Creating accessible e-learning resources for disabled students.

2. When accessibility conflicts with pedagogy

The tips above will help in the design of e-learning content that is accessible to students with a wide variety of impairments. It is acknowledged that some may read the advice provided, and reasonably argue that satisfying the advice may adversely affect the pedagogic aim of a particular resource. What about a resource that assesses powers of visual observation? Or hand to eye coordination?

While academic staff should endeavour as far as possible to make e-learning resources optimally accessible, it is possible, that in some cases it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to make fully accessible certain features of a resource. In particular, this may be the case for a resource where interaction relies on a specific sensory or physical ability, or contains complex multi-media content.

It is always worth taking a step back to consider: what is the pedagogical aim of the currently inaccessible resource?

In trying to make an on-line resource accessible, developers often lose sight of the fact that the resource may in fact be enhancing – rather than replacing - the traditional learning environment through providing an alternative in another media.

For example, understanding of a concept that for some students is difficult to grasp when described in words, such as an advanced phenomenon of molecular physics, may be enhanced by a visual representation of the concept through a diagram or multimedia animation. But rather than attempting to make this multimedia resource accessible to blind students, it might be more appropriate to provide an alternative accessible provision, such as a tactile diagram or a model.

Where problems will arise is when use of the inaccessible e-learning resource becomes an essential stage in a particular course – or assessment relies on the use of that resource. Any such case should be avoided if possible, or alternatives provided, unless it can be justified that a specific sensory or physical ability is required in order to meet the specific academic standard in question.

As long as equivalent alternative routes are available for students to take in order to achieve a comparable learning experience, there is no requirement to make every aspect of the electronic learning environment accessible to every student – although this should be attempted wherever possible.

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