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Distance Learning FAQ

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Q. ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY: If I offer a distance learning course over the Internet, does my institution need to provide adaptive technology (sometimes called assistive technology) for students with disabilities who cannot access a standard computer?

A. You should provide the same services to students with disabilities that you provide to students without disabilities. If, for example, you expect all students to provide their own hardware and software to access the course, it is most likely reasonable to expect students with disabilities to come to the course with their own computer access solutions; your responsibility is then to make sure that your course materials are accessible to them as they use their adapted systems. Following this line of reasoning, if you assist prospective students in selecting appropriate hardware and software for accessing the course, this service should be provided to prospective students with disabilities who might need adaptive technology as part of their computer configuration. Similarly, if you allow students to take the course using campus computers, you should make available on at least one of those systems adaptive technology for a student with a disability who enrolls in the class. The key is to offer students with disabilities the same services offered to others.

Q. OVERALL CONSIDERATIONS: What basic considerations need to be made to assure my distance learning course is accessible to everyone?

A. Consult the publication and video entitled Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone

Q. DISCLOSURE: If I employ universal design principles in my distance learning course, how will I know if a student with a disability is enrolled?

A. Employing access features in the design of a course can minimize the need for a student to disclose a disability and request an accommodation. When a course is designed to be universally accessible, there may be no need for a student to disclose a disability and no need for you to know that this student has a disability.

Q. PHONE CONFERENCING: How can I make telephone conferencing in my distance learning course accessible a student who is deaf?

A. If you have a deaf student in your class, you might want to consider handling all discussions using e-mail or a text-based bulletin board system, which are typically accessible. If you would like to conduct phone conferences as well, discuss options with the deaf student and reach consensus on the best solution for maximizing the student's access to the discussion. One option is to use the telephone relay service. When a relay service is used, one person types her part of the conversation into a TTY/TDD. The message is read by a relay operator who also has a TTY/TDD. The relay operator then reads the message to the other party. As the other party responds, the relay operator types his message into the TTY/TDD unit and the message is then read by the person who is hearing or speech impaired. Postsecondary campus disabled student services offices may be able to suggest accommodations as well.

Q. INACCESSIBILITY: I just learned that a person who identified himself as blind enrolled in my Web-based learning course that begins in two weeks. I have no idea if the course materials are accessible. What should I do?

A. Of course, ideally, you would have addressed access issues during the course development process. Keep this in mind for the future. For your immediate problem, your best resources are a postsecondary disabled student services office, computing staff, and the student himself. Consider contacting the student to find out what special technology he is using to access the course. You might provide him with access to some of the Web-based course materials early so that he can test for accessibility and give you guidance. Describe to him other special materials (e.g., videotapes, printed materials) that you are using in the course to identify and solve access challenges.

Q. VIDEOTAPE: I use a videotape that was created on our campus in my distance learning course. It is not captioned. How can I get it captioned for prospective students who are deaf?

A. Contact the campus videotape projection service who created your videotape. Ask them to put the captioning on the tape; if they do not have this expertise, have them contract with an external captioning service that will do this.

Q. COMMERCIAL VIDEOTAPE: I use a commercially produced videotape that is not captioned. How can I get it captioned for prospective students who are deaf?

A. Contact the company that produced the videotape and ask for a captioned version. If not available, ask for a full transcript of the audio. If you cannot obtain either of these options from the publisher, your institution must arrange for access, perhaps by creating a transcript or by hiring a sign language interpreter wherever the student is located.

Q. CAPTIONED VIDEOTAPE: Should I distribute a captioned version of my course videotape to all students or just to disabled students who request an accommodation?

A. There are two advantages of distributing the captioned form of the videotape to all students. First, this means that a student with a disability such as a hearing impairment does not need to disclose their disability and make a special request; this respects their privacy and minimizes administrative work. Second, distributing this version to everyone may benefit students who would not make a special request for a captioned tape. This could include students with different types of learning styles, students for whom English is a second language, and individuals who have learning disabilities.

Q. AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT: Does the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 apply to distance learning programs?

A. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 does not specifically mention distance learning. However, in general it requires that people with disabilities be provided equal access to programs and services offered to the public, as distance learning courses are. According to this law, no otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities shall, solely by reason of their disabilities, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in these programs. The United States Department of Justice clarified that the ADA accessibility requirements apply to programs offered on the Internet when it stated "Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well." (ADA accessibility requirements apply to Internet Web pages, 1996, The Law Reporter, 10(6), 1053-1084). Specifically, if a qualified person with a disability enrolls in a distance learning course offered via the Internet, the course must be made available to her.

Q. TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE: How can I get help in making my distance learning course accessible?

A. Consult the resources section of this area of The Faculty Room to learn more about making distance learning courses accessible. You can also contact your disabled student services and computing services organizations on campus to determine if they can provide assistance. Your state "Tech Act" adaptive technology center may also be able to help. For contact information in your state contact:

RESNA 703-524-6686 (voice) 703-524-6639 (TTY)

Q. ACCESSIBLE WEB PAGES: How can I test the Web pages in my distance learning course to make sure they are accessible to the widest audience?

A. Web pages for a distance learning class should be tested with a variety of monitors, computer platforms, and Web browsers. One of the test browsers should be text-only, such as Lynx, a Web browser developed at the University of Kansas. If the content of a Web page is accessible with Lynx, then most people with sensory impairments can read it, too. Another good accessibility test is to determine if all functions at a Web site can be accessed using a keyboard alone. A Web site can also be tested for accessibility using "Bobby". Bobby, created at the Center for Applied Special Technology, is an HTML validator program that tests for accessibility and identifies non-standard and incorrect HTML coding.

For answers to more questions, search the Knowledge Base.