What are some steps that distance learning program administrators can take to ensure the accessibility of their courses?

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Many steps need to be taken to ensure that distance learning courses are accessible to potential students with disabilities. Exploratory research has been undertaken at the University of Washington to develop a list of Distance Learning Program Accessibility Indicators (DLP Accessibility Indicators). The list was based on a review of the literature and collaborator experiences creating distance learning courses that are accessible to potential students and instructors with disabilities. The 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 refined with formative feedback from disabled student service and distance learning staff at sixteen postsecondary institutions as part of the DO-IT Admin 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. Collaborator 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:

  • students and potential students
  • distance learning designers
  • distance learning faculty
  • 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.

For Students and Potential Students

Distance learning programs committed to accessibility ensure 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 course materials of distance learning courses are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 1. The distance learning home page is accessible to individuals with disabilities (e.g., it adheres to Section 508, World Wide Web Consortium or institutional accessible-design guidelines/standards).
  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 2. A statement about the distance learning program's commitment to accessible design for all potential students, including those with disabilities, is included prominently in appropriate publications and websites along with contact information for reporting inaccessible design features.
  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 3. A statement about how distance learning students with disabilities can request accommodations is included in appropriate publications and web pages.
  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 4. A statement about how people can obtain alternate formats of printed materials is included in publications.
  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 5. The 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 ensure 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.

  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 6. Publications and web pages for distance learning course designers include: a) a statement of the program's commitment to accessibility, b) guidelines/standards regarding accessibility, and c) resources.
  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 7. Accessibility issues are covered in regular course designer training.

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, as well as training for instructors includes accessibility content.

  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 8. Publications and web pages for distance learning instructors include: a) a statement of the distance learning program's commitment to accessibility, b) guidelines/standards regarding accessibility, and c) resources.
  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 9. Accessibility issues are covered in training sessions for instructors.

For Program Evaluators

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

  • DLP Accessibility Indicator 10. A system is in place to monitor the accessibility of courses and, based on this evaluation, the program takes actions to improve the accessibility of specific courses as well as update information and training given to potential students, students, course designers and instructors.

For more information about the accessibility indicators consult the DO-IT publication, Equal Access: Universal Design of Distance Learning. Suggest revisions to the ten Indicators to the director of this project, Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler, at sherylb@u.washington.edu.

Last update or review: January 25, 2013