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National Center for Accessible Information Technology in Education. Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D., Co-Director. Distance Learning: Policies & Practices that Promote Accessible Design. Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D. Director, DO-IT, AccessSTEM Co-Director, AccessIT University of Washington.

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National center for accessible information technology in education

National Center for Accessible Information Technology in Education

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D., Co-Director

Distance learning policies practices that promote accessible design

Distance Learning: Policies & Practices that Promote Accessible Design

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D.

Director, DO-IT, AccessSTEM

Co-Director, AccessIT University of Washington

Sponsors of dl courses

Sponsors of DL Courses

  • Postsecondary institutions

  • K-12 schools

  • Online learning organizations

  • Employee training of businesses & non-profit organizations

Dl methods tools

DL Methods & Tools

  • On-Site Instruction

  • Internet-Based Communication

  • Printed Materials

  • Telephone Conferences

  • Video Conferences

  • Web Pages

  • Video/Multimedia Presentations

Dl has potential advantages for students who

DL has potential advantages for students who:

  • Are shy, less confident learners

  • Are slow readers, learners

  • Are poor writers/spellers

  • Learn in multiple ways

  • Live in rural areas

  • Are interested in specialized topics

  • Have time, schedule, or location constraints

  • Are home-bound

  • Are deaf or blind or have low vision

Dl access challenges for people with

DL Access Challenges for people with

  • Blindness

  • Other Visual Impairments

  • Specific Learning Disabilities

  • Mobility Impairments

  • Hearing Impairments

  • Speech Impairments

  • Seizure Disorders

Distance learning literature

Distance Learning Literature

  • Disability issues are rarely mentioned.

  • “Increasing access to educational opportunity,” a common goal, usually refers to reaching out to people who are off-campus, live in remote areas, have limited schedules.

  • If limitations of access at the user end are considered at all, they generally deal with computer/network capacity.

  • Many DL program websites pose accessibility barriers.

  • Few programs have policies that address disability-related accessibility issues.

Universal design

Universal Design

  • “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”, Ron Mace, Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University

Problem solution


Computer Assistive


Web Universal


Need for

Need for:

  • Universal design (proactive) & accommodations (reactive)

  • Policies & procedures that address both

Web accessibility

Web Accessibility

  • WAI’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

  • Access Board (Section 508) sec508/508standards.htm

Example universal design of video multimedia presentation

Example: Universal Design of Video/Multimedia Presentation

  • Videotaped with captions in mind

  • Large, clear captions

  • Designed so that key content is spoken as well as demonstrated visually

  • Audio-described version available

Universal design of dl benefits people

Universal Design of DL Benefits People

  • with disabilities

  • with differences in attention/perception

  • with situational limitations

  • whose first language is not the one in which the course is taught

  • with older equipment

  • using different web browsers

  • using handheld display units & other new technology

Justification for accessible design

Justification for Accessible Design

  • unethical to bar some eligible participants from program access

  • legislation mandates program accessibility

  • applying accessible design is a best practice for all students

  • costly redesign may be required when a student with a disability enrolls in an inaccessible course

Examples dl accessibility policies

Examples: DL Accessibility Policies

  • California Community Colleges, 1999

  • Michigan Virtual University: Standards for Quality Online Courses— technology, usability, accessibility, & instructional design

Reference in press

Reference (in press)

  • Article: The Development of Accessibility Indicators for Distance Learning Programs

    by Sheryl Burgstahler

    Research in Learning Technology


Research question

Research Question

  • What are program-level policies and practices related to delivering courses that are fully accessible to students with disabilities and what are examples of each?

Research steps

Research Steps

  • draft list of DLP accessibility indicators

  • collect examples of applications of the indicators in DL programs

  • apply the indicators to UW DL program

  • gather input from DL programs to refine items on the list, & encourage them to adopt the indicators.

Dlp accessibility indicators for

DLP Accessibility Indicators for:

  • Students, potential students (#1-5)

  • DL designers (#6, 7)

  • DL instructors (#8)

  • DL program evaluators(#9, 10)

Dlp accessibility indicator 1

DLP Accessibility Indicator 1

  • The DL home page is accessible to individuals with disabilities (e.g., adheres to Section 508, WCAG, or institutional accessible-design guidelines/standards).

  • University of Wisconsin Continuing Education & Outreach

Dlp accessibility indicator 2

DLP Accessibility Indicator 2

  • A statement about the DL program's commit-ment to accessible design for all potential students, including those with disabilities, is included prominently in appropriate publica-tions & websites, along with contact informa-tion for reporting inaccessible design features.

  • Virtual Classroom, Mt. San Antonio College “This page is design-ed to be accessible to all users. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact …”

Dlp accessibility indicator 3

DLP Accessibility Indicator 3

  • A statement about how DL students with disabilities can request accommodations is in appropriate publications & web pages.

  • University of South Carolina Student Guidebook: Policies and Procedures for Distanced Education Classes

Dlp accessibility indicator 3 cont

DLP Accessibility Indicator 3, cont.

  • Students requiring accommodations for disabilities or learning needs are advised to contact the Office of Disability Services (864) 503-5199. The staff works to ensure accessibility for all university programs, services, & activities in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 & the Americans with Disabilities Act. Services offered include priority registration, test proctoring, classroom adaptation, sign language interpreters, readers, & note takers.

Dlp accessibility indicator 4

DLP Accessibility Indicator 4

  • A statement about how people can obtain alternate formats of printed materials is included in publications.

  • University of Minnesota Independent and Distance LearningCourse Catalogue: “This publication is available in alternative formats on request. Call One Stop Student Services (800-400-8636) for assistance.”

Dlp accessibility indicator 5

DLP Accessibility Indicator 5

  • The online & other course materials of DL courses are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

  • Test compliance with adopted standards, guidelines

Dlp accessibility indicator 6

DLP Accessibility Indicator 6

  • Publications & web pages for DL course design-ers include: a) a statement of the program's commitment to accessibility, b) guidelines/ standards regarding accessibility, & c) resources.

  • University of Iowa’s Accessibility Standards for Web Resources WebAccessibility.htm: “The University of Iowa is committed to providing equal access to information, programs, & activities through its technologies, web pages, services & resources…

Dlp accessibility indicator 7

DLP Accessibility Indicator 7

  • Accessibility issues are covered in regular DL course designer training.

  • University of Washington DL designers includes a session on legal & technical accessibility issues and Section 508 standards.

Dlp accessibility indicator 8

DLP Accessibility Indicator 8

  • Publications & web pages for DL instructors include a) a statement of the DL program's commitment to accessibility, b) guidelines/ standards regarding accessibility, & c) resources.

  • University of Maryland University Accessibility in Distance Education: A Resource for Faculty in Online Teaching “The Accessibility in Distance Education (ADE) Web site focuses on helping faculty developaccessible online learning materials for people with disabilities. It is divided into five major sections, ...

Dlp accessibility indicator 9

DLP Accessibility Indicator 9

  • Accessibility issues are covered in training sessions for instructors.

  • Cal State San Marcos Web Accessibility: Applying ADA Principles to Online Teaching & Learninghttp://www.csusm. edu/ accessibility/onlinecourses/ includes content & resources from a faculty training session.

Dlp accessibility indicator 10

DLP Accessibility Indicator 10

  • A system is in place to monitor the accessibility of courses, and, on the basis of this evaluation, the program takes actions to improve the accessibility of specific courses & to update information & training given to potential stu-dents, students, course designers, & instructors.

  • UW applies quality assurance tests to courses before delivered. Included is accessibility review. Barriers to accessibility recorded & removed in course updates.

Uw implementation goal

UW Implementation Goal

  • To make distance learning courses at the University of Washington accessible to all students and instructors.

Uw project partners

UW Project Partners

  • Extension Online Learning

  • Access Technology Lab (ATL)

  • DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology)

  • Disabled Student Services

Campus wide efforts

Campus-wide Efforts

  • ATL works with Educational Technology Group to promote accessible tools & course materials

  • ATL stand-alone accessibility presentations; integration of accessibility into mainstream Web & other technology courses

  • Web accessibility campus Web page established

  • AccessWeb discussion list established & group began meeting

Uw distance learning a work in progress

UW Distance Learning, a Work in Progress

  • Distance learning program established 1912 (now Online Learning)

  • 1995 first course using the Internet

    (Burgstahler & Coombs, employed accessible design)

  • 200+ courses serving 10,000+ annually

Initial state

Initial State:

DL program included policy/ procedures statements on website regarding reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities



  • Course delivery system developed with campus Computing & Communications (C&C) & suite of course tools developed by campus Educational Technology Group & C&C

Progress with uw dl

Progress with UW DL

  • Determined that UW policy of commitment to nondiscrimination & reasonable accommodation (Section 504 & ADA) was enough to justify development of accessibility guidelines & efforts

  • Training provided to DL program staff; buy-in secured at management & implementation levels; responsibility assigned

  • Began to systemically change approach from accommodationto universal design + accommodation

Uw dl progress cont

UW DL Progress, cont.

  • Identified places on DL program Web pages to reaffirm UW policy

  • All but one indicator implemented

  • Accessibility content included in DL Certificate Program & in Introduction to Web publishing course (accessible design required in the final project)

Uw dl program rewards

UW DL Program Rewards

  • Compliance with laws

  • Cleaner, better functioning pages

  • Improved ease of use for all students and instructors



  • Faculty education/buy-in

  • Resources

  • Technology constraints

  • Specific courses

Outreach to 16 dl programs

Outreach to 16 DL Programs

  • .5 staff, one year

  • Beginning: 3 DLP indicators implemented per school; ending 4.1 per school

  • Changes at 3 schools accounted for 80% of changes

Results suggest

Results suggest:

Incorporating accessibility considerations in program policies, procedures, & communications:

  • requires efforts related to students, course designers, instructors, & evaluators

  • requires approval & implementation at variety of levels

  • becomes easier once some initial accessibility policies, procedures, & communications have been implemented

  • is an ongoing process that may be implemented in incremental steps



Q&As, Case Studies, Promising Practices



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