Charles B. Hodges

Charles B. Hodges

by Charles B. Hodges

I work in an environment where thousands of learners access web-based learning materials daily. Web-based learning is a major topic of research and discussion in the professional organizations to which I belong. I teach graduate-level instructional design courses, and I will soon be involved with undergraduate-level technology integration courses. Exploring the endless stream of new Web 2.0 tools that emerge and imagining (or reading in my friends’ blogs) how these might be used to facilitate learning is something I enjoy. Recently, I have found myself considering ethical issues surrounding all of these interests:

When designing instruction, how much attention should be given to making sure that instruction is accessible to all learners?

By accessible here I mean accessibility in terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In conversations with colleagues on this topic I have heard comments like: “If federal money is not involved, you don’t have to worry about accessibility.”, “Why worry about something that affects such a small number of people?”, “We’ll worry about accessibility when someone complains.”

These comments were both shocking and depressing to me at the same time. Shouldn’t we do the right thing for our learners, all of them? I often describe an instructional designer as being an advocate for the learners. I understand the difficulty involved with making accessible web-based materials. A great deal of my work has involved mathematics and the specialized symbols necessary for communicating mathematics brings the difficulty to the forefront quickly. I also understand the issues of cost during development in both time and money. However, for those that have commented to me about small numbers of people (which I am not sure I buy, by the way), I have tried to champion the case of accessibility makes for better usability for ALL. Who wouldn’t, for example, like to be able to search the text of a podcast for all the instances of a particular word or phrase?

For now I have decided to take a middle road — demonstrating emerging technologies and discussing clever and interesting uses of them for education, while at the same time making it clear that there are real issues regarding accessibility for many new web-based tools and services. Is this the right thing to do? I am starting to see eyes roll when I bring up accessibility and I think that is progress. My interpretation of the rolling eyes is “here we go again.” They must be starting to remember

Guest blogger: Chuck Hodges has worked in higher education for nearly 17 years, all in math departments. He has earned degrees in Mathematics (B.S., M.S.) and Instructional Design and Technology (Ph.D. from Virginia Tech). Currently, he wears many hats in his role as manager of the Virginia Tech Math Emporium: facilities manager, researcher, logistics expert, stand-up trainer, and learner advocate. He will soon be surrendering all of those hats to move south and be an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at Georgia Southern University.

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About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

4 Thoughts on “Doing the right thing?

  1. Michael M. Grant on February 19, 2009 at 9:28 am said:

    Chuck, funnily, almost 3 years ago, I wrote a similar post when we launched our program web site (See With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility). I think you’re definitely hitting on an important point, and the indifference to accessibility is somewhat staggering.

    In another vein, something that I’ve begun to think a lot about, is accessibility requires that reasonable accommodations be made for individuals not served. I’ve begun to consider media like Flash interactions or interactive video. Is it possible that there isn’t a reasonable accommodation for some of these media? The assumption or default seems to be “just provide a text-only version.” But what if text can’t approximate what the point of the media is? What do you do?

  2. Chuck Hodges on February 19, 2009 at 10:10 am said:

    I was recently thinking about Michael Wensch’s now almost cliché, video “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us” ( Does a text description of that work really do it justice? What would a text description of it be like? I might try sometime. I sent a note out on Twitter awhile back asking if anyone had seen any attempts to make this one accessible. No responses.

  3. Chuck Hodges on February 19, 2009 at 10:27 am said:

    I just read your post, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. Three years and not much has changed. Think of how much other technologies have changed in 3 years. I like your post better than mine 😉

  4. Elizabeth Boling on February 20, 2009 at 6:01 am said:

    I subscribe to several design journals and they give out awards, sometimes for motion media — like TV ads, for example. Because the magazines are static media, they usually offer a couple still images from each ad, but (to address the topic here) they also offer short textual descriptions of those ads. I have taken note of how informative those text summaries are over the years because I do not watch much TV and therefore rely on the text rather than being able to remember the ads. Surprisingly, although they are nothing like the real thing, they can be very informative — even entertaining and helpful in getting the “flavor” of the original motion experience. Perhaps I will add “writing accessible text for images and motion media” as one of the assignment options in our Writing for Instructional Media course — if people learn it in school, maybe they will do it on the job without thinking twice!

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