How the University of Arizona Forges Collaborations for Accessible Online Classes

April 9, 2018 BY PATRICK LOFTUS

An accessible campus is not made accessible because of just one department or office.

For campus accessibility to work well and succeed, collaborations must be made between departments and individuals across the institution.

But what exactly does that web of communication and cooperation look like, and how can this collaborative strategy be implemented?

The University of Arizona (UA) is one shining example of this model. To help other institutions attain the same goals, they recently presented a webinar on how their accessibility network functions, specifically, when it comes to online courses.

Collaborations Across Departments

UA is continually working to make and keep online classes accessible to all students using universal design for learning (UDL) principles.

However, getting everyone to think about universality at the design stage requires a steady flow of knowledge and communication between certain departments, instructional designers, and instructors.

The following is a breakdown of what that looks like at UA:

Title: Cutting Across Silos. A Venn Diagram of three intersecting circles, each with a title: Disability Resource Office, Office of Digital Learning, and Main Campus Partners

Disability Resource Center

When needed, the DRC provides accommodations (the “reactive” solution) to students taking online courses. Although UA designs classes to limit and eliminate barriers to access, they can still happen — especially when a last-minute change is made to the course.

How They Work Across Departments

The DRC is responsible for educating and training instructors on UDL techniques. The department also works directly with students to provide an accommodation when needed.

But when a course seems to be implementing new technology that may prove a barrier to access, they get in touch with instructional designers that work on that course to help correct the issue.

The DRC can inform the Office of Digital Learning as to what technological barriers to accessibility are cropping up in a particular course, or across multiplle courses, and work with them to find a design solution for the future that follows UDL principles. Keeping an eye on these technological access barrier trends and systemic changes on campus can also help inform best practices that the DRC recommends.

Office of Digital LearningDownload the White Paper: The Roadmap to Web Accessibility in Higher Education

The Office of Digital Learning (ODL) is in charge of running online courses at UA. They “seek to support the strategic plan of the University by collaborating with faculty and community members to leverage innovative technologies and effective pedagogical approaches in order to design, develop, and implement exemplary online programs.”

How They Work Across Departments

When it comes to accessibility, the ODL takes knowledge passed along from the DRC and makes sure there are accessible processes, technologies, and course “templates” in place that are used across online classes at UA.

When working with instructors and other campus partners, the ODL uses a “people first process” to find solutions to barriers in online courses. Instead of deciding what workflow a specific instructor or IT staff member should be using and pushing that model on them, ODL tries to work around that particular person’s strengths and abilities to find a solution that works for everyone.

Main Campus Partners

Instructional designers and instructional technologists are housed in different academic departments throughout the university. They provide ready-made technology solutions for instructors so all they have to worry about is teaching the online course, not building it.

The instructors themselves, are the final piece in this puzzle. They are the ones receiving the training and ultimately delivering the educational experience for the student.

How They Work Across Departmentsthree figures connected in a corcle

Instructional designers work closely with instructors to provide help and training on technology they use in their courses. The instructional designers, using best practices in accessibility passed along from the DRC, ensure the technology and design of the course is accessible to all students so that the instructor can teach in a way that works for everyone. Finally, if there is a need for accommodation the instructor will point the student to the DRC.

And we’ve come full circle!


To view all of Arizona University’s presentation, The Key Partnerships for Designing Accessible Online Classes, watch the video below:

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