Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

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Publishers and the (in)accessibility of their online materials

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In your course, do you use publisher-provided PowerPoint slides or their online homework websites? If so, read on.

Portland Community College as a federally funded institution (think Financial Aid) is legally obligated by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)  to provide accessible programs and activities. A Dear Colleague letter was sent to all college and university presidents on June 29, 2010 clarifying that these accessibility requirements also apply to all technology and websites (including online course websites) used by the college.

Thankfully our learning management system platform, Desire2Learn, is accessible. But that doesn’t ensure that the content in the course is accessible. PCC has been providing training, support and resources for all online instructors on how-to create and find accessible content for their courses. And all new and revised fully online courses are reviewed for accessibility before they are launched.

But publishers continue to supply many, many faculty at PCC with supplemental digital content that is not accessible. If a student cannot access your course’s materials due to a disability, this is a big problem that could quickly turn into a legal mess for you and PCC. Here’s how the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) defines accessible:

“’Accessible’ means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally  integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. The person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally and independently as a person without a disability. Although this might not result in identical ease of use compared to that of persons without disabilities, it still must ensure equal opportunity to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of such technology. “ (Resolution Agreement South Carolina Technical College System OCR Compliance Review.)

So please, don’t adopt any materials that aren’t accessible. Ask your publisher these questions about accessibility before you adopt their materials.

About Karen Sorensen

Accessibility Advocate for Online Courses more »

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PCC offers this limited open forum as an extension of the respectful, well-reasoned discourse we expect in our classroom discussions. As such, we welcome all viewpoints, but monitor comments to be sure they stick to the topic and contribute to the conversation. We will remove them if they contain or link to abusive material, personal attacks, profanity, off-topic items, or spam. This is the same behavior we require in our hallways and classrooms. Our online spaces are no different.