I learned to use a computer when I was in 5th grade (1988) because my elementary school had just installed its first computer lab in an old boiler room. This was back when you had to use a load command to open programs from your floppy disk. The load command looked like this: LOAD “*”,2,1. Wow! It’s pretty incredible that I remember that! Anyway, I’ve been using computers for 30 years- since 1988, so I feel fairly confident with my ability to create documents and materials for my personal and professional life.
I just learned about making documents accessible in 2016 when I attended my first UDL conference (the UDL Symposium), and over the last year or so I have become more comfortable with creating and evaluating accessible documents.
But, when I create documents today my process almost always goes like this:
This little 10-step dance occurs almost daily for me. So, the next goal I’m setting for myself, is to switch my default setting from the one you saw listed above to one that starts with accessibility. I would like to begin designing documents and materials with accessibility at the front of my mind instead of having to re-do my own work.
Afterall, this is what UDL would ask us to do in all areas of our lives, right? Think about universally designing first, then plan accordingly. Some may say, “Well, yeah, but aren’t universal design and accessibility the same thing?” While they have similarities, they aren’t necessarily the same thing.
Many people at my institution consider accessibility and universal design to be synonymous, they aren’t necessarily the same thing. When someone suggests that we need to evaluate a program, course, video or document for UDL, what they actually mean is that we need to run accessibility checkers and add alt text. But, if you look closely at the UDL guidelines, you will see that issues of accessibility like closed captioning and alt text represent only 3 out of 31 checkpoints of Universal Design for Learning. UDL includes tons of other important topics like supporting planning and strategy development and facilitating personal coping skills and self-assessment. A UDL-trained instructor can design true universally-designed documents by thinking about components that will aid in things like planning, strategy development and self-assessment. They can build in graphic organizers, charts for keeping track of goals, and utilize headings to emphasize structure and big ideas.
If you ask me, a document’s accessibility regarding ADA compliance, isn’t enough to officially designate it as a universally-designed document. While ADA compliance is certainly important, universal design and UDL are much bigger topics.