Digital Accessibility is an important topic of literacy in our increasingly technological world. This article seeks to bring awareness to digital accessibility as a way to make the digital content made for University of Minnesota students, staff and faculty more equally accessible and inclusive.

What is Digital Accessibility?

Usually when the topic of accessibility comes up, we think about wheelchair ramps or buttons at entrances of buildings to hold the door open. These are designed for a particular accommodation purpose. But assistive technologies like this are available for all types of people that may need them. In the examples I gave, the ramps and door buttons are meant to accommodate people in wheelchairs or that have varying degrees of mobility challenges access campus buildings. They are also useful for someone that is moving equipment into or out of the building where a ramp and having the door held open is helpful.

Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world. - UNESCO

As new ways of sharing information with technology are becoming more easily available for all people, there are still vulnerable populations that don’t have the same access. While there are more and more tools being developed to assist, these tools still need content creators to be conscientious of what to consider when communicating and sharing knowledge online or through other technological means. This is what we need to consider with digital accessibility. Increasingly this is an important topic in regards to modern literacy as we need to consider everyone's access to information, especially at the University of Minnesota. 

Maybe you are: 

  • Teaching online or have a blended/hybrid course in Canvas
  • Developing web content
  • Preparing documents to send out to students or coworkers
  • Making a video to host on Kaltura or YouTube
  • Hosting a webinar or video meeting in Zoom or Google Meet

In all of these cases, there are many things to consider. What we are striving to accomplish is designing digital experiences to be accessible and usable for all people equally. 

Why should I care about Digital Accessibility?

It is understandable questions considering there is a lot of work to be done. Why should more effort be put into this? If you are an instructor with an online course:

  • It is a University of Minnesota policy to make online content accessible. 
  • We have a legal obligation to according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Most importantly: it is the right thing to do.

All of this is a work in progress. It is something we are all trying to learn about and change. It won’t happen overnight. That is okay. Learning about the gaps in our knowledge about digital accessibility and working towards trying to change it is an excellent first step.

Here are more resources to help understand designing with digital accessibility in mind and it’s impact: 

What can I do to help with Digital Accessibility?

Learning more about the concerns that exist is a huge first step. The next step is learning about practices that can be taken to accommodate accessible design. We understand this is a huge topic with many facets in regards to technology. We also understand our faculty’s time is valuable and taking a deep dive may not suit everyone’s schedule. Here are somethings you can do now:

  • Accessible U's What you Can Do is a good landing page.
  • Read Academic Technology and Design's (ATD) Highlights email for any future articles/tutorials we highlight discussing Accessibility
  • CCAPS Faculty Development Days have had and will have more opportunities to discuss Digital Accessibility
  • The Digital Accessibility Badging Program is a great place to learn about digital accessibility. We suggest starting off with the courses Digital Accessibility: Foundations and Digital Accessibility: Create Accessible Canvas Course Sites.
  • Reach out to Academic Technology and Design (ATD) staff about accessibility. If you have any questions or want to do an accessibility review of your course. You can reach out to us through the CCAPS-ATD Service Request form.