessibility/. Accessed 21/11/2016.
Queen's Printer for Ontario. (2016). How to Make Websites Accessible. https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-make-websites-accessible. Accessed 23/11/2016.