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Keeping youth programs accessible to all in a virtual learning world

What makes a virtual youth program accessible to people with disabilities? Many of us are good at making physical spaces accessible, but many forget, or don't know, that virtual programs also take special considerations to ensure they are accessible to all.
When planning virtual programs, we must keep those with disabilities at the front of our minds. Having a truly accessible virtual program takes some thought at every stage of planning.

What is accessible?

According to the ADA Compliance for Online Course Design, accessible means that a learning opportunity is equally available, enjoyable and of the same quality for those with a disability as for those without a disability, without special accomodation. 

3 time frames

Accessibility isn't "one and done." For youth program planning, there are three important time frames:
·       Planning. Share with participants beforehand how you will make the program accessible to them. It makes youth and their families feel welcome and gives them a chance to request additional accommodations, if needed.
·        During. Include accessible program elements such as descriptive language, captions, patience with new technologies, and scheduled breaks. Offer meeting materials in accessible formats. It often helps to have one staff member or volunteer responsible for these elements.
·        After. As educators, we always want to learn how to improve. After a program, ask for feedback on how it could be improved.

Apply the 5 C’s of dropping out

Commonly applied to high schools, the 5 C’s of dropping out  are just as relevant to youth programs:
·        Connect. We have the ability to connect our programs to the participants’ future outside of our program. This will encourage participants to take action and start seeing the bigger picture outside of the here and now.
·        Climate. In youth development, climate is something I believe we all strive to make positive and inclusive. Youth are more likely to participate in programming where they feel safe.
·       Control. In developing our programs, we should encourage all youth to have some degree of control over the path of their learning. Project based learning provides youth with great opportunities to have this control.  As educators, we should encourage youth creativity.
·       Curriculum. While it is crucial to have curriculum planned for youth programs, it is important that we allow space for our programs to be flexible in order to meet participant needs, learning speed, and questions.
·       Care. Making programs accessible is one of many ways we can show youth that we care about them.
Virtual programs are a chance to reach new audiences with disabilities. What strategies do you apply to your programs to make them more accessible? 
Samantha Payne, Extension educator, 4-H youth development
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  1. As youth development professionals, the past few months have given us the opportunity to greatly grow in our programming skill set as we have invested in offering high quality learning environments virtually. Having recently completed a 3 day youth leadership conference all virtually, the feedback from the youth reminded us that virtual is not "less than" but for some youth the preferred learning environment for a variety of reasons, including easier accessibility. Barriers such as cost, transportation, having to be a room with 300 other people, staying away from home overnight all affect a young persons ability to fully participate in programming.
    This ability for youth programming to reach more youth is exciting as we continue to meet the needs of all youth. Thank you for highlighting such an essential component!


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