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In many ways, Rhianon Gutierrez did not have a typical education growing up. Born hard of hearing, she learned early on the difference that the accessibility of educational content can make.
“My grandmother and my mother were very strong advocates for me,” Gutierrez said. “They worked to ensure I had access in education. As a result, I’m a strong advocate today.”
Today, Gutierrez is a digital learning specialist with Boston Public Schools and the creator of the ISTE micro-course Designing for Inclusion, which is part of Summer Learning Academy 2021. She's also an award-winning multimedia producer whose experiences with accessible education eventually led her to Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework recognizes that all students learn differently and aims to reduce the physical, cognitive, intellectual and organizational barriers to learning that vary with each child. When she became an educator, she realized that she had the ability — and the responsibility — to be an advocate for inclusive learning for all her students, the way her mother and grandmother were for her.
“As educators … we have the power to curate how, when, where and what other people learn,” she explained. “We have the power to choose wisely and make sure we choose accessible media for all.”
Gutierrez specializes in producing multimedia content that’s accessible to students of all abilities. Every time she evaluates or creates educational content, she focuses on five simple ways to make it more inclusive. Here are how you can make your learning materials accessible:
1. Write alt text for your images.
Students who have visual limitations can use screen reader programs to read the content of a website out loud. But this only works for images if you add alt text describing them.
2. Caption your videos.
Students who are hard of hearing won’t understand the audio from videos without captions. Transcriptions also help visual learners retain content better. Several online tools, such as Amara.org, DotSub.com and Subtitle Horse, will help you caption videos for free.
3. Transcribe your podcasts.
Podcasts are audio only, so, by definition, they won’t work for those who can’t hear — unless you transcribe them into text. There are online tools, such as Scribie, that transcribe podcasts for free.
4. Structure your website for ADA compliance.
Public school websites are required by law to follow Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines that affect the design and coding of navigation menus, links, images, color, tables, multimedia embeds and more. Talk to your IT department or look up the guidelines to make sure your content is accessible to everyone.
5. Use the right tools.
Gutierrez uses a number of digital tools to create accessible content, ranging from free online tools, such as Skype and Google Classroom, to paid software, such as the literacy support solution Read&Write.
This and a lot more is the focus of Gutierrez on-demand micro-course offered as part of ISTE's Summer Learning Academy. Gutierrez created the course called “Designing for Inclusion” to help teachers with strategies to understand where their students are and to tailor instruction to meet their needs.
Watch Rhianon's video below to learn how you can use UDL principles to make your content accessible to all, and then sign up for ISTE's Summer Learning Academy 2022.
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.