Secrets of Accessible Online Content You Need to Know

In some of the statistics about online acceessibility, we see that, up to 20% of people are excluded from websites when our site is not accessible. More than that – federal lawsuits for non-compliance have risen 180% from 2017 to 2018 in the United States. Today, we dig into a university that is making progress on accessibility and compliance.

My research assistant, Dr. Lisa Durff, found a presentation on this topic “Creating an Accessible Campus Culture” presented by Bevin Rainwater at Blackboard World 2018. So, today we have a guest on the show to give us an overview of the journey her university has made. Teachers who are putting content online can make content more accessible if we learn these tips.

Additionally, because of the issues with compliance and accessibility, we've created a transcript of this show to be helpful for you.

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Read the Transcript

Vicki: Today we are talking with Bevin Rainwater who is at the University of Hartford. She had a presentation that sort of piqued our interest about a journey to become accessible. So, Bevin, you talk a lot about creating accessible campus culture. And I want to urge everyone that we need to do this in K-12 as well as colleges. As often happens, many colleges and very large districts are leading the way, but this is something we all need to do. So, Bevin, what are ways that colleges and K-12 organizations are not accessible?

The Accessibility Conundrum

Bevin: Many institutions, whether they be K-12 or higher ed, are not accessible. Mostly, we’re in the business of making accommodations for people who disclose that they have a disability. And then we have to scramble to make accommodations at that time which is not a very effective way of managing and doing business as an institution of learning. We just can’t keep up with the flow of people with disabilities. It’s growing ever larger. There are over a billion people in the world that have some kind of disability. And more and more of them are in the mainstream educational workplace.

There are over a billion people in the world who have some kind of disability. More and more of them are in the mainstream educational workplace.

Bevin Rainwater

Vicki: I believe in your presentation, that we will link to, you said 15% of the population?

"If your website is innaccessible, you are potentially excluding 20% of the population from the conversation on your site." from Site IImprove cctea.ch/access-stats

Bevin: Yeah, over 15% of the population and that is growing day by day. So, and that is what is disclosed. There are many who have disabilities that are not disclosed. We see them a lot if higher ed. In K-12 we have the… and other things with IEPs that they have to kind of disclose in K-12 to get any kind of services. But in higher ed, they don’t have to at all.

We all learn differently

Vicki: Well, this is why I like to call it learning differences not learning disabilities. Because we all learn differently, and I have seen parents who refuse to get their kids tested because they say well my child is just different. But they don’t have a disability. I mean, there’s this stigma there that I guess that I don’t think should be there.

Bevin: No, you know, each of us has our own problems. I mean I wear glasses myself. So, I could be considered to having a visual disability. I have a really hard time looking at a monitor without the text really big on my phone or whatever. So, I mean, but I’m not in that category of visual disabilities, so each of us has our own issues that we deal with on a day to day basis.

Bevin Rainwater talks about "Secrets of Accessible Online Content You Need to Know" on episode 434 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

The Accessibility Journey at the University of Hartford

Vicki: So, on your campus, at the University of Hartford, on October 2016 you formed and worked with an organization to start helping your campus be more accessible. Describe this process to us.

Bevin: Our institutional goals that we had for the year 2016, we have a strategic plan put in place. And part of that, we formed an information technology executive council and three of those subcommittees [included]  the administrative, the academic, and the communications committees. We had the accessibility subcommittee formed to address technology accessibility concerns on campus. We have another group that addresses the physical disabilities – concerns such as buildings and access to buildings and classrooms. But we felt there was a big gap when it came to technical issues with accessibility. And that could be anything from putting stuff on your website that’s accessible to putting course content on your Blackboard course that is accessible. To using software and other technologies in the classroom that are accessible to all students.

What does accessibility mean?

Vicki: So many of us teachers are building classroom platforms where we have a learning management system or content management system. Describe what it means for that to be accessible for that content.


Bevin: For an online platform, what it means to be accessible is your images have alternate text, and descriptions, where whoever is a non-seeing user that uses assistive technologies such as a screen reader, can read the descriptions of to them.


But the tables have header rows that your text documents have header styles that allow screen readers to navigate through the document in a way that they can just tap through and skip to the section they need to get to.

Videos and Multimediai Content.

It means that if you have videos or multi-media content that the content is closed captioned meaning the text appears in the ribbon at the bottom describing what’s going on in what they are seeing in the video.

Those are the main key ideas, there are other concerns as well. But I think that hitting those four-five different items will make your course content more accessible.

Finding Inaccessible Content

Vicki: So, some people don’t understand why they should have heading 1,2, and 3. And they will just format it larger. And then adding closed captioning, so how do you go through and audit all of your professors’ content to find inaccessible content?

Bevin: We have a great tool on campus that does that. We just purchased the Ally tool this year. Ally is an accessibility checker that you can put on Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, a couple other different LMS’. And what it does is any content uploaded to Blackboard or your LMS will automatically be checked. It will indicate debits, the accessibility level of the document or item, with a little gear indicator. And the instructor can click on that and give just-in-time tips for making that content more accessible and it explains the reasons why. Which is a really great tool.

It does not check for captioning yet, but we purchased also last year another tool that will automatically caption all of our videos that we put on our courses in Blackboard.

Vicki: Is the captioning automatically, is a human going to go back and double check that?

Bevin: Yes. So it’s automatic. We request that the instructors when they upload videos that they check that the captioning to make sure it is accurate. They can go in and edit their own captioning.

What is the impact?

Vicki: Awesome. So what is the impact? Are you fully implemented yet?

Bevin: We are fully implemented with Ally. We are fully implemented with our ensemble automatic captioning. It’s across the board for every single factor member, every single course that’s in our Blackboard platform. Whether or not they make use of every single option is up to the faculty. We’re going to be implementing a quality matters type of checker across our campus. And as courses are created and as they’re redeveloped, they will be checked for several things, including accessibility.

Vicki: So what is the impact this has had on your campus?

Bevin: Hopefully the impact is that we will be less likely to receive one of those letters the OCR complaints that are going out. In fact, you know, just another round of fifty institutions received notice for inaccessible content were sued. And we are hoping that we don’t get sued as well. OCR which is the office that checks whether or not you’re accessible. Usually, if you’re making progress and you’re showing that you have a good faith effort they will less likely find you in need of correction. So, we’re hoping that we can make that benchmark.

Vicki: So, educators this is not an option. This is something we all have to do. We all have to be more accessible. Thanks, Bevin.

Bevin: Thank you.

Bio as Submitted


Bevin Rainwater

Instructional Designer/ Technologist

Bevin Rainwater is the Instructional Designer/Technologist and Blackboard Admin for the University of Hartford,
and currently serves as the Accessibility Chair on campus.

She is also an adjunct instructor of Spanish and Computer Science, teaching online, flipped, hybrid and face-to-face courses.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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The Cool Cat Teacher Blog
Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere