Case #6


Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler was asked to teach a three-credit, web-based distance learning course at the University of Washington. The topic of the course was issues and strategies regarding computing access for people with disabilities, content she had taught many times in a traditional class setting.

Access Issue

She anticipated that individuals with a wide range of disabilities would enroll in the course. Her goal was to employ universal design principles to make the course accessible to everyone, regardless of abilities and disabilities, language skills, and learning styles.


  1. Discuss potential solutions to the access issue described. There can be more than one good solution.
  2. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each proposed solution.
  3. Clarify the appropriate roles of the student, instructor, and campus support services in reaching a decision and providing accommodations if needed.
  4. After you have completed your discussion, read the access solution on the back of this handout that was employed in this scenario. Compare your proposed solutions with the solution used. Discuss the conclusions listed and add at least one more.


Dr. Burgstahler ensured the course books were available in alternate versions. Students who are blind or who have learning disabilities that impact reading ability could order an audio version of the text, while other students use the printed copy.

To show examples of adaptive technology that provide access to computers for people with disabilities, she selected a series of videos produced by the DO-IT Center. These films are open captioned, making them accessible to students who are deaf and to students for whom English is a second language. They are also available with audio description, a feature that describes aurally the visual content in the tape. This version is used by students who are blind.

Lessons for the course and course discussions took place over email: a fully accessible medium. Assignments and the final exam were also submitted via email. Course webpages were designed using universal design principles, ensuring access to all students.

As a prerequisite for the course, students were required to have access to email and the Internet. As a result, the university did not need to provide computer equipment, including adaptive technology, for those with disabilities. The course could, however, be taken using campus computers and adaptive technology as required by students with disabilities. The key was to offer to students with disabilities the same services offered to others.

Students from all over the world and with a variety of disabilities have enrolled in the course. As there are no in-person meetings and the course is designed to be fully accessible, there is no way to know how many students with disabilities have completed the course. Some students with disabilities have disclosed their disabilities voluntarily, but no one has needed a special accommodation. Disabilities disclosed include learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, and blindness.


This case demonstrates how:

  1. universal design concepts can be incorporated into the design process to create an accessible distance learning course
  2. employing access features in the design of a course can minimize the need for a student to disclose a disability and to request an accommodation