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

Date Updated
2/25/15

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.Below are a few key qualities of an accessibly designed course:

  • Include a statement on the syllabus about how to request a disability-related accommodation and how to report a design feature of the course that is not accessible.
  • Make learning objectives, expectations, assignments and due dates, grading rubrics, assessment questions, and other course elements clear. 
  • Use consistent and predictable screen layouts and single columns when possible.
  • Structure lesson pages and documents using the heading feature of the product you are using (e.g., Word, PDF).
  • Make sure the text of links is descriptive of the resource linked to rather than use wording like "click here".
  • Make sure that color is not the only way to convey important information and make background screens plain and with high contrast to text.
  • Share definitions of terms that might be unknown to some students.
  • Provide alternative text to describe important contnt presented in images.
  • Caption videos or, when not possible to do so, provide transcriptions.
  • Design HTML, Word, PowerPoint, and PDF documents in accessible formats.

For information on how to do all of these things and much more, consult Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone and IMS Guidelines for Developing Accessible Learning Applications and the comprehensive website AccessDL, the Center for Accessible Distance Learning.