UDL series — Representation: Perception

21 June 2022
By Sam Graff

UDL, a blog series…

To recap, the first blog post in the series describes the principles of UDL and how to take the initial small step into achieving a UDL classroom. You can find the link back to the first post of this series.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) “is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights in how humans learn” (Cast.org). UDL can create an equitable and inclusive learning environment for all students in the classroom.

Within the UDL framework, there are three major categories and their subcategories:

Representation: Perception

Establishing multiple means of perceptible information can reduce barriers that students might have in the classroom. In UDL principles, providing multiple means of representation, through providing options for perception, means that having the same information in different modalities and creating flexibility on how the content is viewed, can reduce those barriers. This blog post will include tips on how to display information, how to offer alternatives for auditory and visual information, and will look at how Academic Technology at Carleton and other resources can support and provide assistance for this topic. 

Offer ways of displaying of information

How to display information

Four graphs to compare color-blindness and the use of texture
Click for larger image

First, when you design a presentation (often using Google slides or a PowerPoint), think about the contrast of colors between the background or the image that is on the slide. Color can be used to emphasize information, represent content, and color consistency can increase students’ understanding. For example, in Anatomy courses, oxygenated blood is represented with the color red and deoxygenated blood is represented with the color blue. But not every student can see color. As another example, the following graph demonstrates how to increase accessibility for students with color blindness. 

The graphs on the left show what it would look like for someone with monochromatic vision, the ability to see no color. The lower graphs show examples of how textures can add visual clarity for people with color blindness. In the color blindness graphs on the left, the three bars in column two might be difficult to see the three bars, whereas in the textured (lower) graph, a viewer would get a clearer view of the three bars. Adding texture to graphs can increase the accessibility for viewers with color blindness. 

How to provide flexibility in the display

Moove Theme in Moodle
Moove Theme for Moodle: Click for larger image

In addition to the display of information, providing flexible viewing options can reduce barriers for students. If you present a video through Moodle, see if the format has some flexibility, ie. can the volume change, and can the speed of the video change? Slowing or speeding up the video can be beneficial for students. For instance, a student might want to slow down a video if it’s in another language and they are just learning that language. Finally, when displaying information, consider using layouts and fonts that can be changed. When choosing a theme in Moodle, consider using the MOOVE theme, which allows students to change the font size, site color and font type. While the choices are limited, students do get some flexibility in the display. Check out the image for what the MOOVE theme in Moodle looks like. 

Offer alternatives for auditory information

Auditory information is another form of perception. Some students may have a hearing impairment; thus in recorded lecture videos or in live Zoom sessions, turning on closed captions can increase accessibility for those with hearing impairments. Closed captions can also be useful for students who cannot listen to audio at that time. For example, if a student is in a public area and does not have headphones, they can still view the content without the sound disturbing others around them. And for students with English as a second language, the captions can be extremely helpful, reinforcing the heard words. 

Closed captions also provide a deeper engagement with the content when students choose to listen and read along with the lecture. If you provide audio from another source that is not your own, make sure the audio has closed captions or a transcript of the recording. If you notice an error in the automatic closed captions and need to correct them, use Panopto, you’ll find how to edit the close captions on your videos at minute mark 19:00.

If you think a student might benefit from text-to-speech software, Carleton supports Kurzweil 3000TM. The student would need to go through the Office of Accessibility Resources before using it, but you can find details about this technology

Offer alternatives for visual information

Providing alternative forms of visual information can be helpful. To ensure all students have access to information, consider providing non-visual alternatives. Whenever presenting an image or a graphic, include an alternative text to the image. Alternative text should be short and to the point. In a how-to guide, Harvard’s digital accessibility website provides examples on how to add alternative text and how to write it. When adding text to a digital platform, consider following the accessibility standards below.

NIMAS, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials, provides resources to increase accessible educational materials and technologies for learners with disabilities. 

W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides a vast amount of information on strategies, standards, and resources to make the web accessible to people with disabilities. 

Finally, one small step you can take to increase representation is by using visual symbols for sound effects, such as 🔊 or by using emoticons to emphasis an emotion 😃. By expanding the multiple means of representation through perception, you can increase equity and accessibility in the classroom. 

We would love to hear from you!

Comment below on how you customize your displayed information.