Accessible Distance Learning


Distance learning designers make courses accessible to students with disabilities:

  • Accessible design is good design, and often benefits all users.
  • Accessible design ensures that content is reaching the largest possible audience.
  • Web users are diverse. They include people using phones, tablets, and a wide variety of other devices. People with disabilities are part of this diverse mix.
  • An accessible website makes people with disabilities feel welcome.
  • Accessibility is required by law.

Access Challenges

Mainstream technology is inaccessible to some people.

  • People who are blind may use screen reader software or Braille devices to access a website; they can only access content that is text-based.
  • People who are deaf cannot access audio content unless it is captioned or transcribed.
  • Some individuals may not be able to use a mouse; they need to be able to navigate a web page and access all content with the keyboard alone.
  • Some people with low vision, dyslexia, attention deficit, or cognitive disabilities have difficulty processing long lines of text and/or cluttered screens, and depend on white space, simple screen images, and good color contrast.  


Design websites to be:


  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
  • Caption multimedia.
  • Present content in different ways.


  • Make all functionality available from keyboard alone.
  • Allow enough time to read content.
  • Help users navigate and find content.


  • Make content appear and operate predictably.
  • Help users avoid and correct errors.


  • Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.

Program Accessibility

Explore ten indicators of distance learning program accessibility at:
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 a DO-IT project. 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, and
  • distance learning program evaluators.


Making courses accessible to students with disabilities benefits society by:

  • enhancing academic and career fields with the expertise and perspectives of people with disabilities.
  • making learning opportunities available to more citizens.
  • providing more and better structured data for indexing and searching websites, documents, and media.


The following resources can help you get started in designing inclusive distance learning programs.

Standards & Guidelines

Further Guidance


DO-IT is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and the State of Washington. The Boeing Company, Microsoft, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and other organizations and individuals also contribute to DO-IT efforts.


DO-IT: Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology
DO-IT is a collaboration of:
College of Engineering
College of Education
UW Information Technology

University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, Washington 98195
Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.