OCCDLA Retreat 2012: Discussion on Accessibility

Presenter: onlineaccess@pcc.edu

Accessibility for Whom?

Web accessibility can overcome roadblocks for people who are blind, low vision, deaf, hard of hearing, color-blind, have photosensitive seizure disorders and those with a mobility disability that prohibits them from using a mouse.

Why Should We Care About Accessibility of Online Courses?

If the websites from a federally funded institution of higher education or the content on those websites is inaccessible to a person with disabilities, that college or university is out of compliance with federal disability laws Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and at risk for an investigation by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and a discrimination lawsuit from a student with a disability (Bayne, 2010).

  • 12% of Community College students have disabilities (10% average in higher ed) - AACC, 2011
  • Students with disabilities are almost three times as likely to enroll in community colleges over a four-year college or university (Erickson, Trerise, VanLooy, Lee, & Bruyere, 2009).

"Technology is the hallmark of the future, and technological competency is essential to preparing all students for future success. Emerging technologies are an educational resource that enhances learning for everyone, and perhaps especially for students with disabilities. Technological innovations have opened a virtual world of commerce, information, and education to many individuals with disabilities for whom access to the physical world remains challenging. Ensuring equal access to emerging technology in university and college classrooms is a means to the goal of full integration and equal educational opportunity for this nation's students with disabilities." (Dear Colleague Letter, June 2010)

It's not just the law. It's a higher mission.

How to Comply without Clarity

Despite the insistence that technology used in education must be accessible, the only standard that the Department of Education points to, to measure compliance is the ADA requirement that communications with persons with disabilities must be “as effective as communications with others” [28 C.F.R. ss 35.160(a)] “The U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly stated through complaint resolution agreements and correspondence that higher education institutions covered by the ADA and Section 504 must make their information accessible on the Internet since communications must be as effective for students with disabilities as that provided to others” (Waddell, 2007). The Office of Civil Rights (Cardenas, 1997) has defined “effective communication” as having these three qualities:

  • timeliness of delivery,
  • accuracy of the translation, and
  • provision in a manner and medium appropriate to the significance of the message and the abilities of the individual with the disability

The Laws Aren't Much Help

But Guidance Does Exist

Accepted Web Accessibility Standards
Recommendations to Congress
Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

  • If we have multiples of BA 101 (or any course) online, can we just make one accessible and direct students with disabilities to that course? No. Where do I begin? Separate is not equal.
  • Our dental hygiene (or whatever) program requires good vision and hearing, so do we need to make our online materials accessible? Yes, because accessibility benefits more than just those who are blind and deaf. It benefits those who are low vision, hard of hearing, color-blind, have photosensitive seizure disorders, those who can't use a mouse and those with some learning disabilities. We are not asking the instructor to alter the essential functions of the course. We are just asking that the instructional materials and activities (other than essential functions) are accessible. Beyond that, Disability Services will accommodate a student with disabilities who is accepted into the program.
  • How do you make music accessible to the deaf? Though it is possible, we are only asking the instructor to make their instructional materials and non-essential functions accessible. Beyond that, Disability Services will accommodate the student with disabilities who enrolls in the course.
  • Faculty member wants to use Google Docs or another inaccessible video/website/tool/software? A student may elect to use them, but an instructor cannot require or even make optional without an accessible alternative. It is best if the instructor can separate the task from the mechanism used to complete that task.
    • Example: An instructor has students turn their homework in using Google Docs (an inaccessible software).
      • A better approach would be if they just asked students to turn in their homework (task) and either not specify the mechanism used to turn in the homework or provide an accessible tool for everyone to use.
      • Or the instructor can provide a choice of videos/websites/tools/software where at least half are accessible and equally engaging and effective as the inaccessible tool. "You may turn your paper in (or whatever the task) with Google Docs, by email or the D2L dropbox." thereby giving the student the choice of at least one accessible option.
      • If no alternative exists and the instructor feels that that video/website/tool/software offers some unique advantages to students, the instructor should work with disability services to figure out how that software will be accommodated in advance of a student's need.


Please refer to the PCC Accessibility website, captioning guidelines webpage.


GOALS stands for Gaining Online Accessible Learning through Self-Study. It's a FIPSE Grant project by Utah State to "...focus on motivations of top administrators to choose to engage in self-study and continuous improvement on web accessibility. This information will then help the GOALS partners to create blueprints that will help promote adoption of institutional web accessibility in higher education." (http://ncdae.org/projects/goals/, 7/19/12)

  • Benchmarking Survey on Institutional web accessibility
    • Going through the benchmarking survey, despite the fact that we have to frequently answer that we don't know or haven't done what they are suggesting should be done.
    • But from the survey we hope to get reports and guides to move forward, so next year we can take the benchmarking survey and score much higher.
  • Economic Study
    • We are studying the cost of making online courses accessible. Basing our model on the MPR Associates 2009 Needs Assessment ¬†where costs are associated with each ingredient in a course that might need to be retrofitted.

OCCDLA Accessibility Workgroup

  • Proposal to the State, requesting funding for captioning accommodations.