The following is our interpretation of accessibility law as it applies to our online courses. We will work with you to explore different options for using the materials you would like to use, in ways that are accessible to all learners.
What Does the Law Say?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that online education is subject to the standards specified in sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The purpose of these laws is to provide disabled individuals with access to information that is comparable to access available to others.
Legal precedents have now established that sections 504 and 508 are enforceable in higher education; in fact, any institution that accepts federal funding must comply with these guidelines.
What is the Difference Between Sections 504 and 508?
Section 508 is about accessibility:
- Accessibility is what we should expect to be ready for us without asking or planning ahead. It can be provided by following a set of standards and practices that make “adaptation” unnecessary. We can benefit from accessibility without announcing or explaining our disabilities. –From Disability Thinking
Section 504 is about accommodation:
- Accommodation is for adaptations that can’t be anticipated or standardized. They are different for each individual. Although we should expect there to be a general willingness to accommodate us wherever we go, we can’t expect actual, specific accommodations unless and until we ask for them. –From Disability Thinking
How Do I Comply in the Online Classroom?
Your instructional designer can help you determine if your course is compliant with sections 504 and 508, the web content accessibility guidelines 2.0 (section 508 is adopting the WCAG 2.0 as its standard), and the principles of universal design, which involve designing content that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn.
Some examples include:
- All videos in which the actions taking place on the screen correspond with the audio should be captioned. (We can work with a third party vendor to have your videos captioned.)
- Any PDF and PowerPoint files used in the course must meet compliance standards.
For example, text in PDFs must be selectable and searchable.
Objects in PowerPoints must have alternative (ALT) text; color alone should not be used to convey meaning.
- Audio content, such as a pre-recorded podcast, or a “talking head” video in which the speaker is simply talking to the camera, should have a transcript.
Remember that accessibility is about using a set of common standards so that content is available to all learners without them having to ask, announce, or explain their disabilities. Work with your instructional designer to evaluate whether your course is meeting accessibility standards, or to discuss how to accommodate learners who have requested accommodations.
A Final Thought
Why should we do this, aside from complying with the law? It’s ethical to design courses so that all students, regardless of ability, can access as much of the course content as we are able to provide for them, without asking for accommodation. Research also tells us that most of the design strategies listed above to make course content accessible, also increase student learning for all students in a course. For example, many studies now show that most students report that they use closed captions to help them learn.
Accessibility vs. Accommodation. http://disabilitythinking.blogspot.com/2013/08/accessibility-and-accommodation.html
Accessibility by Design Now and in the Future. Presentation by Martin LaGrow at WCET 2016.
Higher Ed Accessibility Lawsuits, Complaints, and Settlements. http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/atteam/lawsuits.html
More Research Concludes that Nearly All Students Find Closed Captions Helpful for Learning. www.3playmedia.com/2016/12/20/more-research-concludes-nearly-all-students-find-closed-captions-helpful-for-learning/
Do Closed Captions Help Students Learn? https://wcetfrontiers.org/2016/12/14/do-closed-captions-help-students-learn/
Accessibility Checklists. https://www.hhs.gov/web/section-508/accessibility-checklists/index.html