How to Make Accessible and Inclusive Education Materials for Students With and Without Disabilities

Thursday, April 8, 2021 No comments



You've heard me say this many times. Inclusion isn’t a program. It’s the process of including students of all ability levels in our education system to the fullest extent possible. There are dozens of articles and books that cite the research on inclusion, describe the process and practice of inclusion, provide tips for writing inclusive IEPs, and name strategies for facilitating inclusion in the classroom



I've written many times on the types of materials that are widely used in an inclusive classroom such as visual timers, highlighters, color-coded folders, and more. However, one area that I haven't said much about is the text-based educational materials that we use in our daily instruction. After a year of viewing online coursework and hundreds of presentation slides, it's time to talk about providing accessible and inclusive text-based education materials for students with and without disabilities. 

 


The Need for Accessible and Inclusive Education Materials


Educators know that one of the best ways to convey information is to create interest. We routinely use bright colors, fun fonts, and cute graphics to entice interaction. However, we sometimes use text that is too large, too small, too much, too close together, and not close enough. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE and ADMIRE the creativity of my colleagues. I could spend hours making a slide or worksheet in Canva. For many of our students though, our efforts are misaligned. 



Text-based education materials such as documents and presentations can be visually, as well as cognitively, overwhelming. For this reason, The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials states on its website, “Accessible versions of educational materials may mean the difference between learning barriers and learning opportunities.” Furthermore, a framework known as Universal Design for Learning, encourages instruction that optimizes learning based on what humans need to learn. It highlights the need to clarify language, symbols, as well as think about the display of information for different learners.

 


How is it Done?


We need to create educational materials that can be creative and appealing yet accessed by all. Accessible materials improve participation, motivation, independence, interest, and success. Plus, it’s the law. 

 

The American Disabilities Act which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities has several guidelines for creating accessible material online and in print. The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials also recommends ways to design documents. Here are some strategies in which those guidelines can be applied in the inclusive classroom:  


  • Use a font that is clean and simple. Some of the most accessible fonts are Arial; others include Calibri, Century Gothic, HelveticaTahoma and Verdana. Remember to use a limited number of different fonts on the page. 

  • Font size should be at least 12 point with large text at 18 point.

  • Break down content into “chunks” so that information is presented in “bite-size” pieces.

  • Use headings to signal new information or important concepts.

  • Use left-margin justification

  • Spacing between lines should be at least 1.25”.

  • Avoid columns as much as possible.

  • Avoid overusing bullet points. For example, it is recommended we use 3-4 bullet points per slide in a presentation.

  • Number the pages.

  • Use dark color ink and paper that creates a high contrast (such as black ink on white paper).

  • Use visuals and graphics to break up text and support the concepts.

  • Label and describe the visuals/graphics.

  • Unless otherwise requested by the person you are speaking about, use inclusive, People-First Language. For example, when describing a person with a disability, use phrases like, “the man who uses a wheelchair” or “the girl who has low vision”.

  • Ensure the graphics and visuals that are chosen reflect the diversity in our schools.

  • Use language that is at an appropriate level for the reader. 

  • Make sure there is sufficient “white space” which is a design concept that helps readers visually organize text.

 

Creating accessible and inclusive educational materials is not something we should be doing as a “favor” to our students. It’s something we take into account for all our students, with or without disabilities, before instruction begins. So, use this list to guide you the next time you are creating a slide deck, worksheet, or meeting notes. I use it too!


As always, please feel free to share your work or let me know any other tips or suggestions you have for creating accessible and inclusive education material!