Don’t stress: 5 Accessibility Tips for beginners

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Implementing accessibility and Universal Design in online courses is crucial to positive experiences for all students. Common accommodations and Universal Design principles used at Oregon State University Ecampus are will help you pave the way to a better experience for students. Leave with 5 tips that can get you started.


Dorothy Loftin holds a Master's of Science in Educational Information Technology and is an Instructional Design Specialist at Oregon State University, ranked Top 10 in the national by U.S. News & World Report. She has presented at national and international conferences and she trains course developers in an award winning faculty development program recognized by the Online Learning Consortium for Excellence in Faculty Development for online teaching. Dorothy is the lead expert on accessibility at Oregon State University Ecampus.

Extended Abstract

At the end of this session, attendees will be able to:

  • State what the definition of a disability is
  • State what Universal Design means
  • Describe common accommodations that students need
  • Select one aspect of their course that could be improved in terms of accessibility and share with the other attendees.
  • Implement what they have learned to their own courses upon returning home.

Oregon State University Ecampus serves over 20,000 students annually, offers over 50 programs, with over 1100 unique online courses, and works with approximately 700 faculty members per year. We are proud to have been ranked by US News and World Report as being one of the top ten best online undergraduate programs in the nation, three years in a row.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a disability as: “an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. Disability is the interaction between individuals with a health conditions (e.g. cerebral palsy, down syndrome and depressions) and personal and environmental factors (e.g. negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social supports).” W3C (Web Accessibility initiative) states that we need to strive to create the “ability for people to access and participate in any produce, service, or environment regardless of their abilities or special needs.”

Audiance Poll

With 15% of the population (1 billion people) living with a disability, why does accessibility continue to be reactive instead of proactive? In Online Higher Education, accessibility is a hot topic. Hearing about legal troubles experienced by some universities is unsettling and having tools to make courses more accessible from the start is a great way to better serve all students in online courses.

Students with disabilities in online classes, documented or not, are in our classes and we have the opportunity to be proactive in providing accommodations using Universal Design to attend to not only their needs, but the needs and learning styles of all students taking these classes. We will explore the issues with and benefits of making all course materials accessible from the beginning of development as well as returning to previously created courses to update content and structure to better assist all students. Doing so can eliminate some difficulties that students might have as they interact with content in their courses.

Here are the most common mistakes that are made:

  • Failure to caption educational videos both available to students and freely to the public
  • Use of technologies and materials that are not accessible to screen readers
  • Use of inaccessible websites, apps, and LMS
  • Use of technologies that are not accessible to screen readers

Video captions are essential for hard of hearing individuals. Failing to caption educational video discriminates against them, violating federal law. Similarly, using websites, apps, class materials, and other technology that is inaccessible to students with disabilities violates federal law. From assigning PDF readings that screen readers can’t read to assigning online assignments in LMS that are inaccessible, there are many ways to exclude and discriminate against, students with disabilities.

Audiance Poll

Partner Share

At Oregon State University Ecampus, once a student with a documented disability is identified the following process begins:

  • Disability Access Services(DAS) identify accommodations that are necessary
  • DAS contacts instructor notifying them of accommodations needed
  • Instructor and DAS work together to create those accommodations in a timely manner
  • Student continues with course work.

How much notice are they given? It depends really on when the student registers for the course and when they notify DAS of their disability. In some cases, an instructor might be notified a day before the course starts. If they haven’t designed their course with Universal Design principles and accessibility in mind, they are in a time crunch to make their materials accessible.

Why is accessibility important?

  • Helps all students, not just those with a documented disability
  • Provides equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities
  • Provides an inclusionary environment for all students in the course
  • Builds a positive relationship between the students and their university

Let’s look at 5 tips that can start you on the path to a more accessible online course:

  • Provide equivalent alternatives to multimedia (ex. transcripts so captioning is easier)
  • Provide “alternative” descriptions (alt-tags) to images
  • Make all file types accessible
  • Create meaningful link names
  • Use contrasting colors

Interactive components will include Audience Polling, Partner Sharing, and Question and Answer opportunities and attendees will leave with “How to” documents available in paper form on site and digital form online.

  • Canvas Template with Quality Matters annotations in place
  • Quick Reference Guide: 5 Accessibility Tips
  • Quick Reference Guide: Making Images Accessible
  • Quick Reference Guide: Making Accessible Documents
  • Reference List