Retrofitting and Proactivity for Accessibility in Online Courses

Concurrent Session 7

Brief Abstract

As an institution whose mission states that it “provides educational opportunity to adult learners with an emphasis on those historically underrepresented in higher education”, Excelsior College wants all of their students to succeed. One particular group of students that requires a unique set of means to succeed is those with disabilities. In early 2012, the College decided to shift its approach to serving students with disabilities from a reactive position to a proactive stance. Historically, we have outfitted elements of courses to meet the needs of an individual student after they have been approved for an accommodation through our Disability Services Office. This was a process that could take a long time to complete, putting the student behind in their coursework. By taking a proactive approach to serving these students, we made the decision to edit our entire library of courses, which began as approximately 435 but has since grown, to include several accessibility standards so that they would be ready when students needed them. We also incorporated these same standards into our course development and revision process, so that all newly developed courses from July 2014 and beyond are also accessible. This does not eliminate the need for specific accommodations to be added to courses, as each student’s needs are different, however in most cases this greatly decreases the time that it takes to provide all accommodations to the student and incorporates Universal Design guidelines to help all of our students. Many of the accessibility standards that we are implementing not only assist our students with disabilities, but also positively impact our students without disabilities. Quality Matters Standard 8 states that it “incorporates the principles of Universal Design for Learning”, which increases quality for all students. Inclusion of universal design principles in courses can help students who use English as a Second Language, those with environmental barriers, and those with diverse learning styles.