Does Your Team Need An Accessibility Specialist?
Wondering whether you need an accessibility specialist on your digital course development team? These four questions will help you decide.
Every course you make should meet accessibility standards. Not only is it the law, but it’s also the right thing to do. Noone should miss out on learning because courses were not designed to accommodate them. Yet the adjustments to promote accessibility are not always obvious. Sometimes you need an accessibility specialist.
That doesn’t mean every team that creates courses needs a dedicated digital accessibility specialist. It does mean you should consider whether training, hiring a short-term consultant, or bringing on a dedicated professional is right for you.
The Basics of Digital Course Accessibility
You know that your workplace needs to comply with the adults with disabilities act. So do schools, public universities and other federally funded organizations. ADA Title III names several “places of public accommodation” subject to the regulation. While websites are not specifically mentioned, the Department of Justice and the Education Department’s office of civil rights have both indicated that websites, online courses, and other student-facing materials cannot discriminate against people due to disabilities.
Descrimination, in this case, includes any design choice that creates barriers to access. Colleges and universities in particular have faced complaints and even lawsuits related to accessibility.
Often we talk about accessibility in the context of web pages. Web content accessibility guidelines from the Web Accessibility Initiative provide in-depth guidance on how to make web content more accessible. But any content hosted online should apply Universal Design principles. That includes your services, products, employee training platforms and digital courses.
Accessibility laws and regulations help course designers build content that is accessible for everyone, including people who are deaf, visually imparied, or have limited mobility. An accessibility specialist knows these laws and applies them in the best interest of the student. It’s not as simple as including a transcript with every video.
The truth is that a person who has never lived with a disability often doesn’t fully understand the barriers it can create. For example, the font you choose may look lovely on the page, but make it impossible for someone with vision challenges to read the text. If your course requires mouse navigation, people with mobility impairments might not be able to participate. In short, you may think your course is accessible, but that doesn’t mean it is.
What Does An Accessibility Specialist Do?
Web accessibility standards change as the technology evolves and our understanding of different disabilities grows. Accessibility specialists keep tabs on the rules and stay aware of the latest advancements in technology to keep your courses compliant and accessible.
At minimum, they should have a working knowledge of the regulations and guidelines that define accessibility including:
- Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
- The Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet application (WAI-ARIA)
- User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG)
- Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)
- Universal Design principles
They may assess and report on the accessibility status of websites and existing digital learning materials. They can develop technical plans to improve accessibility and create tools templates or strategies to guide course design and development. Training materials, workshops and advice that they provide can keep the entire team informed of the latest accessibility standards.
If this sounds like a big job, that’s because it is. Team members who are working under tight deadlines with short course development cycles, may be able to follow an accessibility checklist. But they may lack the time and knowledge to analyze courses and apply developing standards. Adding an accessibility specialist to your team can lighten the load and improve your courses.
How To Decide If You Need An Accessibility Specialist
Someone on your team should be responsible for ensuring accessibility, but not every team needs a dedicated accessibility specialist. Consider these four factors to help you decide:
1. What does your team know?
If you already have several team members who understands and feels comfortable with accessibility guidelines, you may not need a specialist. But remember that the guidelines evolve continuously. Your team members will need to regularly update their knowledge. Also, keep in mind that when something is everyone’s responsibility it can easily fall to the wayside unless you have clear processes and procedures to remind people of it.
For teams that don’t have the extra time or bandwidth to learn and apply accessibility standards, a specialist might be a better fit.
2. How many courses are you creating?
If you’re only creating one or two courses a year, you may not need a dedicated accessibility specialist. Those courses should still be accessibility compliant, but the small workload may mean that others on your team can perform these duties or you may want to consider bringing in an expert consultant periodically.
For teams with bigger workloads, an accessibility specialist can help share the load so everyone can focus on what they do best.
3. Is your back catalog compliant?
If you have a back catalog of courses that have not been assessed for accessibility, your team may need a specialist. They can bring the backlog up to date while advising on any ongoing courses.
In short, if you create more than a couple of courses a year, it’s probably a good idea to add an accessibility specialist to your team.
4. What is your budget?
Of course, adding a new team member means paying for their expertise. Consider both budget and workload to decide whether a full-time, part-time, consultant or contract hire is right for your team.
For help finding the part-time, full-time, contract, or temporary accessibility specialist your team needs, reach out to Teamed. Our full-service staffing and flexible hiring solutions help you find and hire the right digital learning professionals for the job.