I’ve always envied exceptionally good athletes. They seem to possess an innate ability to pick up any sport and excel. I am not that person. I was always one of the last people picked for any sport I played. On my middle school baseball team, I played the league mandated two innings and was always safely stationed in left field. Despite my lack of ability, however, I still got the chance to play. Sure, I wasn’t the best kickball player or the best flag football player but I still had the opportunity to play. No one said I couldn’t. I didn’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch my peers play. I still had the opportunity. And who knows? Maybe with a little hard work and some support, I would have excelled.
I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunity lately and how we provide educational opportunities for our students. I’m working with a team of colleagues to develop an online program in our department. We’ve been examining different online teaching rubrics to use as guides as we build our online classes. Every rubric explicitly states that online teachers need to support the unique needs of all learners. But I wonder how many online teachers take these requirements to heart? I worry that because online teachers don’t always “see” their students that they visualize some idealized, able-bodied individual who can easily access the content in whatever form they’re placed online. I’ve heard some individuals ask, “Why would a blind student want to take an online class?” Others have said, “We shouldn’t let our students with disabilities take online classes.” But you can’t say you can’t play. It’s unethical. It’s immoral. It’s also illegal.
Maybe it’s better to discuss a different scenario. Imagine an elementary classroom where small groups of students are excitedly engaged in some learning activities. The teacher moves from group to group, interacting with the students and assessing their learning. Off to the side, however, a lone student sits. Because of his learning disability, he’s unable to participate in today’s activities. He sits silently with his aide as the rest of the class engages in the lesson. Would it be okay to place this student on the educational sidelines while the rest of the students learned? But that’s essentially what online teachers do when they don’t consider the accessibility of their course content. From providing transcripts of online videos to using templates to organize course material, you can insure educational access to all students and give them the opportunity to learn. Wondering whether the materials in your online class are accessible? Check out these resources from Portland Community College which provide step-by-step guides so you can select and build course content so you can provide an equal playing field so all learners can succeed.