Creating Accessible Online Courses

Emerging technologies make it possible for students with disabilities to take classes in the online environment. Thousands of students with some type of disability have successfully completed online programs in different fields. However, as an instructor, you can facilitate the process to access and assimilate instructional content to distance students with visual, hearing, or cognitive impairments. Here is a list of suggestions to make your content more accessible:

1)  Contact the Instructional Consulting Office or the Adaptive Technology centers in your department or University. They will provide you with helpful resources and will work with you on making your particular online class more accessible to students with disabilities. Generally, the sooner you involve these specialized centers in the process, the better. In this way you give them enough time to assist you on looking for effective instructional alternatives to deliver your class. They will also help you in making your instructional content more accessible such as closed captioning videos, creating accessible Word and PDF documents, printing Braille documents and tactile enhanced graphics, etc.

Here at Indiana University, you can contact the Adaptive Technology and Accessibility Centers for more information and for workshops related to making online content more accessible.

2)  Find out what features from your Course Management System are not too accessible and use viable alternatives. For instance, the features that are generally inaccessible to students using adaptive technology in Oncourse are:

a) Rich text or “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) editors: Even though these editors facilitate formatting text to most students, they tend to cause a lot of difficulties to screen readers thus being  unusable by visually impaired students. An alternative to these editors is allowing your students to attach an external file so they don’t have to type their answer in the embedded rich text editor.

b) Forums: Navigating through the Oncourse forum messages can be very challenging to visually impaired students because the concept of a thread is mainly achieved by adding a visual indentation among messages, which cannot be detected by them. This makes it difficult to know who is responding to a specific message in the thread, especially when there are many students carrying out multiple discussions. in the forum.

3) Add structure to your class resources such as Word and PDF documents and PowerPoint presentations: In an unstructured document, screen reader applications would read the content from beginning to end, line by line. This means that visually impaired students would need to listen to the whole document to get to the “Results” section. By adding structure to the documents, students with disabilities can easily navigate within it. Here are a few recommendations to add more structure to your documents:

a) Use styles to create heading formats (Title, Heading 1, Heading 2, etc).

b) Add alternative text to all included  graphics

c) Do not use tabs and spaces to create a table, instead use the “Table” tool

d) Use bulleted lists to emphasize individual points and numbered lists for a series of steps in a sequence

e) If converted a Word document into PDF, use the accessible options provided by Adobe Acrobat

Additional resources:


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