Accessibility in Online Education

Photo by UCB Admissions

Photo by UCB Admissions

Last week I gave a presentation to the people working in instructional technology at UCLA. This was a group consisting of instructional designers (ID), IT professionals, library technologist, and administrators. UCLA and the UC system as a whole has been grappling with accessibility and the costs involved with creating accessible online courses. This can often be a very touchy subject since there are very serious ramifications if 508 and ADA compliance are broken. There have been lawsuits at many universities including CAL, University of Colorado and MIT, just to name few. The Department of Justice often times has to step in and protect the rights of these disabled students.

I work on a University of California sub-committee called the Electronic Accessibility Leadership Team (EALT); our charge is to promote accessibility awareness throughout the UC system. We do not often get push backs, but there is very little movement to make improvement to website’s accessibility - especially once they are robustly developed. The costs are often too prohibitive, though I would argue that the costs of doing nothing are just as costly as making the improvements to the sites.

In 2013 the University of California was investigated by the by the Department of Justice for using text documents that are not Optical Character Recognition (OCR), meaning they cannot be used with a screen reader. These are relatively easy fixes that faculty and designers often over look.

I decided to record my presentation on accessibility and post it on Youtube and on internal site for other instructional designers who work at the University of California to view. I’m in the process for getting them captioned, so please don't judge me on that. 


Part one of the accessibility presentation reviews the need for accessibility in online education and the laws around accessibility including ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), Section 508 and Section 504 Accessibility Laws. I also cover Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG); this sections reviews at the high level the guiding principles for accessibility.  I also cover statistics about disabled people in this country, and on college students with disabilities, and the numbers may surprise you. This presentation is intended for instructional designers, web developers, and people who work with students and technology.  





Part two of the accessibility presentation covers best practices for web designers and instructional designers to build accessible online content. This section also explores the tools that are available to instructional designers to help them make better design decisions. I also stress the importance of communicating to disabled students their options and accommodations available to them at the office of students with disabilities. It is also worth noting that disabled students do not have to self-identify to the faculty or the school. I concluded with a section on how building accessible online content help many types of learners, not just students with disabilities.