Distance Education Accessibility

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 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II, 1990, and the ADA amendments of 2008, your university will provide reasonable accommodations for classes and residence halls in order to allow equal access. The goal of the university is 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, your campus 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 Office of Distance Education offers an accessibility-friendly Course Design Framework. KU D2L 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

Universal Design was defined in 1997 by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University as “The design of products and environments, to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” Universal Design is in use all around us, by architects, product designers, engineers and educators.  

Below is an excerpt from the Principles of Universal Design, developed by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University (1997) and modified by the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability at the University of Connecticut (2001). From the original nine principles, seven included in this list apply directly to Universal Design for Distance Education.  Principles six and seven apply more appropriately to the face-to-face classroom. The guide covers a wide range of design disciplines including environments, products, and communications. While not applicable in every situation, these nine principles may be universally applied to evaluate existing designs. The principles are intended to guide the design process and educate both designers and users about the characteristics of more functional environments. 

Source: Principles of Universal Design for Instruction, by Sally S. Scott, Joan M. McGuire, and Stan F. Shaw. Storrs: University of Connecticut, Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability.

  • Principle One: Equitable Use

    Instruction is designed to be useful to and accessible by people with diverse abilities. Provide the same means of use for all students; identical whenever possible, equivalent when not.

  • Principle Two: Flexibility in Use

    Instruction is designed to accommodate a wide range of individual abilities. Provide choice in methods of use.

  • Principle Three: Simple and Intuitive Use

    Instruction is designed in a straightforward and predictable manner, regardless of the student's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

  • Principle Four: Perceptible Information

    Instruction is designed so that necessary information is communicated effectively to the student, regardless of ambient conditions or the student's sensory abilities.

  • Principle Five: Tolerance for Error

    Instruction anticipates variation in individual student learning pace and prerequisite skills.

  • Principle Six: Low Physical Effort

    Instruction is designed to minimize nonessential physical effort in order to allow maximum attention to learning. Note: This principle does not apply when physical effort is integral to the essential requirements of a course.

  • Principle Seven: Size and space for approach and use

    Instruction is designed with consideration for appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulations, and use regardless of a student's body size, posture, mobility, and communication needs.

  • Principle Eight: A Community of Learners

    The instructional environment promotes interaction and communication among students and between students and faculty.

  • Principle Nine: Instructional Climate

    Instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive. High expectations are espoused for all students.