Increasing Accessibility and Openness: A Collaborative Approach

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

The aim of both accessibility and open education is to increase access to high quality educational experiences and resources. This session will share how one system’s accessibility team partnered with an OER content provider in the spirit of increasing access and openness. This session will share processes and lessons learned.


Nicola Wayer is an experienced educator with extensive teaching and instructional design experience in both K-12 and higher education settings. She is currently the Director of Instructional Design and Training for the Tennessee Board of Regents and is also on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Previously, she has served as a teacher and curriculum specialist at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, an instructor, instructional designer, and faculty developer at University of Florida, and helped to found the Center for eLearning at Florida State College at Jacksonville, and was Director of Instructional Design at Champlain College in Vermont. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Florida in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in educational technology; an M.Ed. from the University of North Florida in secondary education; and a B.A. from Flagler College in deaf education and elementary education. Dr. Wayer’s research interests include serving students with disabilities in blended and online courses and teacher professional development for blended and online learning.
Kim Thanos is the CEO of Lumen Learning. Lumen provides well-designed, low-cost digital course materials that help colleges and universities offer the best education to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status. Core to its approach, Lumen guides institutions to use open educational resources (OER) to their full benefit. Kim has spent the past ten years focused on the challenge of how to move OER from a concept that is philosophically interesting, to a practical tool that is changing success rates for at-risk students. Through that journey she has worked with hundreds of institutions to explore content creation and adaptation models, student and faculty engagement approaches, economic impacts, institutional strategy and policy, faculty collaboration, and the possibilities that open education provides to create to a more personalized learning experience.

Extended Abstract

The advent of blended and online learning has increased access to education for students around the world, giving flexibility in time, pace, path, and place (Staker & Horn, 2012). Much has been said of the “digital divide” of access to Internet service between different socioeconomic groups, but there is also a digital divide between disabled and nondisabled people (Jaeger, 2012). The access rate for people with disabilities is only about half the rate of the general population (Dobransky & Hargittai, 2006). Beyond access to Internet services, another divide has emerged when it comes to the accessibility of online content, including that of courses and learning materials. In both 2007–08 and 2011–12, 11% of undergraduates reported having a disability (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014). Guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG 2.0, and federal legislation such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, have set a standard for compliance and accessibility, but that standard is often not fully adhered to and is treated as aspirational in nature. In response to the need for increased accessibility for students with disabilities, the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) has instituted a strict adoption policy and a requirement for conformance and remediation of all instructional materials. The recommendation of the official Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) Accessibility Taskforce, in part, states that ““Accessible” means that individuals with disabilities are able to independently acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services within the same timeframe as individuals without disabilities, with substantially equivalent ease of use. 
TBR should develop and implement procedures that require colleges and universities to purchase or recommend only accessible information materials and technologies (IMTs), if an accessible IMT is commercially available and its purchase would not result in undue financial and administrative burdens or a fundamental alteration” (THEC, 2015). Vendors wishing to do business with TBR or its constituent institutions must demonstrate conformance with TBR accessibility requirements or a clear plan for remediation of products or services.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that institutions that receive federal funding make electronic and information technology materials accessible to people with disabilities. Beginning in January, 2018, the guidelines for Section 508 compliance will fall into alignment with the WCAG 2.0 level AA guidelines, which are the mid-range standards that deal with the biggest and most common barriers faced by people with disabilities in online environments and the use of technology. In 2016, TBR chose to take a proactive stance and began using WCAG 2.0 AA as its standard for conformance for accessibility. Based on the WCAG 2.0 AA standards, the accessibility specialists at TBR’s online TN eCampus developed an accessibility evaluation rubric for evaluating vendor products and material in its own online courses. This session will share the tool developed by TN eCampus as well as insights gained from its implementation with external vendor content as well as material developed by TN eCampus faculty.

While providing accessible materials means that all learners are equally able to access content in the same timeframe and with the same ease of use, the concept of open education promotes the notion that everyone should have access to high quality educational experiences and resources. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology defines open education as, “Creating an open education ecosystem involves making learning materials, data, and educational opportunities available without restrictions imposed by copyright laws, access barriers, or exclusive proprietary systems that lack interoperability and limit the free exchange of information” (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, 2017). In keeping with the spirit of both accessibility and open education as means of increasing student retention and increasing student success, in 2016 TBR and TN eCampus formed a partnership with Lumen Learning in which TBR and TN eCampus would share its expertise in accessibility with Lumen Learning’s developers and the Lumen Learning team would assist TN eCampus with an open education-focused pilot of OER course materials. Building on the promise of open education to provide solutions rather than just challenges, accessibility specialists at TN eCampus completed a detailed review of Lumen Learning OER course materials for accessibility and then partnered with Lumen Learning in a joint effort that made it possible for TBR and TN eCampus to adopt Lumen Learning’s Waymaker and Candela course materials while also helping to ensure that Lumen Learning’s content was accessible for all users, not just those at TBR and TN eCampus. TBR’s accessibility team helped to evaluate Lumen Learning’s courseware and content for potential accessibility issues and partnered with web and content developers on the Lumen side to to remediate identified issues and then conducted a follow-up evaluation. Based on what they learned from the partnership, the Lumen Learning team was then able to identify and remediate similar issues in other courses in their catalog. In return, Lumen Learning’s development and support teams worked with TN eCampus’ Instructional Design and Training team to prepare faculty to use Waymaker OER course materials and to create courses in the TN eCampus learning management system. This collaboration may serve as a model for collaboration between an institution and a vendor. Rather than rejecting the use of Lumen Learning’s OER content outright on the basis of potential accessibility problems, the TN eCampus team was able to partner with the Lumen Learning team to make adoption possible, provide support and services for faculty that other vendors would ordinarily charge a fee for service, and to improve the accessibility of Waymaker for a wider audience beyond the TBR system. This presentation will share lessons learned from this collaboration, how a mindset of accessibility and open education thinking may go hand-in-hand, and strategies for others to form similarly collaborative partnerships for both mutual benefit and the greater good of students.


Dobransky, K. & Hargittai, E. (2006). The disability divide in internet access and use. Information Communication and Society, 9, 313-334.

Jaeger, P.T. (2012). Disability and the internet: Confronting a digital divide. Boulder, CO:Lynne Reiner.

Staker, H. & Horn, M.B. (2012). Classifying k-12 blended learning. Mountain View, CA: Innosight Institute. Accessed from: content/uploads/2012/05/Classifying-K-12-blended-learning2.pdf

Tennessee Higher Education Commission Accessibility Task Force. (2015). THEC Accessibility Task Force Recommendations. Accessed from

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Digest of Education Statistics, 2014 (2016-006), Chapter 3. Accessed from

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2017). Open Education. Accessed from