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ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Student accessibility is an issue that online instructors and programs have been paying increasing attention to over the past few years. For one thing, it's helpful to develop elements of your course that appeal to students with different learning styles. For students with physical disabilities, it's more of an imperative. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that qualified individuals should not be excluded from public programs solely based on their disability -- this now includes online education (2009).


Technology has come a long way to help physically disabled students "read" and "hear" text and audio--but not all text formats, for example, can be interpreted by software. If you're providing special text documents, or audio/visual materials for your students, are you providing alternatives to accommodate those students with special needs?


Making your course content more accessible can benefit more people than just those with documented disabilities. Think about wheelchair ramps set into the curbs of street corners: they were initially put in place for people in wheelchairs, but they made sidewalks more accessible for shopping carts, baby strollers, luggage, and many other legitimate uses.


Likewise, making your course accessible to blind students will also help other students who may have difficulty reading certain fonts or colors. Providing transcripts not only helps deaf and hard of hearing students, but also students using slower connections who cannot download mp3 files, and possibly non-native speakers who have difficulty understanding a particular speech pattern. Finally, using disability-friendly design will help you avoid creating web material that either looks misleading or like it was uploaded circa 1995. In other words, accessible design is clear, contemporary, and attractive!


Video: Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone

The University of Washington has put together an accessible video with information about how online instructors can make their course content accessible to students with disabilities. The video can be found on their site, to be viewed with RealPlayer or Windows Media Player: 


Simple ways you can make your course content more accessible (Burgstahler)



Some resources to help you learn more about accessibility:

Burgstahler, Sheryl. (2006). Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone. Video:


Universal Design for Online Learning. (2006, September 28). Partnership for the Advancement of Distributed Learning. 


Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. (2008, December 11).


Flanders, Vincent. (2009). Web Pages That Suck: Learn good web design by looking at bad web design.


And, in case you need an example of the worst possible design for a website (or in case your eyes could use a spanking, followed by possible seizures), check out Accept Jesus, Forever Forgiven.


Photo on this page: Creative Commons licensed photo via Flickr, Blind Computing, by voxefxtm