Because much of the content in STEM disciplines is conveyed via complex visuals — charts, handwritten equations, maps, etc. — making those materials accessible may seem like an impossible feat. However, with a little creativity, we can still offer students an equivalent experience using resources already available at UA.

Rachel Thompson, director of emerging technology and accessibility, explains

Our accessibility initiative is currently focused on content that is on public websites or is accessed by all UA students. Content like this (created in class and shared online with enrolled students as a reinforcement) is not yet a big part of our accessibility push. If there is a student who needs this content to be accessible (for example, an enrolled student with a vision impairment), that student will be registered with the Office of Disability Services and will receive assistance through an accommodation. If a student can access your Blackboard content, it is because they are enrolled at UA and, therefore, we can meet the student’s needs through accommodations.

All that being said, PDFs, even with handwritten annotations, can be made accessible. I can help you learn how, if you want. When these are scanned in, they can be “translated” into real text with certain scanning programs or via an alt-text field. Another way to make this kind of content accessible is to record a brief audio explanation, which some faculty members do with Tegrity, YouTube, or voice tools through Turnitin or Blackboard Voice Tools. PowerPoint also has a narration option.

I face a similar challenge when teaching linguistics; we use the International Phonetic Alphabet, which can be typed, but it is easier to handwrite. I record my lectures with Tegrity, which include handwritten notes made on the document camera or smart podium.

One important point to remember is that we have to offer an equivalent experience to all our students, but it does not have to be identical. Even if we cannot easily make your handwritten content into an accessible PDF, we can record an audio explanation to meet the needs of many students.

My main suggestion is to make sure students who need accommodations are being helped as recommended by Judy Thorpe and her office. As UA’s accessibility initiative grows and more resources become available, we will do more to make course-specific content accessible from the outset.