Accessibility within a Virtual Campus: A Systematic Approach to Designing Equal Learning Experiences

Concurrent Session 11

Brief Abstract

This interactive presentation will share strategies implemented by instructional designers at a state college to achieve accessibility compliance. Presenters will describe various institutional strategies, demonstrate technical procedures that support ADA compliance, and discuss lessons learned. Attendees will be able to return to their institutions better prepared to foster ADA compliance.


Luci (Lucimara) Mello is originally from Brazil and has been living in the United States for 19 years. Luci has been an instructional designer for Indian River State College Virtual Campus for almost 5 years. Luci started her career as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) instructor in Brazil, where she taught for 10 years. As soon she moved to the United States, she worked as a Portuguese instructor for business people and translator. In addition, she went to school at the University of Colorado at Denver, where she graduated with a Master’s Degree in Information and Learning Technologies in 2002. After graduating, Luci Mello moved to Florida. In 2006, Luci Mello was hired by IRSC as Curriculum Developer/Trainer in the Adult ESOL Department for 7 years. In 2013, Luci Mello was hired by the IRSC Virtual Campus as an instructional designer to serve the whole college. Luci is currently a graduate student at Indiana University pursuing the Ed. D. in Instructional Systems Technology degree (online program).

Additional Authors

Dr. Alison L. Moore is an instructional designer with the Virtual Campus of Indian River State College where she supports faculty members with hybrid and online courses. She earned her Ph.D. in Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies from Florida State University in 2016, and her research focuses on informal workplace learning among instructional design and performance improvement practitioners. Dr. Moore's interests also include designing with learning analytics and ADA compliance in mind.

Extended Abstract

This interactive presentation will share strategies implemented by the Virtual Campus (VC) at Indian River State College (IRSC) for moving toward compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. In an effort to provide all students and faculty with equivalent educational experiences, an instructional design team has tackled various obstacles to ADA compliance of online and blended courses. The presentation will entail IRSC VC instructional designers (a) describing various institutional strategies, (b) demonstrating technical procedures that have been enacted to support ADA compliance across the institution, and (c) discussing lessons learned from these efforts. Attendees will be able to return to their institutions better prepared to foster ADA compliance.

Purpose of Presentation

The purpose of this interactive presentation is to share institutional strategies, technical procedures, and lessons learned related to ADA compliance efforts. Instructional designers with the IRSC VC will discuss cross-campus initiatives, demonstrate processes to create ADA compliant instructional materials, and describe past experiences—successes and challenges—surrounding these efforts.

To maximize the session experience, brief poll questions will open the presentation to gauge attendees’ interests and concerns about accessibility compliance and expectations for the presentation. An initial PollEverywhere ( question will capture attendees’ engagement from the onset, as well as inform presenters’ focus of session topics. (For example, if the majority of attendees mention video captioning during the opening poll, presenters will devote more time to that topic during the session.) The presentation will conclude with another Poll Everywhere question seeking attendees’ reactions and final questions.

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

  • Analyze the status of an institution’s current ADA compliance initiative.
  • Summarize goals and strategies for developing an ADA compliance initiative.
  • Perform basic processes of creating ADA compliant instructional materials.

Target Audience

The target audience for this presentation includes professionals at organizations (e.g., academic institutions, business/industry, military) who are involved with distance learning programs and online curriculum development. Due to the increased regulations of instructional materials, this presentation will interest groups that want to increase ADA compliance throughout their organizations.

Institutional Strategies

To support the varying needs of IRSC students and faculty, the VC instructional design team has embarked upon a long-term mission of ensuring ADA compliant instructional materials. From videos in online course modules to syllabi to faculty support documents, the VC is considering all aspects of distance education in their effort to address ADA compliance. To accomplish this task, the VC team has enacted several institutional strategies that have yielded positive results towards the overall mission. The most successful strategies include:

  • establishing an Accessibility Subcommittee within the Virtual Campus Workgroup and
  • facilitating an accessibility-focused decision-making mindset among the VC design and development team.

Virtual Campus Workgroup: Accessibility Subcommittee

The VC embraces cross-college participation in its long-term planning, evidenced by the creation of the VC Workgroup. As a driving committee comprised of IRSC faculty, staff, administrators, and VC team members, the workgroup meets twice a month with an overall mission of continuous improvement. The focus of subcommittees varies year-to-year based on pertinent issues, and ADA compliance was added to the agenda in Fall 2017.

Throughout the Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 semesters, members of the Accessibility Subcommittee met regularly to identify ADA-related needs within the IRSC VC community. The group subsequently brainstormed action items to address those needs, researched necessary solutions, and, when appropriate, made recommendations to the District Board of Trustees, a decision-making body that governs IRSC.

The Accessibility Subcommittee formally submitted four recommendations for Board review in April 2018:

  1. Make ADA-compliant templates for the Syllabus and Schedule of Activities available to IRSC faculty (all modalities; not limited to the VC).
  2. Design and host workshops (e.g., in the IRSC Institute for Academic Excellence) on ADA compliance of VC course elements (possible topics: videos, Word documents, PowerPoints, etc.).
  3. Add an ADA component to the IRSC Virtual Campus Instructor Training.
  4. Create a centralized entity (e.g., position, office, etc.) that is focused on ADA compliance of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act for IRSC.

Accessibility-Focused Decision Making for Design and Development

Through ongoing research into the legal and technical requirements for ADA compliant online instruction, the VC team has adopted a modified mindset and approach to design and development. Instructional designers at the forefront of this effort, stemming from their involvement in the VC Workgroup Accessibility Committee, have educated their VC and faculty colleagues on expectations and regulations for ADA compliance. From sharing helpful websites to demonstrating processes for compliant materials, the VC team has undertaken an internal culture shift that manifests in accessible course design and development.

Instead of designing, developing, and implementing content with faculty, which then requires staff to circle around and address accessibility issues, the VC team now integrates consideration for accessibility into their initial design. For example, many VC courses are currently undergoing redesigns after running for a few years. Videos, podcasts, and radio shows that have served as content for these courses are now being examined for ADA compliance. When appropriate transcripts and captions are not available, the VC team requests faculty SMEs to identify comparable content with accompanying accessible materials. This process, rife with rework for designers, faculty, and developers, is not efficient. Now, during the enhanced design cycle, designers and faculty work from the onset to envision an online educational experience for all students that appropriately incorporates accessible elements. Content is selected based on ADA components, and materials are created with accessibility in mind. The session will include additional examples of how the VC team embeds consideration for accessibility into the formal design and development phases.

Technical Procedures

Furthering the ADA initiative, the VC instructional design team also has researched, tested, and adopted several technical processes for ADA compliance. The proposed session will include step-by-step directions for these processes, augmented by screenshots, and job aids will be provided for attendees to implement at their institutions. To date, the most commonly enacted procedures concentrate on:

  • transforming the most visible course documents (i.e., syllabus, schedule of activities) to an ADA compliant format and
  • identifying a reliable, robust, and cost-effective process for video/audio transcription.

ADA Compliant Documents

The VC implements a master course design model and, in doing so, every VC course receives a unique syllabus and schedule of activities, both student-facing documents, which are tailored to the course. Often the first documents students download and review regarding courses, the syllabus and schedule of activities serve an essential role to students’ introduction to courses and overall learning experiences. To maximize the effectiveness—and accessibility—of these valuable materials, the VC team developed ADA compliant templates in Microsoft Word that also contain all institutionally required and approved language. The Blackboard course spaces for every live section of VC classes contain the two documents, and faculty are also provided the raw templates. The syllabus and schedule of activities templates are updated regularly by VC staff per internal and external regulations. The session will include a description of how to create ADA compliant documents and modify existing documents. The VC-created templates and a job aid will also be shared.

Captioning and Transcription for Video and Audio

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) contains three levels of recommendations regarding captioning and transcriptions for online video and audio content. Many institutions, especially within higher education, have struggled with meeting ADA requirements for video and audio compliance within their online courses. To work towards an ideal offering of accessible online instructional multimedia, the VC team focused on identifying a low-cost solution to video/audio transcription.

While not perfect for all multimedia needs, the process that VC instructional designers established for transcribing video and audio content is a string first step for a group embarking on large-scale ADA compliance. The procedural steps, which involves two open-source tools (i.e., Virtual Audio Cable and available via the Internet, will be described, augmented by screenshots. A job aid for the process, containing relevant links, will be shared with attendees.

Lessons Learned

The VC team is constantly revisiting challenges and successes to identify improved processes and systems. From the VC’s initiatives, time constraints and accessibility of external resources were identified as main obstacles. To alleviate time consuming impediments, the VC team leverages available resources (i.e., undergraduate work study students, open source automated tools). However, assuring the accessibility of external content (i.e., publisher content and open educational resources) remains an issue the team addresses. Regarding successes, the team has, as discussed earlier, effectively identified and implemented no-cost, time saving processes for producing compliant educational resources. The presenters intend to discuss these challenges and success, as well as facilitate an open dialogue regarding attendees’ (dis)similar experiences.

Bringing It All Together

The goal of this session will be to share strategies implemented by the IRSC VC team to support accessibility of online education. Through facilitated discussions surrounding institutional strategies, in-house technical procedures, and lessons learned from experiences, attendees should return to their institutions better prepared to foster ADA compliance. The session will conclude with a final PollEverywhere question addressing attendees’ reactions and final questions.