Ten Indicators of Distance Learning Program Accessibility

Based on a review of the literature, experiences creating distance learning courses that are accessible to potential students and instructors with disabilities, collaborating with the University of Washington Distance Learning program in making its courses accessible, and work with distance learning administrators nationwide, ten indicators of accessible distance learning programs were identified. The Distance Learning Program Accessibility Indicators (DLP Accessibility Indicators) can be used as a checklist for documenting programmatic changes that lead to improved accessibility of the courses of any distance-learning program.

In an iterative process, the Indicators were shared with and refined with formative feedback from disabled student service and distance learning staff at sixteen postsecondary institutions as part of the DO-IT Admin (see http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/admin.html) project. This project was funded by the U.S. Department of Education (grant #P333A020044) and directed by DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) at the University of Washington. Participating schools possess a wide range of institutional characteristics-large and small schools, two-year and four-year institutions, and schools from rural, suburban, and urban areas. Each Indicator relates to one of four key stakeholders in the delivery of distance learning courses:

  1. students and potential students,
  2. distance learning designers,
  3. distance learning faculty, and
  4. distance learning program evaluators.

On many campuses, particularly those with small distance learning programs, one person may perform two or more of the last three roles. The Indicators in this ongoing project are listed below, along with explanations. These Indicators are published in the document Equal Access: Universal Design of Distance Learning at http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Technology/equal_access_uddl.html and in the following article: Burgstahler, S. (2006). The development of accessibility indicators for distance learning programs. Research in Learning Technology, 14(1), 79-102. Distance learning programs are encouraged to test these Indicators and send suggestions for improvements to this work in progress to sherylb@u.washington.edu.

For Students and Potential Students

Distance learning programs committed to accessibility assure that students and potential students know of the programs' commitment to accessible design, how to report inaccessible design features they discover, how to request accommodations, and how to obtain alternate formats of printed materials; the distance learning home page is accessible and all online and other course materials of distance learning courses are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

For Distance Learning Designers

Distance learning programs that are committed to accessibility assure that course designers understand the program's commitment to accessibility, have access to guidelines and resources; and learn about accessibility in training provided to course designers.

For Distance Learning Instructors

In distance learning programs committed to accessibility, publications and Web pages for distance learning instructors include a statement of the distance learning program's commitment to accessibility, guidelines regarding accessibility, and resources; and training for instructors includes accessibility content.

For Program Evaluators

Distance learning programs committed to accessibility have systems in place to monitor accessibility efforts and make adjustments based on evaluation results.