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Personal Development

Online Learning Accessibility

An accessible online learning allows students with disabilities to engage on a more equal footing with other students, without calling attention to or being held back by their disability.

The invention of the internet brought with it a need for web accessibility the practice of ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to web content and functionality.

Legally, accessibility is necessary. Universities are required by federal law to make their courses accessible.

Because e-learning takes place through the internet, online content and courses need to be accessible. Some students may face challenges that include visual or hearing impairments or learning disabilities. One approach is to rely on universal design principles in fashioning content and courses.

Universal design involves the thoughtful development of products and environments so they’re usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Employing universal design principles creates a more accessible world, one where there’s less need for alterations or work-arounds.

What does following universal design mean for the development of online learning? It means

  • using an accessible learning management system
  • creating well-structured web pages and simple, consistent navigation that can be understood easily by screen readers
  • writing descriptive tags for images
  • offering closed captioning for video
  • providing documents in accessible formats

In the end, these practices and others create online learning that can be used as effectively by people with disabilities, as by those without.

Accessible online learning can also help those who would not consider themselves disabled. For example, captioning video segments or creating transcripts for audio presentations to assist deaf learners can also help those watching in a noisy environment, or for whom English is a second language.

When online learning is developed employing universal design principles, the end result is content and courses that appeal to a variety of learning styles and preferences and that help students achieve their educational goals.

Key Terms in Accessibility

The following table includes key terms in the field of accessibility and their definitions.

TermDefinition
Accessibility checkersTools that analyze Web pages for their accessibility by people with disabilities.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)Federal law that protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in the operations of public businesses and governments.
Assistive technologies (AT)Devices or services that are used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a student with a disability.

Some assistive technology involves separate computer programs or devices, such as screen readers, text enlargement software, and computer programs that enable people to control the computer with their voice. Other assistive technology is built into computer operating systems. For example, basic accessibility features in computer operating systems enable some people with low vision to see computer displays by simply adjusting color schemes, contrast settings, and font sizes. Operating systems enable people with limited manual dexterity to move the mouse pointer using key strokes instead of a standard mouse. SOURCE: ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments.
Closed captioning (CC)Text versions of the spoken part of a television, movie, or computer presentation. Closed captioning was developed to aid hearing-impaired people.
DisabilityFor purposes of federal nondiscrimination laws, a person with a disability is generally defined as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities,” (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.
HTML“Hypertext mark-up language,” a common mark-up language used to present web pages. It tells the web browser how information should be structured and accessed.
HTML tagsSpecific instructions understood by a web browser or screen reader. One feature of HTML is the “alt” attribute (short for “alternative text”); it is used to provide brief text descriptions of images that screen readers can understand and speak. Another, called a “longdesc” attribute (short for “long description”), is used to provide long text descriptions that can be spoken by screen readers.
ISO/IEC 24751The International Standards Organization’s guidelines for individualized adaptability and accessibility in e-learning, education, and training intended to meet the needs of learners with disabilities and anyone in a disabling context.
JAWSJob Access With Speech (JAWS), is the world’s most popular screen reader, developed for computer users whose vision loss or physical disability prevents them from seeing screen content or navigating with a mouse. JAWS provides speech and Braille output.
Screen readerA device that speaks text found on a web page. Screen readers can also identify links and graphics to help users navigate using a keyboard, instead of a mouse. Popular screen readers include JAWS, NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access), and VoiceOver.
Section 508An amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandating that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. Technology is deemed to be “accessible” if it can be used as effectively by people with disabilities as by those without.
Universal designThe 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 for LearningThe deliberate design of content and instruction to meet the needs of a diverse mix of learners by incorporating multiple means of imparting information and flexible methods of assessment.
Voluntary Product Accessibility Template™ (VPAT™)An “informational tool” that describes exactly how a product or service does or does not meet Section 508 standards.
WAVEAn accessibility evaluation tool administered by WebAIM which provides visual feedback of a page’s accessibility.
WCAGThe Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are technical standards which help explain and provide benchmarks for accessibility of online content. WCAG has 12 guidelines that are organized under four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. WCAG have been established by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Web accessibilityRemoving barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities.
Key Terms in Accessibility

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