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Research

Initial Results from Survey Measuring the Value of Accessibility and Universal Design Topics in Course Curricula

In order to gauge the student benefits of taking accessibility and Universal Design topics in postsecondary courses, UDUC began distributing a survey in January of 2019. About a dozen programs and schools with a focus on Computer Science, Digital Media, Environmental Design, or other technical or design-related programs, agreed to distribute the survey to their current students and recent graduates. During the first round of solicitations we received 88 responses, 86 complete and 2 partial responses.

Responses were received from individuals across 9 different states, including Minnesota (13), Illinois (11), Maryland (7), Washington (6), Rhode Island (5), Colorado (4), and 1 from California, Massachusetts and Utah.1

Interested in disseminating this survey at your institution or elsewhere?
Follow these directions for asking a school to send out the survey invite.

The survey asks respondents if they took classes with accessibility and Universal Design components while they were at their postsecondary institution; the degree to which these topics were included – i.e. were they the main focus of the course, a large component or a small component; the topics or lessons they found most beneficial; their subjective feedback on the importance of learning about these topics and whether their study in this area provided specific benefits in areas such employment or academic work.

The full survey can be found below in Appendix A.

For example, one of the first questions asked:

Were there topics related to Universal Design and/or accessibility for persons with disabilities addressed in a college-level course you completed?

About 60% or 53 answered yes, about 30% or 26 answered no, and about 10% or 9, were not sure. If we exclude those who were not sure we find that about 2/3rds of respondents took courses in this area and 1/3 did not.

 

Pie chart comparing responses to above question concerning whether there were topics related to Universal Design in a college course the respondents completed. See table below for data.
Chart 1

Chart 1 – Response data for question: Were there topics related to Universal Design and/or accessibility for persons with disabilities addressed in a college-level course you completed?
Value Percent Responses
Yes 60.2% 53
No 29.5% 26
Not Sure 10.2% 9
Participant Totals: 88

Of the 26 respondents who answered ‘no’ to taking these courses, a very large majority – 84% (21 of 26) – said they did not take courses in this area because they were not offered. Only 2 respondents or 8% said it was because they were offered but they were not interested. The rest answered “other” or did not answer the question.

A large degree of interest in taking these topics were shown by the 21 individuals who answered that “they did not take courses in this area because they were not offered.” All indicated interest, 14 “very much so” and 7 “somewhat.” None of the 21 indicated no interest. (The question was not asked to the individuals who answered previously that “classes with these topics were offered but I was not interested”).

Please tell us the reasons why you did not take any classes that addressed Universal Design or accessibility topics:

 

Pie chart comparing responses as to why respondents did not take classes that addressed Universal Design or accessibility topics. See table below for data.
Chart 2

Chart 2 – Response data for statement: Please tell us the reasons why you did not take any classes that addressed Universal Design or accessibility topics.
Value Percent Responses
As far as I know, there were no courses that offered these topics. 84.0% 21
Classes with these topics were offered but I was not interested. 8.0% 2
Other – Write In 8.0% 2
Participant Totals: 25

Interestingly, almost 60% of those who took courses which included accessibility and Universal Design topics indicated that these subjects were either the “Primary focus of the course” (33%) or a “large component of the course” (25%). 39% indicated it was a “small portion of the course.”

Was the primary focus of the course Universal Design and/or accessibility or were these topics a component of a course with a broader scope?

 

Pie chart comparing responses to question asking respondents whether or not the primary focus of the course they took was Universal Design or was a component of a course with a broader scope. See table below for data.
Chart 3

Chart 3 – Response data for question: Was the primary focus of the course Universal Design and/or accessibility or were these topics a component of a course with a broader scope?
Value Percent Responses
Primarily focus of course 32.7% 17
A large component of the course but not the primary focus 25% 13
A small part of the course 38.5% 20
Other – Write In 3.8% 2
Participant Totals: 52

Of those who took courses with these topics, almost 50% rated the topic “crucial” when asked about the value of taking accessibility and Universal Design topics. Another 33% rated the subject as “very valuable” and 14% “worthwhile.” No one rated the topic as having “no value.”

Pie chart comparing responses of respondents who were asked to rate the value of Universal Design and/or accessibility topics in their course. See table below for data.
Chart 4

Chart 4 – Response data on value of course
Value Percent Responses
1 – No Value 0% 0
2 – Some Value 5.8% 3
3 – Worthwhile 13.5% 7
4 – Very Valuable 32.7% 17
5 – Crucial 48.1% 25
Participant Totals: 52

75% of those who took these topics identified specific topics that they found particularly useful. One of the most frequent answers were live demonstrations and simulations, for example, “using voice commands to complete tasks.” Other answers included learning evaluation tools such as “WAVE,” color contrast evaluators, or tools to examine “accessible web design ‘in the wild’, e .g . inspecting an element and looking at its aria tag” or “[s]howing the proper markup on an HTML page,” “[u]sing web accessibility tools to assess accessibility of elearning websites” and “[h]euristic evaluation for universal design.”

A sampling of other responses include:

  • “I found the arguments advocating for universal design to be helpful, as people ask why it’s important to me and others.”
  • “Grayscale contrast for color-blind people, links and buttons that can be tabbed through and converted to speech for people with auditory disabilities”
  • “Thinking about physical design of objects, not just interfaces. Also viewing disability as a political/social issue, not a medical one”
  • “Creating ALT text for photos and making closed caption videos.”

A few responses mentioned the value of using it as a UDL and/or accessibility tool in curricula and course creation:

  • “udl in course creation (this was an instructional design master’s program)”
  • “How to incorporate it in our curriculum”
  • “Being able to create resources to use in my classroom.”

One individual mentioned that watching the documentary “When Billy Broke His Head” was ranked by the class as the “most valuable teaching moment” of the course. Finally, one individual mentioned assessing website accessibility using the WCAG 2.0 requirements.

A more complete list of responses can be found in Appendix B – Topics found particularly valuable.

Benefits in Employment, Academic Work and Other Areas

75% of the individuals who took courses with UD and accessibility topics reported that they have found learning this material to be valuable to them in employment, academics or other areas. 22 or 42% of the respondents indicated specific work benefits such as “Understanding what Level AA accessibility is for my job” and “I’m working on an accessibility auditing contract.”

Three individuals indicated that it had helped them or likely helped them obtain a position:

  • “Definitely helped me land a job & do my job well”
  • “Getting a job in health IT designing for vulnerable populations”
  • “I cannot say for certain, but I feel my course work and capstone focus (UDL) was helpful in getting me this position”

Some again spoke of the UDL and teaching benefits of applying the topics to the classroom:

  • “In my current position, I work closely with our Academic Support Center to help support faculty with UDL best practices”
  • “How to teach with accessibility”
  • “lesson plans, student activities/involvement within a class”

Other responses included:

  • “Techniques I used in a job”
  • “My current job employs accessibility practices into its products”
  • “Testing websites as they are being developed”
  • “Working with an IBM consultant who had a visual impairment inspired my pursuit of a career at IBM”
  • “As part of my graduate research position”
  • “testing for color vision deficiencies, tagging”
  • “Influences work as a front-end developer”

A more complete list of responses can be found in Appendix B – Benefits reported in employment.

Since only 10 or 25% of respondents have yet graduated, a 42% response that these topics helped them in employment speaks to the possible overall career and work benefits of including these topics in technical, computer science, design and other programs. It is reasonable to expect that this number will go up as individuals graduate and seek employment.

Coursework and Academic Benefits

20 respondents or about 38% indicated that learning about these topics benefited them in their coursework. Many of the respondents mentioned Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in their response or mentioned how these topics affected the way they designed and taught courses. A sample of these types of answers include:

  • “In another class, I expanded my study of UDL by writing a literature review of using UDL to make classrooms more welcoming for students of diverse cultural backgrounds”
  • “I did a literature review a capstone project on UDL”
  • “I use many, if not all of the general guidelines on universal design that I learned in this course throughout all of the courses I have this semester when creating lesson plans, etc.”
  • “Expanded my view to include more accessibility-related topics into my other course work”

A sample of other responses include:

  • “concept of neuroplasticity, understanding of cognitive science”
  • “for our final project … the people we were doing the project for specifically requested we make certain changes based on web accessibility”
  • “I find myself checking for accessibility when I do prototypes. Such as checking for contrast, scalability etc.”
  • “Testing my color for backgrounds/text first before implementing”

A more complete list of responses can be found in Appendix B – Coursework and academic benefits.

About 53% or 27 of the respondents who had taken these topics in coursework indicated that that they had plans to continue learning about accessibility and Universal Design, either through formal classwork, additional certifications or other means. All the rest responded “maybe” except for one individual who answered “no.”

About 59% of the courses taken by these students were undergrad courses and all the rest were graduate level.

The large majority of schools – just below 80% – where these courses were offered were either 4-year colleges or universities or grad programs within similar institutions. Just about all the rest were 2-year colleges.2

The programs or departments where these courses were offered were most often Education, Computer Science, Digital Media and related programs. Specifically, responses included:

  • Education (8 responses)
  • Human Computer Interaction (6 responses)
  • Computer Science (4)
  • Informatics (2)
  • College of Information Studies (1)
  • College of Computing and Digital Media (1)
  • College of Digital Arts and Media (1)
  • Technical Arts & Media (1)
  • Interactive Design & Interactive Media (1)
  • Interaction Design and Information Architecture (1)
  • cross-offered with EECS, Mechanical Engineering and Heath Science & Technology (1)
  • Occupational Safety and Health (1)

Conclusions Based on Initial Responses

Although these results are preliminary from the first round of disseminating the survey, and composed of a relatively small number of responses, they suggest a number of interesting interpretations:

  • First, that there may be a significant number of students interested in Universal Design and accessibility topics but unable to take courses because of lack of classes offered in these subjects. In other words, there may be an unmet need in this area due to colleges and universities not offering courses with these topics.
  • At least based on the respondents who took this survey and took courses with Universal Design and/or accessibility topics (53 total), courses with these topics are highly valued. All 52 survey takers who took courses in this area (1 did not respond to this question), answered that including these topics were either crucial (48%), very valuable (32.7%) or worthwhile (7%) or some value (3%) with a very large majority (approximately 81%) finding the topics either “crucial” or “very valuable.” In addition, a large majority (75%) answered that taking these topics were valuable to them in specific ways – either in employment, academic or other areas of their lives.
  • The data points outlined in the above two bullet points suggest that colleges and universities would likely find an enthusiastic response if they offered more courses with these topics.
  • The results of this preliminary survey seems to support the idea that including courses with these topics has a notable work or career benefits, including finding employment. 42% of those taking courses with these topics reported some type of benefit in the area of work. Five individuals (or about 10%) of individuals who took these topics mentioned either that it specifically helped or possibly helped them to obtain a particular job or that it directed their career path.3 70% of those who already graduated reported some type of work benefit in contrast to about 38% of those who had not yet graduated. This suggests that career benefits increase after graduation, as might be expected, and that increased employment benefits may be seen if follow-up surveys are conducted with students after they graduate.
  • For those teaching courses, the responses provide guidance on what topics or class activities students find the most valuable. As mentioned above, one of the most frequent answers was live demonstrations and simulations. Another frequent response was learning and using evaluation tools such as “WAVE,” color contrast evaluators, etc. From the answers we do not know if the live demonstrations were conducted by persons with disabilities or simply demonstrated by the instructor. This is a question that can possibly be addressed in follow-up surveys. The fact that one respondent mentioned that seeing the documentary “When Billy Broke his Head” had such a profound impression on the class suggests that interacting or learning about specific individuals with disabilities can be highly effective and valuable.

Survey Limitations

There are a number of obvious limitations to this survey, including:

  • As mentioned previously, this is a relatively small cohort.
  • This is not a random survey. That is, respondents are self-selected. It is very possible we are seeing a skewed result based on receiving responses from those most interested in the topics of Universal Design and accessibility. Still, the fact that 1/3 of the respondents had not taken these topics but still answered the survey suggests that we should be capturing more respondents who took these topics but did not find them particularly useful if a significant amount of these individuals existed.

Future Plans

The UDUC project will continue to solicit survey responses until the end date of the project – December 31, 2019. We also update this report on the results as they are collected and will be presenting and writing articles in the coming months. UDUC will present on this study at ACCESSU – The Web Accessibility Training Conference at Austin during the week of May 15, 2019.

Helping Us Disseminate the Survey

As mentioned above, if you are interested in disseminating this survey at your institution or elsewhere, follow these directions for asking a school or program to send out the survey invite.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this report, the survey or anything about the UDUC project, please contact Howard Kramer at hkramer@colorado.edu.


Appendices

Appendix A
Complete Survey Instrument (PDF)

Appendix B
Topics found particularly valuable
Benefits reported in employment
Coursework and academic benefits
Other benefits reported
Programs or departments where these courses were offered

Footnotes
1 – Not all respondents answered the state location of the school question.
2 – 2 respondents did not answer this question.
3 – One of these 5 responses came in a response to a question not specifically asking about the value in employment – it was a response to ‘other benefits,’ a sub-category of the same question. However, the individual had not mentioned the possible factor it had in his hiring under the specific ‘employment’ category so this is not a case of overlap.