In the context of your courses, accessibility means making it possible for all students, regardless of physical or developmental impairment, to use all course materials and tools.
A course is accessible to the degree that every student can get to, perceive, and navigate course content and assignments; submit assignments, and successfully use all course tools. Accessible design is often included under the larger umbrella of “universal design for learning” because it considers all possible users.
Accessibility of your courses is important because:
- A significant number of people have disabilities that can make it difficult for them to take a course that has a high percentage of online content. According to 2010 U.S. Census estimates, almost one in five people have some kind of disability. Over half of these have a severe disability.
- Many students with disabilities prefer online learning activities to face-to-face learning activities. An accessible course with a variety of online content enables students with disabilities to participate on more equal footing with other students, without drawing attention to their disabilities, or being held back by them.
- Accessibility is required by law. Federal law requires universities to make courses accessible.
- Accessibility features benefit many students, not just those with documented disabilities. Just as physical accessibility measures have made life easier for many people not categorized as disabled (e.g., ramps assist people with carts, strollers, knee injuries, etc.), many of the accessibility features built into courses with a variety of online content help a wide range of students.
Challenges Faced By People With Disabilities Taking Courses With Online Content
There are four major categories of disability, and each type has different types of problems accessing online content. These disabilities can be permanent or temporary, and may result from genetics, disease, injury, or age-related changes.
Visual disabilities include blindness, low vision, and color blindness (White, Goette, & Young, 2005, p.5). Individuals with visual disabilities may:
- Need to use a screen reader and the keyboard to access what’s on a computer.
- Not be able to use a mouse.
- Not be able to tell one color from another.
- Need to enlarge text and illustrations in order to see them.
Video: Keeping Web Accessibility in Mind
The following video (Smith, 2012) demonstrates how people with disabilities access courses with online content. (Watch from the 2-minute mark until the 8:28 mark.)
Access directly within YouTube by clicking the share link arrow in the video’s top right corner, then click on the link that will appear in the middle of the video (See image below).
Hearing disabilities include partial and complete deafness. Individuals with hearing loss may not be able to hear the audio in podcasts, voice-over PowerPoints, videos, and other online media.
Cognitive disabilities (White, Goette, & Young, 2005, p.32). include learning disabilities and other disorders that make individuals especially distractible or unable to focus on, process, or remember information. Individuals with cognitive disabilities may:
- Have trouble reading text or interpreting illustrations.
- Need to use a screen reader to help them understand text.
- Be confused by complex layouts or navigation schemes.
- Have trouble focusing on or comprehending lengthy sections of text, audio, or video.
- Motor disabilities include paralysis and limited fine or gross motor control. Individuals with motor disabilities may:
- Not be able to access content that requires a mouse.
- Need to use assistive technologies like head wands and voice-recognition software to access a course.
- Nave slow response time.
- Become easily fatigued by movements that wouldn’t be tiring for most people.
Syllabus Statement Regarding Accessibility
Here is an example statement regarding accessibility that you could include in your syllabus:
Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
Every attempt will be made to accommodate qualified students with disabilities (e.g. mental health, learning, chronic health, physical, hearing, vision, neurological, etc.) You must have established your eligibility for support services through the appropriate office that services students with disabilities. Note that services are confidential, may take time to put into place and are not retroactive. Captions and alternate media for print materials may take three or more weeks to get produced. Please contact your campus adaptive educational services office as soon as possible if accommodations are needed.
The content found here was designed by Indiana University and adapted for use by the Institute for Faculty Development at Vanguard University. This course content is offered under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license and should be considered under this license unless otherwise noted. The original content was imported from “Designing and Teaching for Impact in Online Courses” from within Canvas Commons.