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Georgia Tech’s First MOOC on Accessibility Wins Innovation Award

GTPE’s learning design team worked with AMAC to deliver the course
Man sitting in front of design panel for online course

Georgia Tech’s massive open online course (MOOC), Information and Communication Technology Accessibility (ICT100x), on the EdX platform, recently won an award from the Zero Project in Vienna, Austria. The course addresses the importance of developing an inclusive workplace for employees and customers with disabilities. The MOOC is recognized for being an innovative practice in accessibility.

Georgia Tech’s Accessibility Solutions and Research Center or AMAC launched the course in 2016 with the help of Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE), the Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) at Georgia Tech, and G3ICT, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies, an initiative of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Sheryl Ballenger, manager of deaf and hard of hearing services at AMAC, and one of the course creators and instructors, pointed out the need to address, on a global scale, the issue of ICT access for people with disabilities and the reason for creating the course. "According to the World Health Organization, 15 perecnt of the world's population lives with some form of disability," she said. "As the world becomes more technology driven, organizations and the people that make up these organizations must be aware of ICT accessibility and focus on accessible design." 

The course, featuring seven instructors from Georgia Tech, teaches participants how to identify issues and design solutions for ICT accessibility for their customers and employees with disabilities. With more than than 8,700 learners enrolled in the course so far, it has been highly successul. Learners represent 171 countries with the U.S., India, Nepal, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Canada, Pakistan, Australia, and the Philippines being among the countries with the largest enrollment. The U.S. represents approximately 24 percent of the total enrollment. 

The GTPE learning design team worked closely with faculty and staff at AMAC to deliver the course. GTPE’s Fatimah Wirth was the instructional designer on the project, and Edith Greenwood, Stephen Murphy, and Brian Armstrong were the producers. Ray Chang produced the graphics.

Wirth pointed out that the ICT100x course was the first MOOC on accessibility to be created at Georgia Tech. It required looking at accessibility in terms of content, delivery method, and interaction, and every aspect required exceptional attention to every detail. “Every item in the course, from video captioning to Word and PDF documents to the hosting platform, had to be fully accessible,” she said. The course includes highly interactive features and personal stories of people with disabilities. Wirth explained that “these stories demonstrate the realities people with disabilities face and provide encouragement because they also show how they can overcome the challenges.”

Feedback from learners taking the course has been extremely postive, especially regarding the personal stories. "The video interviews demonstrating accessibility technology were very useful," one learner remarked. "I enjoyed 'meeting' people who really do use accessible technologies and seeing how they do their work."

While working on the course, Wirth became aware of the many elements of accessibility and how people with disabilities function in everyday life. “We tend to think about it in terms of web accessibility, but there is so much more to it,” she said. “For example, learners with disabilities face physical accessibility issues that we need to think about such as getting to different parts of a building or using a keyboard.” She also mentioned details such as providing weighted utensils at conferences or other learning events that include meals.

Ray Chang, senior graphic designer at GTPE, noted how much he learned about accessibility from a design perspective while working on the course. “I have since made many changes to the look of our other course templates, infographics, and color choices with accessibility in mind,” he said.

All GTPE team members agreed that one of the highlights of their experience of developing the ICT100x course was working with colleagues at AMAC. Edith Greenwood, interactive instructional media producer, mentioned, “I was enlightened in accessibility from examples shared by Arthur Murphy and other faculty members on the course during the production phases.”

And Brian Armstrong, media producer, shared how interesting he found it to learn about AMAC’s work. “They have a process for converting books to braille and a staff of people dedicated to making accessible versions of course materials,” he pointed out.   

Stephen Murphy, instructional technologist, summed up the overall experience of making this course a reality, "It was a privilege to have played a part in Georgia Tech’s first accessibility MOOC, and I’m proud of the success it has earned."