D2L’s Commitment to Accessibility
D2L’s mission is to be a leader in providing accessible learning for all people. At D2L, we believe learning technologies should never limit learning opportunities, and are committed to treating people in a way that allows them to maintain their dignity and independence. Locally, D2L is a member of the Ontario government’s Post-Secondary Education Accessibility Standards Development Committee, working to shape local education accessibility standards. We believe in integration and equal opportunity which is why accessibility is at the heart of what we do.
“As I went through high school, I saw D2L and Brightspace developing and moving along with accessibility even without me saying “this isn’t working, can this be better?” – McClain Hermes
Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities
This Thursday, December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. We believe it’s important to pause and spread awareness on this day as we build toward disability-inclusive, accessible, and sustainable education for all. Andrea Statton, Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching (TELT) Teacher Contact and Kate Tuff, Teacher-Librarian at Bloorview School Authority, expressed that, “Disability awareness in school communities at large continues to be minimal. Schools are often unaware of assistive technology and the access to learning it provides for many students”. While providing accessible learning opportunities for all students is a continuous conversation, this year has presented some unique challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To gain insight into the impact of these recent events, I had the opportunity to speak with several thought leaders within the field of accessible education from both an instructor and student perspective.
Accessibility: Centering the User Experience
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected education in an unprecedented way, with many educators and students moving their teaching and learning online to some capacity. While many of us have been faced with the challenge of learning brand new teaching technology, it is important to remember that creating an inclusive online learning environment takes more than just “ticking off a checklist”; we must consider the user experience for all students. Andrea and Kate (Bloorview Authority School) phrase it this way, “it’s important to recognize that technology cannot be used as a “one size fits all”, rather we need to consider the specific learning needs of a student and try to find technology that meets their individual needs.”
Story: McClain Hermes, who is a Paralympic swimmer and current College student shared with us her inspiring story about how technology transformed her high school learning experience. As someone who is blind, McClain was faced with a decision when entering high school; complete in-person classes by learning Braille or choose online learning through Brightspace and assistive technology to accommodate her vision. McClain chose the latter option, and today talks enthusiastically about her positive user experience while studying using Brightspace. She goes as far to say that without the technology and the support of her school and teachers, she might not have had the chance to be at College where she is today.
As many of us are continuing to navigate new technology and online teaching practices, McClain’s story serves as a reminder that when we center our focus on the user experience, technology becomes an enablement tool to transform learning opportunities.
Andrea Statton and Kate Tuff, Bloorview Authority School: “Technology is never a hindrance when used purposefully and intentionally to transform learning”.
Inclusive Design: Benefiting all Students
For this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities we are celebrating through the lens of student success. Although the year 2020 has brought on many unforeseen challenges, it is important to highlight the achievements and positive outcomes that have sprung from the shift towards virtual learning.
When speaking with Andrea and Kate (Bloorview Authority School), and Laura Smith, Teacher and Curriculum Coordinator, VHS Learning, they interestingly share similar sentiment that in some ways technology acts as an equalizer, in that all students have access to the same learning tools when the environment is built under the Universal Design for Learning framework.
When we design our teaching program with accessibility at the forefront, we design a space that is inclusive of the needs of all learners. When asked about their tips on using technology to foster inclusive environments, Andrea and Kate (Bloorview Authority School) suggest making online learning fun, flexible, engaging and relevant. Embarking on virtual field trips or using Bitmoji virtual classrooms are two recommendations. Laura (VHS Learning) offers another practical example from her classroom where her students have expressed how supportive and awesome the asynchronous online discussion tools have been for them. She goes on to say that, “The time for processing content, brainstorming ideas, preparing one’s thoughts, and proofreading can be very helpful not only to those students with slower processing speeds but also to those who are anxious about sharing their ideas in a room full of people.”
Story from Laura (VHS Learning): “In my role as a Faculty Advisor, I support some of our teachers for the ASL 1 classes. Though this is a content area outside my discipline, the principles of accessibility and student support are universal. One student who comes to mind is a young man who struggled with writing. While ASL is a visual language, the course still includes traditional assignments, that most students complete through writing. With the integrated audio and video tools within D2L, we were easily able to give this student the option of presenting his work as an audio recording or a video – even if the assignment was not one where he was expected to sign (which would, of course, be a video assignment for all students). I have also used this feature with students in traditional English Language Arts classes for assignments where writing is not the skill being assessed. Giving students options about how they present their understanding is a key aspect when I think about accessibility (and it has the added benefit of often making the assignments more engaging for students).”
Laura’s inclusive approach to virtual learning reminds us that during these times of change we still have the power to innovate our teaching practices to provide equitable, accessible education through technology.