Information Access


After this presentation, faculty and administrators will be able to:

  • list typical ways that information is presented at postsecondary institutions (e.g., lectures, printed materials, webpages, email, videos)
  • describe the challenges each mode of information delivery creates for people with different types of disabilities
  • list solutions to the barriers to obtaining information students with disabilities typically face in academic settings


Approximately 90 minutes.


Department chair, faculty, staff, TA, student, or other department member who has experience working with technology and with students with disabilities. The program may be co?presented with a staff member of a campus unit responsible for providing academic or computing accommodations for students with disabilities.


  • Select the presenter(s).
  • Develop presentation outline and activities using the "Sample Script" provided in this section and the ideas listed in the Presentation Tips section of this notebook.
  • Create presentation slides from provided templates.
  • Add the contact information for campus resources to the "Resources" slide and to printed publications as appropriate.
  • Photocopy the handout templates Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology and World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design. Create alternative formats as necessary.
  • Photocopy the presentation evaluation instrument to distribute at the end of the session or create your own.
  • Add a link to your department's website to The Faculty Room at and to The Center for Universal Design in Education at

Equipment and Tools

  • DVD player and monitor
  • Video projector, computer, and presentation slides; Internet connection (optional)
  • Videos (open captioned and audio described versions of Computer Access: In Our Own Words and World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design/)
  • Handouts (Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology and World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design)
  • Presentation evaluation instrument

Presentation Outline

  1. Distribute handouts.
  2. Introductions.
  3. Begin presentation.
  4. Introduce and play videos as noted in the script.
  5. Discuss possible accommodation strategies and department or campus issues.
  6. Note campus resources.
  7. Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.


For further preparation resources for this presentation, consult

Sample Script

Today we'll be discussing the challenges that people with disabilities face in accessing the information we provide in postsecondary education institutions and the means of ensuring their full access to the content.

The objectives of this presentation are to:

  • describe ways that information is presented in postsecondary institutions
  • discuss the challenges each mode of information delivery creates for people with different types of disabilities
  • list solutions to the barriers students with disabilities typically face when obtaining information in academic settings

Presentation Modes

Colleges and universities are in the business of sharing information, and we do it in many forms, including spoken, printed, and web-based media.

In our academic programs, we share information through classroom work, labs, homework assignments, library resources, webpages, and distance learning programs.

On our campus, the administration provides information to students through processes such as registration and records. We provide information to the public through our many publications and webpages. How else do we provide information to our students and employees and to the public? [Solicit input from participants.]

Specific methods that we use to impart information are not accessible to some people, particularly those with visual impairments, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, speech impairments, and health impairments. Those whose first language is not English or who have alternative learning styles also face difficulties in accessing some types of information.

Besides being the right thing to do, in the case of people with disabilities, it is our legal obligation to provide access to all of the programs and services we offer. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that "no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his/her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity."

Access Challenges

Let's look at some of the specific ways we impart information on our campus and the challenges these modes impose.

Spoken Word

Much of the information in our classes is presented via the spoken word. Which of our students might have difficulty accessing information in this way, and how can we ensure access?

[Solicit input from participants to make this portion interactive. Be sure to cover issues related to the following:

  • Low vision (e.g., description of visual aids that may accompany spoken word, technology to help with notetaking).
  • Blindness (e.g., description of visual aids that accompany spoken word, technology to help with notetaking).
  • Deaf or hearing impairment (e.g., sign language interpretation, notetaking, real-time captioning, lip-reading, printed information).
  • Speech impairment (e.g., computer-based communication devices, opportunities to ask questions and participate in discussions via printed format, discussions conducted electronically, more time to communicate orally).
  • Mobility impairment (e.g., accessible classroom/meeting locations for in- and out-of-class activities, reserved seating, notetaker, information provided electronically or in printed format).
  • Health impairment (e.g., extra exam time, information provided electronically, discussions conducted electronically, notetaker).
  • Learning disability, English is a second language, and visual learner (e.g., printed information, clear and well-organized information, visual cues, captions, electronic text).]

Printed Word or Images

We also impart information to our students via printed word or image. What access challenges do we create when we deliver information in this way?

[Solicit input from participants. Be sure to cover the following issues in the discussion:

  • Low vision (e.g., use a copy machine to enlarge printed materials, reformat electronic documents into large print, send the material in an electronic text format, audio books, audio description of visual content).
  • Blindness (e.g., provide information in an electronic text format to be used with a computer system for speech output or Braille output, to create the materials in Braille or audio format, audio books, audio description of visual content).
  • Deaf or hearing impairment (typically do not have challenges accessing the printed word).
  • Speech impairment (typically do not have challenges accessing the printed word).
  • Mobility impairment (e.g., materials in an electronic format if unable to manipulate printed materials).
  • Health impairment (e.g., materials in electronic form if unable to manipulate printed materials).
  • Learning disability, English as a second language, and visual learner (e.g., create printed information that is clear, well-organized, and includes visuals such as overheads, graphics, and diagrams).]

Video and Televised Content

People with what types of characteristics might have difficulty accessing video or televised content? [You may want to put up the list of disability types again and go through the list to solicit input that may include hearing impairments, learning disabilities, and English as a second language, for which captioning and transcription can be useful; and blindness, for which audio description of visual content might be appropriate.]

Audio Content

For audio content, a written transcript or real-time captioning can be helpful for students with hearing impairments, learning disabilities, or for whom English is a second language.

Computer-Based Content

For the rest of our time today we will focus on computer-based technology, which is a common mode for delivering information. We will discuss the access issues and solutions for specific individuals.

There are two levels where access barriers can occur. The first challenge is gaining access to the computer itself. The second is gaining access to the information delivered via computer.

Let's discuss the first challenge, computer access. To cover this topic, we will view a video in which individuals discuss the various ways they access computers, some using adaptive (or assistive) technology. Note that this video is captioned, which makes it more accessible to individuals who have hearing impairments, those for whom English is a second language, and those who have learning disabilities. This version of the video is also audio-described, so you will notice an additional voice that periodically describes the visual content for a viewer who is blind.

[Solicit questions and comments from the audience.]

The adaptive (or assistive) technology demonstrated in the video provides access to the computer hardware. However, the software, including websites, must be designed in such a way that they can be accessed by individuals who use adaptive technology. Providing information on webpages in accessible format is the right thing to do. The ADA also requires that we make information accessible to individuals with disabilities. A Department of Justice ruling in 1996, clarified that the ADA also applies to information delivered over the Internet. Developing webpages in an accessible format can also help us avoid costly and time-consuming redesign at a later time if an individual with a disability needs access to the content.

Now we will view a short video that shows how websites can be designed so that they are accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and people for whom English is a second language.

[Solicit questions and comments from the audience.]

Case Study

[Consider having participants discuss a case study. Case #5 in the Presentation Tips section.]


Today we have focused on how we can impart information in a way that makes it accessible to everyone. A good way to conceptualize this topic is to think about it as an application of the principles of universal design.

Universal design is "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, without the need for adaptation or specialized design."

If, in every way we present information, we think about the variety of characteristics of individuals with whom we want to share this information, we can ensure that everyone can access the content.


Here are some resources that might be useful to you as you work to maximize access to information for all students in your classes. [Elaborate.]

For comprehensive information on accommodations, a wide range of case studies, frequently asked questions, and general resources, visit The Faculty Room at and The Center for Universal Design in Education at

These resource were developed at the University of Washington as part of a nationwide project to provide resources to faculty and administrators so that they can make their courses and programs accessible to all students. You can link to these resources from ____. [Arrange to provide a link from your campus' disabled student services website before the presentation.] Consider linking to these websites from your department's faculty website.

Thank you for your time today and for your interest in finding ways to ensure that all of the students in our programs have equal opportunities to learn, explore interests, and express ideas.