Improving Accessibility for Remote Learning Environments
Accessibility of remote learning—it’s not something the average person thinks about. But, for Ohio’s students with disabilities, particularly for those starting the school year in hybrid or completely remote learning environments, access is front and center in everyone’s daily lives. Many educators are now tasked with providing access to educational content online through video or digital documents.
The Assistive Technology & Accessible Educational Materials (AT&AEM) Center at OCALI is committed to ensuring access for all people with disabilities. As educators, students, and families prepare to head back to school, we wanted to share a few easy tips and reminders to improve accessibility for all students—whether that be in the classroom or remotely.
Using Descriptive Language
Instruction-based videos and documents tend to have visuals that support learning. Using descriptive language in videos and providing text descriptions of images in documents is incredibly important for many students. Doing so not only increases access, but follows many best practices, such as those in Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Descriptive language and text descriptions support one of the core principles of UDL, by providing multiple means of representation. When you are able to describe information, students are able to get a stronger visual picture of what they are learning and how it is connected to the content. Providing descriptive language, or audio description, increases access for students with blindness or visual impairments, but also supports students using text-based transcript of a video, students with poor or unstable internet that may not have high quality video or images, and students of all learning styles. To learn more about how to use descriptive language, watch OCALI’s short video.
Whereas audio description describes visual information, closed captions provide text of the audio or narration. Research has shown that tools, such as captions and audio description, not only increase access for students with sensory impairments, such as deafness or blindness, but also support many students, such as auditory learners, or students learning a language. Text , or captions, of the audio or narration helps reiterate the content and makes it accessible to students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, with auditory processing disorders, learning a language, or are learning in noisy environments with many environmental distractions. In order to provide captions for your students, there are many built-in captioning tools in common instructional tools, such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides. To learn about using these tools for both in person and virtual teaching, you can also check out OCALI’s short video on creating captions for online learning.
In addition to considering descriptive language and captions for teacher developed resources, it is important to use external or curricular resources that have also been made accessible. The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), provides free access to thousands of accessible videos for any family or educator who has a student with a disability. Teachers can create class and student accounts, assigning videos to be watched. Videos within the DCMP library offer captions, audio descriptions, and most recently, readings of children’s books using American Sign Language.
To get started, visit DCMP and register for an account. Through email verification, you will have access to educational videos that have closed captions and many that have audio descriptions.
Providing Accessible Digital Materials
In addition to adding accessibility to online learning, such as videos and virtual classes, consider providing documents and slide presentations in an accessible format to students. Educators may be interested in learning about accessible educational materials through our Assistive Technology Internet Modules: Reading WATI Part I and Part II. Learn more about upcoming professional development through our BEST Grant, which focuses on students with visual impairments, with one session focusing specifically on Creating Accessible Word Documents in September 2020.
Using Accessibility Features in Virtual Conferencing Platforms
Many of you are familiar with Zoom, a popular video conferencing platform. In our new distance learning environment, Zoom’s use and popularity with teachers and students have skyrocketed. Take time to discover accessibility features within the virtual meeting platform that your district has chosen and inform your students of the options available.
To learn more about specific features in Zoom and how to use them, check out this short video.
Tips on Making the Transition from School to Remote, Home-based Learning for Learners with Complex Needs
School year 2020-2021—it’s unlike anything educators, students, and families have ever experienced. While teachers are typically setting up their classrooms, many families are wondering how to make the transition from school to home-based learning this year. There’s no question that learning will look different this year. Whether your school district is going back traditionally with new social distancing and sanitation requirements, or whether it’s a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, or a completely remote model, educators, students, and families will experience many new ways of learning, connecting, and providing support.
Throughout the spring and summer, the Teaching Diverse Learners Center at OCALI has compiled a list of questions and answers from educators and practitioners across Ohio to address important topics for educators and families who support students with complex needs. Following are some key questions to consider for back-to-school.
How can we help a student understand that home is a place where school-like activities/learning can take place?
Replicating a school-like environment and structure are important to helping students connect their typical perception of school and learning to now being at home for learning. Ideas on ways that families can recreate a school-like environment include:
- Send families photos or descriptions of each learning space in your classroom or school building where specific learning tasks take place. Offer ideas on how to recreate similar spaces within the home or yard. Label selected spaces to be matched with transition cues (pictures, objects, etc.).
- Send home familiar tools and materials used in school.
- Remember that some students will need sensory regulation materials. Sensory regulation is not something that only happens in a specific space or room. Some tools can act as a stimulant and others as a means of calming or focus. Be sure to pair the right sensory tools with the appropriate activities.
- Use different rooms or areas in the home and yard for different activities. Create and use photos/symbols of each space to model transitions in time and activities throughout the day. For example, in the morning, the day begins in the bedroom, (with specific picture schedule/task analysis) then to the bathroom (with specific picture schedule/task analysis) then transition to the kitchen (with specific picture schedule/task analysis/choice board), next show and carry the picture of the desk area (with specific picture schedule/task analysis/choice board), followed by a picture of the yard/sidewalk/open space in the home to indicate recess, movement or play (with specific picture schedule/choice board), and so on.
- Post pictures of school environments in locations within the home to indicate activities or learning that will take place in each specific location.
- Set out tools and materials (in tubs/containers) that go with activities in designated spaces (math manipulatives at a table, art supplies at the counter, games on the coffee table, swing, balls and mini trampoline in the basement, etc.).
What types of learning can families leverage as they work and learn in the home?
Now is the perfect time to think about teaching and learning about daily living and life skills. Identify chores or tasks that are required in the home—Are there any that the child could help with (helping with pets, preparing a meal or snack, cleaning items, picking up items, washing items, loading/putting away dishes, etc.)? Think about taking advantage of the warm weather to make the outdoors a learning lab—listening to the birds and insects, enjoying the sunshine, feeling the grass, finding natural objects, digging in the dirt, etc. Following are additional resources for educators and parents to consider:
Resources can offer ideas for academic connections (language arts, math, social sciences and social skills) to life skills per grade-level, like life skills curriculum resources, which includes skill development in communication, consumer sciences, safety, recreation and leisure and more. Other resources to check out, include: Project WET, Discover Water, Project WILD (book and activity list, books about animals, and ideas at home for parents), Project Learning Tree, and Camp Nuhop’s online at home outdoor education modules.
Look at lists of life skills by subject area and grade-level for more ideas on how learners can assist with tasks at home.
How can families communicate new routines and changing timelines with their children, especially those who don’t understand why these changes keep happening?
- Use or create a home calendar to communicate daily routines or schedules. Include words or symbols that indicate where learning will take place that day.
- Schedule time on the calendar to listen to the news.
- Schedule a morning video/phone call with the principal, bus driver, or teacher to hear from them. These can be video recorded and played back each day, if needed.
- Use objects, symbols, signs, and/or words to communicate with your child and to label the calendar.
- Play a morning or wake-up song that indicates learning at home.
What digital resources can educators suggest/provide to families to replace traditional classroom materials?
Tips for teachers:
- Morning meetings/circle time: Teachers can record morning meeting routines within PowerPoint or Google slides, and students can drag and drop symbols or words into each slide to complete the day’s schedule, weather, or date or can use paper materials to do the same.
- Teacher read alouds: Use online videos or livestream of storytellers, have teacher audio, or video record stories and mail on flash drive or disc.
- Manipulatives: Virtual manipulatives, using common household alternatives to count, sort, etc.
- Field trips: Explore virtual tours, experiences, and outdoor activities around the home/community.
- Hands-on science: Explore science videos, science TV programs, outdoor exploration, etc.
- Interventions and therapies: Offer 1:1 conference times, teletherapy, schedule a time watch week, email an outline of task and materials needed for each week, or offer to create and send materials, as needed.
- Assistive technology (AT): Exchange the use of high-tech tools for low-tech access. Contact libraries or companies for loaner equipment, mail student-specific AT tools home for use. There are many types of AT that may be used by students on a daily basis.
How can we help families and students maintain emotional and physical health at home?
- Try to connect students with other students, if possible.
- Try to connect students with other staff members, if possible.
- Check in and maintain as much or as few communications as requested by the family.
- Offer families access to contact information that they can use in their time of need.
- Loosen the reins on expectations. Be kind to yourself and your child by not being so rigid or strict with activities, schedules, etc. Flexibility is key.
- Movement during daily activities are important, and scheduling twice as many breaks/recesses as usual is a good idea. Movement can be everyday tasks around the home, which also support functional skill development, such as: sweeping, dusting, yard work, laundry, dishes, cooking, taking a shower/bath, walking the dog, cleaning out animal stall or pet cage/tank, etc.
- Don’t forget the arts. Music, dancing, singing, playing games, puppet shows, mini-plays, arts and craft, making sensory materials like playdough or glitter jars, coloring pages, movement activities, stretching, play homemade or real instruments, play piano, make mud pies, go on a nature walk and make art, baggie books or wind chimes with found objects, etc.
Increasing Financial Security and Independence through STABLE Accounts
Last month, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The bill’s enactment was a defining moment for our country, and the ADA has drastically improved equality of opportunity for people with disabilities. July also marked the fifth anniversary of Ohio House Bill 155, which authorized the creation of the STABLE Account program.
Now is the time to build on the legacy of those important pieces of legislation. August is #ABLEtoSave Month, which is dedicated to increasing the awareness and usage of ABLE accounts nationwide.
Following passage of the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, Ohio’s STABLE Account program became the nation’s first ABLE program. During this month of advocacy and outreach, I want to reiterate our commitment to growing the STABLE program and working to further establish specialized investment accounts as a mainstream financial tool.
STABLE accounts are an incredibly powerful tool for increasing financial security and greater independence for people with disabilities. Before, people living with disabilities could only save a total of $2,000 before losing their benefits. However, that’s no longer the case. Earnings on a STABLE account grow tax-free and are not subject to federal income tax, so long as they are spent on Qualified Disability Expenses. Qualified Disability Expenses include education, housing, transportation, healthcare, assistive technology, basic living expenses, and many other items.
Our team started off 2020 by venturing to every corner of the state to share the benefits of STABLE accounts. While COVID-19 required a quick pivot to virtual outreach, it didn’t slow down our efforts. Since May, we have seen a record-breaking day, a record-breaking week, and two consecutive record-breaking months, adding 839 new accounts in June alone.
We are proud to now serve nearly 18,000 STABLE account-holders who have made over $150 million in total contributions. Today, our program accounts for 25 percent of account-holders nationally – proving that Ohio leads the way in creating opportunities for people with disabilities.
Opening a STABLE account is easy – it only takes about 20 minutes and can be done from the safety and comfort of home. For more information, or to sign-up, please visit the STABLE Account website at https://www.stableaccount.com, or call our team directly at 1-800-439-1653.
The Buckeye State is fortunate to have an ever-growing advocacy network that does a tremendous job of ensuring people with disabilities have every opportunity to thrive, and I’m proud of the work our STABLE team does every day to support that goal. Together, we’re breaking down barriers to build a more inclusive state that benefits from the talents of all Ohioans.
What’s New at OCALI
Introducing … OCALICONLINE 2020!
The nation’s premier autism and disabilities conference is back! OCALICONLINE is November 11-13 – available through a laptop, tablet or smartphone near you.
It’s everything you know and love about OCALICON, now in an online format.
Featuring over 100 world-class sessions on important topics and issues across the lifespan – plus inspiring keynotes each day. Numerous networking opportunities will be offered throughout the conference – and a chance to connect with exhibitors, too. More details and information will be announced in the coming weeks.
Welcome to the community. There’s a place for you here. Registration is now OPEN!
FREE Training: Assistive Technology Academy: Starts September 10
This multi-session, interactive and technology-based training program is designed to build foundational competencies in order to deliver Assistive Technology (AT) services to individuals with an array of disabilities and age groups. Learn more about this free training for county boards of developmental disabilities at https://ataem.org/at-special-projects-and-grants/AT
New Module: Responding to Trauma and Supporting Resilience
This module focuses on understanding trauma and how it impacts and influences children. Professionals will learn to recognize possible signs of trauma and identify practical strategies to build resilience along with connecting and engaging families with resources and supports. Explore now. https://cycsuite.org/m/210
New Podcast Episode!
Reflections on the 30th Anniversary of the ADA
July 2020 marks the 30-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law by the first President Bush in 1990. We talk to D’Arcee Neal, Diana Mairose, and Mark Seifarth – three people from three different generations – about what the ADA means to them, what it does for them, where it misses the mark, and their recommendations going forward as the journey continues. Listen now.