How can I get started in making my distance learning course accessible to all students?

Date Updated

Be proactive in making distance learning courses accessible. Don't wait until students with a disabilities enroll to address accessibility issues; consider them from the start. Applying universal design principles benefits people both with and without disabilities. Begin by thinking about the wide range of abilities and disabilities potential students might have with respect to sight, hearing, mobility, and learning styles and abilities. Make sure course materials can be accessed with sight, hearing, or the keyboard alone. Consider following the guidelines below from the DO-IT publication and video 20 Tips for Instructors about Making Online Learning Courses Accessible.

For course web pages, documents, images, and videos:

  • Use clear, consistent layouts and organization schemes for presenting content.
  • Structure headings (using style features built into the Learning Management System, Word, PowerPoint (PPT), PDFs, etc.) and use built-in designs/layouts (e.g., for PPT slides). • Use descriptive wording for hyperlink text (e.g., “DO-IT Knowledge Base” rather than “click here”).  
  • Minimize the use of PDFs, especially presented when as an image; make sure the text is accessible by testing to see if you can copy and paste it). Always offer a text based alternative as well. 
  • Provide concise alternative text descriptions of content presented within images. 
  • Use large, bold fonts on uncluttered pages with plain backgrounds. 
  • Use color combinations that are high contrast and can be read by those who are colorblind.  
  • Make sure all content and navigation is accessible using the keyboard alone.  
  • Caption or transcribe video and audio content.

With respect to instructional methods: 

  • Assume students have a wide range of technology skills and provide options for gaining the technology skills needed for course participation.  
  • Present content in multiple ways (e.g., in a combination of text, video, audio, and/or image format). 
  • Address a wide range of language skills as you write content (e.g., spell acronyms, define terms, avoid or define jargon). 
  • Make instructions and expectations clear for activities, projects, and assigned reading.  
  • Make examples and assignments relevant to learners with a wide variety of interests and backgrounds. 
  • Offer outlines and other scaffolding tools to help students learn. 
  • Provide adequate opportunities for practice. 
  • Allow adequate time for activities, projects, and tests (e.g., give details of project assignments in the syllabus so that students can start working on them early). 
  • Provide feedback on project parts and offer corrective opportunities.  
  • Provide options for communicating and collaborating that are accessible to individuals with a variety of disabilities.
  • Provide options for demonstrating learning (e.g., different types of test items, portfolios, presentations, discussions).

For information on how to do all of these things and much more, consult the many resources linked from the comprehensive website AccessDL, the Center for Accessible Distance Learning.