Accessibility in Your Classes

Accessibility and Usability

“Americans with disabilities are Americans first and foremost, and like all Americans are entitled to not only full participation in our society, but also full opportunity in our society.”

--President Barack Obama, 2010

To meet the needs of enrolled students with disabilities and to comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II, 1990, and the ADA amendments of 2008, KU will provide reasonable accommodations for classes in order to allow equal access to provide the education necessary for qualified students with disabilities to function as self-sustaining individuals.

In addition, when building online course materials it is important to bear in mind that, as a public university, KU is required to meet Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 standards for web-based intranet and internet information and applications. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania follows Section 508 Web Accessibility Standards. As of June 30, 2001, all agencies under the Governor's jurisdiction are required to ensure web sites (both existing and in development) comply with Section 508 accessibility guidelines. Conforming to these standards requires that materials that would pose problems for students with disabilities need to be altered to accommodate the disabled. Examples of materials that would require accommodations would include:

  • Videos that have audio would need captioning and/or text transcripts
  • Audio files would need text transcripts
  • Images should have alternate text or descriptions set for them to convey meaning
  • Color-blind individuals should be able to interpret a page successfully
  • All pages and documents should be accessible via screen reading software
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: what you need to know

    Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794d), as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-220), August 7, 1998, or simply Section 508, is part of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires that all website content be accessible to people with disabilities. This applies to web-based applications and pages (HTML), and all attached files including MS Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), Adobe Acrobat (.pdf), and multimedia (video and audio). Fortunately, D2L is among the industry leaders in providing a learning environment that is accessible and meets Section 508 Standards.

    Section 508 is meant to help:

    • 6.4 million people in the United States who have a visual disability.
    • 10.5 million people in United States population who have a hearing disability.
    • 20.9 million people in United States population who have an ambulatory disability.
    • 14.8 million people in United States population who have a cognitive disability.

Additional Resources

  • WebAim: Section 508 Web Checklist
  • Erickson, W., Lee, C., & von Schrader, S. (2012). 2010 Disability Status Report: United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI).
Barriers to Access & Building Accessibility into Your Course

With the adoption and increasing use of technology to teach and learn, a student with a disability can face many barriers to access, specifically access to instructional materials or resources such as video, audio, interactive resources, animations and/or simulations. Described below are a few examples of access challenges faced by those in typical distance learning courses, and some ways they are mitigated.

  • Blindness or Other Visual Impairments

    Those who are blind and cannot interpret graphics (such as photographs, drawing and image maps) unless text alternatives are provided.  Some learners may use a computer equipped with screen reader software and a speech synthesizer or a text-based web browser. Those who can see only a small portion of a web page at a time can use special software to enlarge screen images. Individuals who are colorblind cannot easily navigate when distinguishing between colors is required. 

    Activity: Color Simulation - See what color blindness and cataract looks like.

  • Hearing Impairments

    When resources include audio output without providing text captioning or transcription, a student who is deaf is denied are inaccessible to this student. He may also be unable to participate in a telephone or video conference without special accommodations.

    Activity: A simple hearing loss simulator.

    Activity: What hearing loss sounds like.

  • Speech Impairments

    A student with a speech impairment may not be able to effectively participate in interactive telephone conferences or video conferences. Chat features, discussion boards or email are valuable alternatives.

    Activity: A website with audio and video samples of Functional Voice Disorders. This is a clinical website but worth taking a look.

    Activity: Voice disorder simulator from the University of Wisconsin system

Building Accessibility into Your Course

When designing your course within D2L, you can go a long way towards making your class and web-based materials accessible to the majority of your audience by employing some simple methods, such as utilizing accessibility and assistive technology tools that are available within D2L. 

The CEL offers an accessibility-friendly Course Design Framework. KU D2L also offers a built-in document reader called Readspeaker. Learn more about Readspeaker.

Disability Services serves otherwise qualified students and employees with disabilities. Services can include access to interpreters, note-takers, access to specialized software, test moderating services, and coordination of special needs such as more time or a printed version of an online test or exam. It is university policy to adhere to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and its amendments of 2008.  Disability Services assists the university in providing reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who are members of the university academic community or who utilize the university facilities.

For more information, contact the Kutztown University Disability Services Office or see the Faculty Guide to Accommodations.

  • Design - General Guidelines for Improved Accessibility

    As you are aware, designing a course for the online environment can be quite different from designing for a face-to-face course.  When implementing the principles of universal design, keep your instructional methods and approaches simple, keeping in mind potential barriers to access. Below are some guidelines to consider when designing an accessible course:

    • Keep the design simple, clean, and uncluttered.
    • Use alternate text tags for images. For example, you can add alternate text when you embed an image from the web. Doing this will mean that people who use a screen reader to read aloud about the contents of a web page will hear an auditory description of the image.
    • Rather than pasting in “raw” URLs, link to words that describe the link destination. Again, this will help people using a screen reader understand where the link will take them.
    • Use other formatting besides color (bold words, different size font) to distinguish between important items in your course. Changing the font size rather than using different colors will benefit those people who cannot differentiate colors.
    • Use the header style for section and topic headings. This allows people using a screen reader to navigate through the page by section rather than having to read through an entire page to locate a specific section.
    • Advocate the use of CTRL+ and CTRL- or CMD+ and CMD= to resize the text in the course for the visually impaired.
  • Captioning and transcribing videos

Additional Resources

Principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people, based on scientific insights into how humans learn. The principles of UDL aim to develop expert learners by using a variety of teaching methods to lower barriers to learning, and give all learners equal opportunities to succeed. By applying the principles of UDL, we build in flexibility that addresses learners’ strengths and needs.

When first encountering UDL, there's a danger of misunderstanding the framework and its purpose. Some people initially conclude, "It's just good teaching," or "It's the same as Differentiated Instruction," or, "We're supposed to let students follow their interests and see what happens."

To get you off on the right foot, we are going to define what UDL is and is not.

UDL is a lens, not a checklist

When first encountering the UDL guidelines, with its colors, levels, bullet points, etc., it is common for people to assume the guidelines are a checklist of "stuff to do". Or, if you're employing a strategy that could possibly be used to address a checkpoint, then you're "doing UDL." UDL is a lens for examining our learning environments. We're looking for firm goals with flexible paths to meeting them. Where do we see barriers, and what are we prepared to do about them? The guidelines give us guidance on where to look for barriers and how we might address them, but they're not a prescriptive "to do" list.

Now, looking at the guidelines, you might think, "How am I supposed to do this all the time?" That brings us to our next point...

UDL is a marathon, not a sprint

Building your capacity to implement UDL is a slow, deliberate process. It's not something that's done overnight; that should not be the expectation put on anyone, even by themselves. UDL is done by putting one foot in front of the other and pacing yourself for the long haul. Marathons have finish lines, while pursuing UDL is closer to becoming a great runner than simply running a race, which leads us to...

UDL is a journey, not a destination

It's important to celebrate successes and learn from failures along the way, but the moment you stop trying to improve is the moment you stop improving. You may have heard the 10,000 hours rule -- that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery. There are two things to remember about that notion:

Deliberate practice is not the same as reaching a level of competency and then doing the same routines.
True masters will tell you in great detail all the ways in which they could improve.

UDL is standards-based, not standardized

UDL is a framework for supporting high expectations for all learners while offering flexible paths to demonstrating goal proficiency. UDL is not "everyone does what they want", but it embraces and supports variability in the ways learners engage with, perceive, and act upon the learning. In that sense, UDL has firm goals and flexible means.

Three Principles of UDL

The three principles of UDL support you to effectively respond to the variability in your classroom by incorporating variety, flexibility, and choice into how you design and deliver your course.

  • Principle One: provide multiple means of engagement

    The “WHY” of learning concerns how you make learning relevant and meaningful to your learners by giving them a variety of ways to engage positively with course materials and participants. The aim of this principle is to create purposeful and motivated learners.

  • Principle Two: Provide multiple means of representation

    The “WHAT” of learning concerns how you represent knowledge and content and offer choice to your learners in how they access and process learning. The aim of this principle is to create knowledgeable and resourceful learners.

  • Principle Three: provide multiple means of action and expression.

    The “HOW” of learning concerns how you offer ways that your learners can express themselves and demonstrate what they know in a way that works for them, as well as how they can plan to effectively use their knowledge to reach their learning goals. The aim of this principle is to create strategic and goal-directed learners.

If you would like to find out more, you can enroll in the self-paced Basics of UDL course, which will be available Summer, 2023. You will receive a digital badge and certificate upon completion.

Additional Resources