Overview

Accessibility in online education ensures that all students–including those with a disability–are able to access course materials and tools and receive an equivalent education. According to the US Department of Education, accessible “means a person with a disability is … able to obtain the information as fully, equally and independently as a person without a disability” [1]. UF defines accessible as enabling “disabled individuals to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as individuals without disabilities, with substantially equivalent ease of use, using reasonable accommodations when necessary” [2]. More than legal compliance, accessibility takes into account the diverse needs of all learners, which has the potential to help all students be successful [3]. Creating an accessible course may initially seem daunting, but with the right resources, especially Accessible UF, the process is easier than you think.

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Application

Applying accessible design principles during course design is a crucial step toward creating an inclusive learning environment. An accessible course anticipates the needs of diverse learners and aims to provide students flexibility for accessing course material and demonstrating their knowledge. For example, course content can be provided in multiple ways, such as readings as well as video accompanied by a transcript and closed captioning. Assessments can be varied, such as including discussions and projects in addition to quizzes or exams or providing students some flexibility or choice (e.g., allowing students to select how they’ll present their content or which software they’ll use). Additionally, logical heading structure, alternative text for images, and adequate color contrast can also enhance a course’s accessibility.

 

Taking into account accessibility when planning your course also minimizes the need to recreate or adjust instructional materials and technology later. However, even after applying accessible design principles to your course you will still need to be prepared to make adjustments to assignments for students requesting accommodations. For example, you may need to consider offering an alternative assignment that measures the same objectives but does not require the use of the particular visual or interactive tool. The Disability Resource Center can provide support for adapting assignments for students who request accommodations.

 

Best Practices

The following are suggestions to increase a course’s accessibility:

  • Adopt a universal design approach: Assuming that students will have diverse abilities and needs can help proactively identify any barriers and work towards minimizing them. Encourage students to approach you to identify any hurdles that prevent them from fully participating in the course.
  • Provide content in multiple formats: Vary the type of content you provide (text, video, audio) and provide text to accompany any audio or visual content (transcript, closed captioning, written instructions). If content is not accessible, consider using SensusAccess to convert the document, working with a librarian to locate a new source, or working with an instructional designer to create a new version that is accessible.
  • Consider how the use of assistive technology may impact student interactions with your course content: Developing an awareness of different types of assistive technology (e.g., a screen reader, eye tracker, or head pointer) and how they are used can help you better understand the importance of using headings, providing alternative text for images, and selecting text colors and background colors with appropriate contrast.
  • Choose technology that is transparent about its accessibility: When searching for an educational tool or technology, look for a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), which evaluates the tool’s conformance to accessibility standards.

 

References and Additional Resources

Citations

[1] Office for Civil Rights. (2013). U.S. Department of Education, “Resolution Agreement.”

[2] University of Florida. (2017). “EIT Accessibility Policy.”

[3] Perez, S. (2015). Educause, “From Accommodations to Accessibility: Creating Learning Environments that Work for All.”

 

Further Exploration

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