Designing Accessible Student Surveys and Course Evaluations: 6 Reasons You Should Include Your Entire Audience

Written by Sandrine Thiboutot, Explorance.

Disanbled white dog running with wheels

According to the Global Accessibility Awareness Day Foundation (GAAD), one billion people in our society have some level of physical or mental challenge that can stand in the way of clear communication. When we think of people living with disabilities, we tend to think of the most extreme situations (e.g., face blindness) when in fact, most disabilities are subtler and not always visible (e.g., colorblindness). Many disabilities are also temporary (e.g., concussions).

David Berman, UN Special Advisor on Web Accessibility, makes the strong argument that the Higher Education community invented accessibility and that more people have been liberated by technological advancements in North American universities than in all the revolutions and wars in human history. These changes mainly occurred in the last six decades, with most innovations in the e-accessibility space occurring in the United States and Canada.

“Computer-mediated accessibility to information represents the greatest liberation in human history,” says David. “When we design for the extremes and do it well, everyone benefits. Our budgets, our students, our administrators, our educators, and our society benefits.”

In this special blog for Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we look at why it is important to always design with accessibility in mind and how it will help your student surveys and course evaluations be more effective resources for your entire audience.

6 Reasons to Care about Accessibility

In the last few years, challenges formerly experienced by a minority of students, instructors, and staff suddenly became challenges for the majority. Many Higher Education Institutions were forced to face something they never fully understood – the importance of e-Accessibility for both synchronous and asynchronous education.  The good thing is that this realization led to breakthrough opportunities to improve the entire learning ecosystem. However, it shouldn’t take a global pandemic to justify why accessibility matters. Here’s why.

1.    There are just so many of us

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 18% of people live with a disability. That means that in a world population of 7+ billion, almost 1 billion people would be left out if we don’t take the necessary steps to improve our online content. Many disabilities are not clear to us.

Kinds of disabilities and challenges:

  • Permanent: Face blindness
  • Episodic: PTSD
  • Acquired: Ageing-related
  • Societal: Left-handedness


  • Visual
  • Dexterity/mobility/motor
  • Hearing
  • Language and speech
  • Cognitive
  • Social

When designing student surveys and course evaluations, it’s essential to consider how a person with a disability, challenge, or impairment might experience the entire process – from beginning to submission. Things to consider include the following:

  • Language – Are questions clear and simple to follow?
  • Question types – Are response options confusing and require a legend?
  • Buttons and boxes – Are buttons close to their labels?
  • Grids and tables – Can each question be separated as grids and tables are not easily navigated on screenreaders?
  • Keyboard controls – Can screenreaders use the tab key to skip to the next question or answer?
  • Images – Do images have alt text describing what the image is?
  • Color and font – Did you use clear contrasts for the text and background.? Can the font be adjusted in readers?

This is not an exhaustive list but an excellent start to get us thinking about accessible design.

2.    Search engines and AI can’t see or hear

Machines have substantial cognitive disabilities. David explains: “As clever as Google and Alexa are, it could still be argued that the Google search engine has the cognitive ability of a three or four-year-old.” When we design online products – courses, websites, courseware, surveys – in ways that follow accessibility guidelines (WCAG, Section 508), our content is more likely to be discovered, engaged with, and shared at the right time. This can lead to higher engagement and response rates on surveys and evaluations because making them accessible removes barriers for everyone responding.

3.    Competitive edge broaden your audience

In our highly competitive world — whether in organizations or academia —adapting to change is essential for businesses to stay a step ahead. We must create campuses where everything works for everyone to retain the best faculty, students, and staff.  People with disabilities deserve equal access and opportunities, and not providing these means we’re shutting ourselves out of recruiting, hiring, and retaining some of the very best people.

How can you compete against the next organization or institution if you’ve disqualified a considerable chunk (25%+) of the most qualified people? How can you claim you provide the best student or employee experience when accessibility is not part of your institution’s strategic priority?

4.    It’s just the right thing to do

“Creating a society where no one is left behind is a measure of a great civilization,” says David. In a world that is growing increasingly connected, many individuals still find themselves left out when accessing online material. We need to start measuring our success by how we treat those who are permanently or temporarily disabled.

5.    Legal expectations are shifting

We live in a time when the legal expectations for accessibility are rising.  More people, organizations, and Higher Education Institutions are finding themselves at the negative end of legal battles due to the lack of accessibility. The expectations of society are rising, and it can be expensive to come up short with accessibility.  

Around the world, WCAG is the legal standard for many countries. Since 2018, Section 508 – the US law – points to the WCAG standards way of measuring if you’re accessible or not. Any U.S. federal or federally funded organization (including universities and colleges) must deliver content that conforms to WCAG 2.0 AA. Ontario, Canada, was the first in the world to apply WCAG conformance into law, not just for government agencies and universities but also for the private sector. More jurisdictions around the globe are passing laws and regulations for websites to maintain a minimum level of standards around web accessibility, document accessibility, and PDF accessibility.

6.    The “Accessibility Dividend”

And finally, if we design and create experiences for all users (both atypical and typical), we don’t just accommodate but delight. We work right for the extreme cases and work right for everyone. We drive down the costs of maintaining our systems and reduce people abandoning processes online, ensuring that every learner’s voice is heard and makes a difference. By designing for both atypical and typical users we:

  • Drive down maintenance costs.
  • Reduce “form abandonment” rates for all users.
  • Increase conversion rates for all.
  • Increase and benefit from a “digital first “philosophy.

An equivalent experience for everyone – period

At Explorance, we truly believe that accessibility is a social responsibility. Our commitment to accessibility doesn’t stop at certification. “We don’t do accessibility at the end of a release to check a box on an RFP; we’ve had accessible products for so long that we build with accessibility in mind from the ground up,” comments Nitin Sharma, VP of Products.

Jonathan Lapierre, Chief Product and Technology Officer adds: Explorance Blue and Explorance MTM are all certified to be compliant with three different standards: 

  • The American Disabilities Act (ADA) Section 508
  • The Government of Canada’s Treasury Board (CLF 2.0)
  • W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA.

They also guarantee compliance with many other groups, such as Ontario’s AODA and emerging government and corporate standards from Australia to Norway to the Arabian Gulf.”

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