Is Your Digital Assignment Accessible to All Learners?

How often do you think about whether or not your assignments posted online are accessible to all learners? I know, sometimes we have other agenda’s as teachers… like getting through the school day, meeting goals of our grade level, building, and district. No big deal.

But I’ve been working with a student on some tech needs as she embarks on receiving an education as a learner with dyslexia. One of the parts of this job that I love is seeing all ends of the classroom experience – so as a former teacher I am now viewing what assignments look like to students of this experience.

This student is a strong tech user with a school provided laptop. She has accessibility turned on to read to her – she has shortcuts to make it happen, and she is utilizing her school issued device to the best of her ability. But sometimes the material that is posted poses a barrier.

So here are my tips and tricks for figuring out if you’re utilizing the tools at your disposal to benefit the audience you have in-front of you specifically around students that need audio, speech-to-text, text-to-speech accommodations.

The Barrier: Scanned Papers/Materials that won’t work with Speech/Translation Accommodations

In part of our daily routines, going more digital, and providing materials to kids on platforms like Google Classroom, it’s tempting to post material by scanning our favorite article, short story, or even chapter of a textbook through our School’s copier.

But beware – for a student who needs accommodations like text-to-speech, translation, or other accessibility features, most computers cannot read these documents because they see the PDF as a Picture, not Words. Some PDF’s found online have us run into the same issue when we’ve downloaded or taken from someone else’s scanned copy.

In some cases on a laptop/chromebook you can add an OCR scanner Like Copyfish, to trace over the words of a PDF that was initially made on a computer (a worksheet you typed and exported) or other. This at times can allow for a student to use their device to be read aloud. But many times that conversion can be confusing for a kid to perform, and otherwise end up with a document that still cannot be read to them due to the fact it was a scanned copy not easy to read by the third party.

On an iPad or other tablets there are awesome apps like Scanner Pro that allow students to upload, take a picture, or scan paper/pdf’s to do this same process and have much better luck with non-digital materials than those on laptops. But, still, the process can be tricky and time consuming for a student just trying to complete their work.

So when we are posting our content – we can all work to keep in mind that just because it is on the device – doesn’t mean it works with the device itself to help all students learn.

The Accommodations

Using friendly files that work with your device’s accessibility features.

Websites can all be read on laptops and iPads with accessibility by having students highlight and select speak or read when they are using the tool’s appropriate accessibility features. So, if you use a resource thats print that offers a web based version (think Junior Scholastic, news articles, etc.) try and provide the link to the unscanned version elsewhere.
*If it doesn’t have a digital version, consider this when picking materials, or work to find materials that are similar that you can provide as a substitution or addition to reading.

Combine Materials for All Learners

Some textbooks provide digital versions that you can access to upon purchase, but truth is if you’re scanning it, they probably don’t, right?

I am a huge fan of creating an Educational Youtube Playlist as you lesson-plan with videos and materials that cover the same concepts. A video can provide the necessary content in a more accessible format for many of our students and can be managed by great apps like Ed Puzzle to make sure students are gaining the information they need from the video and not just skipping through. Provide these to all students or the specifics in substitute or as a complement in order to assist in helping those with learning disabilities to understand.
*If Youtube is blocked no fear check out other sources for videos like Khan Academy, PBS, Pexels, National Geographic, and others.

Fun Fact: In our state (Maine) If you have a Public Library Card audiobooks are free to be checked out from any library at this site and this is the case for many state library programs. It’s never been so cool to have a library card.
Other apps and paid services like Bookshare & Read2Go allow us to assign and accommodate reading for students as well on an individual paid for basis.

Encourage audio tools when acceptable.
If the information you need from a student is that they understand a concept or idea, but you don’t need to know that they can read or write proficiently for the specific task, encourage the use of apps and online tools that record a voice. Vocaroo is an EASY online tool that provides a link to an audio recording in a matter of seconds on any device. And iPads come with screen recording tools built in, the Voice Memos app, and more. iPhones & iPads themselves have a microphone built into the keyboard for easy speech-to-text options as well. Natural Readers is my suggested iPad app and website that does it all for students who need something read aloud.

For print materials, or in this case materials that act like print such as scanned PDFs, we can also accommodate in person – with an ed-tech or other professional that agrees to read to students – but when our work goes beyond our school walls and into homework we should always encourage these types of considerations when prepping materials.

Assigning Accommodating Materials Individually is now Easier Than Ever

If your course depends on learners executing reading or writing skills and you can’t or shouldn’t provide these accommodations to all students – platforms like Google Classroom allow you to assign work to just one or small groups of students!

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