Last month we looked at privacy considerations and how to address them when using social media tools. This month we look at accessibility considerations. With recent accessibility lawsuits against institutions such as Penn State, Harvard, and MIT (http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/atteam/lawsuits.html
), it is a good idea to address accessibility when using common social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube in an online course.
Accessibility Syllabus Statement Suggestions
All courses should include an accessibility statement in the syllabus. But these are often just a paragraph that provides students with minimal course accessibility information and refers students directly to the student accessibility office with issues. This is the perfect place to also mention which social media tools will be used in the course. Since each type of tool can have its own potential accessibility issues, it's best to provide students with some information on each tool that will be implemented in the course. Instructors may also invite these students to personally discuss any needs or concerns with the instructor they may have regarding the use of these tools.
Keep in mind that perhaps uncommon, there may be some students who do not already have accounts for certain social media applications. Providing the following information can help students, all students, be successful in the use of social media in the online environment:
Facebook Accessibility Tips
- Include the purpose of using the application in the course. Why will it be advantageous to use a communication tool outside of the LMS? What are the advantages, the goals?
- Include guidelines as to how you expect students to use these tools, what types of usernames you recommend, and how they should submit related assignments if there are any.
- Consider offering students the opportunity to complete an alternative project or assignment if they are not comfortable using social media.
- Mention any cost involved if there is one.
When implementing Facebook in an online course, remind students to add alternative text (a description of an image) to any image they upload to benefit users who are visually impaired. In order to make this process more automatic, though not yet perfected, back in 2016, Facebook began to implement the use of an artificial intelligence to automatically create alternative text for any image uploaded. In addition, the mobile version of Facebook has some accessibility options that may be easier to use than the browser version for some students, and so the instructor should recommend that students consider this app if they have accessibility issues.
Twitter Accessibility Tips
When using Twitter, it is a good idea to recommend that students add hashtags and usernames to the end of a post as this order makes it easier to follow a thread for students with low vision, learning disabilities, or for those students who use a screen reader (a software product that reads text on a computer screen for students who are blind or visually impaired). Provide students with basic information on how to tweet, what is a hashtag, what are followers, and what is the definition of a retweet. Provide a list of commonly used text shortcuts (e.g., LOL – laughing out loud) and have students keep the use of text shortcuts to a minimum to help those unfamiliar with shortcuts. In addition, recommend that students include prefixes when they are adding media such as: [PIC] for an image, [VIDEO] for a video link, or [AUDIO] for an audio file.
YouTube Accessibility Tips
When incorporating YouTube into the online course environment, provide specific reasons for its use. Will students be expected to create their own videos? If so, recommend that they create transcripts before creating the video. This ensures that important points are covered. The transcript will also make it easier to add updates and edits, it will have a more professional appearance (less “ums”), and it will also make it easier for students to add captions, which would be beneficial for a student with a hearing impairment, an ESOL student, or a student with a learning disability. (Burgstahler, 2017) Also suggest that students who need captioning view this video on how they can search for captioned YouTube videos: https://youtu.be/d1sRvT2xFL0
Keep in mind that some accessibility issues remain inherent in each tool generally due to the fact that these tools are constantly changing and evolving. Although accessibility concerns remain, each social media tool mentioned here continues to improve accessibility features for all of their users and many of the tools encourage user feedback as problems arise.
Take a look at this list of resources for ensuring that your courses are accessible to all students: https://bit.ly/2IzCEMf
Burgstahler, S. (2017). DO-IT. Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to everyone.
DO-IT. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/doit/real-connections-making-distance-learning-accessible-everyone
Kathleen Bastedo is an instructional designer at the University of Central Florida.