Accessibility is a Result of Good Design

If student-centered instruction is the goal, then accessible instruction is a natural outcome of the design process.

Design is a really popular buzzword right now. There is instructional design, design thinking, and universal design. While each of these ideas is nuanced, they all share some common features which are relevant to an accessible learner experience.

If instruction is truly to be student-centered, then the accessible design of instruction is a natural outcome of the design process. In other words, accessibility is a result of good design.

Let’s start with instructional design which is also sometimes called instructional systems design. These terms refer to a plethora of models that describe the process of creating effective instruction. These include many models such as the following:

  • ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate)
  • Dick, Carey, & Carey model
  • R2D2 (Recursive and Reflective, Design and Development)
  • McTighe and Wiggins Understanding By Design (also referred to as backward design)

While there are much more this list represents a sampling of models that most people may be familiar with. Each approach tackles the process of instructional development similarly, and they all share some common features even if slightly different language is used. Specifically, they include the following components:

  • Assessing instructional need
  • Determining instructional practice such as appropriate objectives, assessments, and instructional strategies and materials
  • Evaluating and revising of instructional practices

Design thinking is also a process that can be used to problem solve in all settings but can also be applied to instruction. This model consists of the following:

  • Empathizing with and learning about the user
  • Defining the instructional need, if any
  • Brainstorming ideas to address this need
  • Creating a prototype
  • Testing the design and materials to collect feedback
  • Implementing the design

Universal design is not a process, but more of a concept that promotes inclusive design in all areas. The idea is that products, experiences, and environments should be developed in such a way that all people can access them. Educationally, this concept can include instructional experiences that are accessible to all learners of all ability levels.

While all three design approaches merit a deeper analysis on their impact within an educational context, it is important to begin with a general foundation that addresses how accessibility is relevant. First, instructional design and design thinking both begin with an assessment. These assessments strive to ensure the design process takes into account the needs of the learner. Second, these approaches also address the development of instruction. Universal design is relevant to both in that it is a philosophy in which your design as many potential needs of any learner.

It follows that accessibility must be considered during the analysis of learner needs, which includes researching any potential barriers users may face when accessing instruction. These barriers may be emotional, motivational, physical, or any other factor that can affect a learner’s ability to access instruction. By empathizing with learners and striving to design universally, addressing accessibility becomes integral to the process of designing effective instruction.

If the instruction is truly student-centered, then the accessible design of instruction is a natural outcome. Current accessibility standards address the specific barriers that learners may face in accessing instructional components such as web interfaces, media, text, and many more. By ensuring these standards are met, instruction will naturally be inclusive, empathetic, and more likely to be effective.

The next blog posts will begin addressing the simple practices that can be implemented to start moving toward a habit of accessible design.

About the author Rita Fennelly-Atkinson

My previous work with students with disabilities has ignited a passion for ensuring that all learners have access to meaningful instructional experiences in any learning environment. My current educational pursuits and work as a technology design coach combines my passion for accessibility, instructional design, and design thinking. As an educator, I have a wide array of instructional experience for K-12 and adult learners in a multitude of settings. Currently, I am a Sam Houston State University student in the Instructional Systems Design and Technology doctoral program.

All posts by Rita Fennelly-Atkinson →

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