What are steps a distance learning program can take to assure the accessibility of courses?

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AccessIT Article ID: 1289

Distance learning programs need to address policy, practice, and technology issues in order to assure that their course offerings are accessible to all potential students and instructors, including those with disabilities. Ten Distance Learning Program Accessibility Indicators (DLP Accessibility Indicators) were identified through a nationwide collaboration of researchers and practitioners in a project directed by the University of Washington. The Indicators emerged through a process that included a review of the literature, years of experiences creating distance learning courses that are accessible to students and instructors with disabilities, and feedback from distance learning program administrators at institutions in the United States.

The Indicators can be used as a checklist for documenting programmatic changes that lead to improved accessibility of the courses of any distance-learning program.

Each Indicator relates to one of four key stakeholders in the delivery of distance learning courses; in some distance learning programs, one person may perform multiple roles. The Indicators are described in the following paragraphs.

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.

  • __ 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 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.

  • __ 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; and 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.

This list and more information on the DLP Accessibility Indicators can be found in the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Distance Learning.

For additional technical and policy information on making distance learning courses accessible, consult the AccessIT Knowledge Base articles Distance Learning 101: A Case Study on Accessibility in Collaboration, Do postsecondary institutions have to provide assistive technology (for example, screen enlargement or voice recognition software) to students with disabilities who enroll in distance learning courses?, Dr. Doe's Internet Course: A Case Study on Accessible Distance Learning, and What considerations should be made in order to develop accessible web-based distance learning courses?.

Last update or review: January 25, 2013