Letter to the Editor: Homer learns about accessibility, inclusiveness in class material

Sanjay Paul November 3, 2016 0

The life of a Dean is, quite possibly, replete with glamor, excitement and the unvarnished joy of working in a hallowed office in Alpha Hall. She might even—gasp!—have Windows 10 installed on her machine days before the hoi polloi in Hoover get their dirty hands on it.

But, surely, thought Homer, as he absently munched on a scone at the Blue Bean, even a Dean’s life, charmed though it may be, is not without a few challenging moments.

Consider, for instance, the effort involved in getting the faculty, a group known for its skepticism about the utility of the College’s website, to include various items in the syllabus.

Each semester, notes Homer plaintively, the requirements—the policy on weather-related class cancellation alone takes up a page—keep piling up, so that a fully-compliant syllabus now looks like a mini PhD dissertation.

But at a recent faculty meeting, Homer was made aware of far greater perils facing a Dean.

A presentation on accessibility highlighted the need for faculty to make sure their materials—all their materials—were accessible.

Homer of course was unaware of what this meant: Accessibility, he thought, meant he should make his syllabus and other stuff merely available to his students. Why, of course, they were all accessible to the interested student!

Why were we devoting a meeting to the subject? Weren’t there more important things to talk about, such as the plague of low morale?

Not for the first time, it soon became apparent to Homer that he was completely uninformed on an important academic matter.

Accessibility, he learned, referred to the ability of students with disabilities to make full use of course materials—the syllabus, readings, assignments.

Homer remains a little foggy on the details, but he gathered that when faculty created Word documents, PDFs and videos for their courses, they had to make sure they did so in such a way that the content of these materials could be understood by students of all abilities.

This might require professors to exert greater care in the production of such materials. On occasion, they might have to turn to experts at the College for help.

Workshops, videos and websites could also be employed to inform the faculty about effective methods to ensure their materials are accessible.

But didn’t all this mean more work for an already overworked faculty? Wasn’t this requirement yet another straw on the camel’s back?

How much longer, cried an anguished faculty member, can we tolerate this ever-growing burden? When is enough enough? added Homer petulantly. He was now suffering the pangs of hunger, his scone long forgotten.

Making materials accessible was also a government requirement. Any dereliction, suggested a colleague, could invite lawsuits, a prospect that immediately darkened the gathering’s already gloomy outlook.

The Dean wisely refrained from speculating on the precise punishments that awaited an errant college, but it was clear that the matter could not be left to the discretion of the faculty.

The Dean also suggested that the faculty might consider speeding things up and have their compliant syllabi ready for launch at the beginning of the spring semester.

This would be a change from the glacial pace that often accompanies initiatives of tangential interest to the faculty.

The work of the Dean goes on. She will need to monitor progress on the matter. Homer’s petulant outbursts will have to be reined in—or better yet, ignored altogether.

In the meantime faculty might consider the most important argument of all: viz., making materials accessible is simply the right thing to do.

How can we justify leaving some of our students to suffer needlessly, to wrestle with inaccessible documents and videos, indeed to have their learning impeded, simply because we find it inconvenient to make a few adjustments?

 

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