The Penn State ID2ID Program Deliverable
By Erin McCully and Susannah Simmons
Our project for the ID2ID program was an Accessibility Webinar hosted by pedago.me and the Blind Institute of Technology. This webinar was the product of much multi-level planning effort between ourselves, which expanded to include two other ID2ID participants, LaDawna Minnis and Sam Coulson. Then Susannah took a chance and reached out to the Founder of the Blind Institute of Technology, Mike Hess, on LinkedIn and asked if he would be interested in creating an accessibility training for Instructional Designers and Educators in Higher Education. Mike generously agreed to help in our efforts and offered up his Chief Accessibility Officer, Ethan Twisdale as our expert and guide in the training.
The webinar was promoted on Twitter, LinkedIn, within the ID2ID discussion boards and pedago.me slack group to reach our intended audience of instructional designers, which quickly morphed to include faculty in higher education that wanted to hone their accessibility skills.
Disability Services staff said that this webinar could be shown to faculty as a means of helping them understand how students using a screen reader would experience a word document that was not designed with accessibility in mind.
The event was not promoted to faculty as a strategic move. The hunt for the institution’s next Disability Services coordinator was still underway and Susannah did not want to be considered an accessibility expert on campus. At least, not yet.
The intended outcome was to fill in the gap that screen readers are for accessibility/disability service departments only. We aimed to demystify and provide the experience of navigating a document without sight. Our hope was that the webinar would allow instructional designers and faculty to walk away with the knowledge of how screen readers generally work and the ability to create an accessible document.
The webinar focused on using a screen reader and creating an accessible Word Document. This required participants to download NVDA on a PC or familiarize themselves with the VoiceOver program on a Mac. Once registered for the webinar, participants received a confirmation email that provided instructions for both types of screen readers.
Note: We were not able to access an official webinar platform, so we used Susannah’s basic Zoom capabilities and enabled settings that provided barriers to trolls from the internet. All participants were set to mute, no personal videos could be shown and the chat room was facilitated by LaDawna and Sam. If someone was inappropriate, they were going to be kicked out immediately.
During the webinar, Ethan demonstrated how the screen reader worked on an unaccessible document (bad example) followed by the experience on an accessibility document (good example). He explained what made the accessible document, such as descriptive links, alt text for images, and proper use of headers and text. Then he gave participants the chance to try using their respective screen readers with those same demonstration documents. Participants asked great questions in the chat room and there was even enough time for Ethan to demonstrate how cumbersome websites can be to a screen reader.
We understand that faculty can be very concerned about the time and effort it takes to create accessible documents and learning materials for students. We wanted to help demonstrate that not only is it very important to take the time to do this, but also it doesn’t take much effort to create an accessible document. As instructional designers, our confidence to create such documents has increased and we are better able to help the cause by teaching faculty how to create such documents.
Our experiences in ID2ID allowed us to meet other instructional designers and to discuss among ourselves some of the gaps in our own knowledge. With accessibility being such an important conversation, we decided to help ourselves and others feel less intimidated by the topic. The timeline of the ID2ID course allowed us to design backwards to set mini milestones in order to host the webinar. We had weekly meetings to ensure a flawless webinar and feel very accomplished in making it happen.
The Blind Institute of Technology asked all the IDs in this collaboration to present at their Accessibility Symposium in May 2019. To ramp up to the event, there will be two more webinars in February and March. These will walk participants through the user experience for multiple LMSs and the click-by-click experience of working through a module. Since we worked so diligently on the first webinar, the following two should be much easier to execute because we follow the process, roles and responsibilities from our previous webinar. Bring it on!