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This project came out of our ongoing teaching and research in and around accessibility in the technical and professional communication (TPC) classroom. The more we worked in developing online courses and trying to mentor and train others to teach online, the more we realized that we kept saying the same things over and over again.

Thus, we took our own advice and started to put everything here as a way to start a pedagogical community of practice* around accessibility and teaching TPC (both online and face-to-face).

Challenges of accessibility

Scholars and practitioners agree that creating materials that are accessible for those with disabilities will make the user experience better for all users. However, accessibility issues for students with disabilities is wrapped up in a number of layers that make it overwhelming for instructors who have been asked to move their courses online to understand or to adapt their face-to-face courses. There are legal issues (ADA and 508 in the US and a number of EU statutes, as well as other country level mandates); technology issues (LMS limitations most notably); and learning level issues (how to design for differing levels and kinds of disabilities).

While many higher education institutions will provide certain services to students with disabilities, research** has shown that many students do not declare their disabilities when they get to college. Thus, accessibility for better or worse falls in large part to instructors.

Those teaching TPC online and face-to-face should not  accept the lowest common denominator as our standard. The hope for this project is that it raises the bar about what accessibility is and how to integrate it into our classrooms.

Understanding accessibility also means that we’re modeling behaviors and teaching practices for students in our TPC classrooms and programs to be better positioned to help their workplace organizations understand and implement accessibility for their online presence.

Start small and be patient

Accessibility is a way to think about design and not a list of guidelines to be checked off, which makes a process to consider and not a one time check on a list. As you begin to account for the many methods students use to access information, it can feel overwhelming to try to tackle the entire issue of accessibility in one bite. However, making one small change at a time can create large impacts. The accessibility process isn’t about beating ourselves up for what we haven’t done, it is about doing what we can do today and move forward one little change after another.

*Meloncon, L., & Arduser, L. (2013). Communities of practice approach: A new model for online course development and sustainability. In K. Cargile Cook & K. Grant-Davie (Eds.), Online Education 2.0: Evolving, adapting, and reinventing online technical communication (pp. 73-90). Amityville, NY: Baywood

*Schelly, Catherine, Davies, Patricia, & Spooner, Craig. (2011). Student perceptions of faculty implementation of universal design for learning. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(1), 17-30.

*Wagner, Mary, Newman, Lynn, Cameto, Renee, Garza, Nicolle, & Levine, Phyliss. (2005). After high school: A first look at the postschool experience of youth with disabilities. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

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