Office Of Academic Innovation



Towson University is committed to providing equal access to its programs and services for students with disabilities. This commitment is in accordance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Making the necessary changes so that our online materials are accessible doesn’t have to take a lot of time or technical expertise. Becoming aware of the issues involved and making accessibility issues an integral part of the design process will save you time in the long run and make your teaching more effective for a greater number of students. Help is always available to guide you through the process!


Obstacles to Access

In order to provide equal access, we should first understand the obstacles that students might face in trying to access information on the web. In a video produced by WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind), three students with different types of disabilities describe the hurdles they face when trying to access information on the Web. View the video at this link

The students describe the kinds of assistive technology that give them access to information on the web, but also the ways in which design elements hinder their access to information:

  • Blindness – students can access information on the web via text readers that read text aloud. However, text readers work in a linear fashion and can read only text. Therefore, web pages that contain frames, tables, or graphics such as photographs, animations, graphs, image maps, or other non-text items could be misread or missed completely by the text reader, if not designed properly.

  • Low vision – students with low vision may use screen enlargers. Web pages that use absolute versus relative units (pixels versus percents) cause students to have to scroll unduly left to right to see the entire page, making it cumbersome to understand the message of the web page.

  • Motor disability - students may not be able to use the mouse and may operate the computer exclusively via the keyboard. Web design should take this into account. Can students access all the necessary parts of the webpage with the keyboard alone? Try tabbing within your document to test this.

  • Deafness -  students would need transcribed text for any audio portions of a website and synchronized captioning for video clips

  • Cognitive disability - students would benefit from well-organized and simplified layouts with clear navigational features. 

These are just a few examples of obstacles that students might encounter when accessing information on the web.  For more information about designing web pages from the user’s perspective:

Design Considerations

When beginning any new instructional project, there are many design aspects to consider: what topics will you cover; what activities will you use; how will you gauge student progress; and what format are you going to use to deliver the content? Using a systematic approach to your design process can help you to be more efficient, effective, and at the same time, include aspects of design (both instructional and technical) that take into account accessibility issues.

In addition, considering these issues at the front end of development can save significant amounts of time compared to retro-fitting elements for accessibility after the fact.  When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, it changed the way architects and builders thought about the design process. Instead of incorporating access features as a separate step in the design, they started to make access features an integral part of the design process.  The same shift in thinking (including both technical and instructional considerations as an integral part of the design process) will help to insure that instruction is accessible by the majority of students. Now we’ll take a closer look at both the instructional and technical aspects of creating accessible instruction

Instructional considerations

"Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) is an approach to teaching that consists of the proactive design and use of inclusive instructional strategies that benefit a broad range of learners including students with disabilities. (FacultyWare, 2006)"

Nine Principles of UDI were created, based on an extensive review of research on UDI and effective teaching practices. They can be used as a guide for faculty as they design new courses or revamp existing course elements or teaching practices (FacultyWare, 2006).

The nine principles of UDI and their definitions are:

Equitable use - Instruction is designed to be useful to and accessible by people with diverse abilities. Provide the same means of use for all students; identical whenever possible, equivalent when not

Flexibility in use - Instruction is designed to accommodate a wide range of individual abilities. Provide choice in methods of use

Simple and intuitive - Instruction is designed in a straightforward and predictable manner, regardless of the student's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

Perceptible information - Instruction is designed so that necessary information is communicated effectively to the student, regardless of ambient conditions or the student's sensory abilities.

Tolerance for error - Instruction anticipates variation in individual student learning pace and prerequisite skills.

Low physical effort - Instruction is designed to minimize nonessential physical effort in order to allow maximum attention to learning. Note: This principle does not apply when physical effort is integral to essential requirements of a course.

Size and space for approach and use - Instruction is designed with consideration for appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulations, and use regardless of a student's body size, posture, mobility, and communication needs.

A community of learners - The instructional environment promotes interaction and communication among students and between students and faculty.

Instructional climate - Instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive. High expectations are espoused for all students.

These principles can help faculty to think about the design of instruction from the perspective of a broader group of learners.

Making instruction accessible to learners is one important aspect. For those faculty teaching hybrid or online courses, there is also a technical aspect to be considered.

Technical design considerations

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act stipulates that electronic and information technology must be made accessible to people with disabilities. Therefore, there are things that you must consider when developing your online courses and materials.

Maryland Online, a statewide consortium of 19 Maryland community colleges and senior institutions, is working on a grant-funded project named, Quality Matters (2005). One of the outcomes of the project is a rubric for evaluating online courses. The elements for evaluation are based on information gleaned from an extensive review of the literature and research regarding online learning. The rubric lists these specific measures for online course accessibility:

The course acknowledges the importance of ADA requirements.

Web pages provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content.

Web pages have links that are self-describing and meaningful.

The course demonstrates sensitivity to readability issues.

Getting Help

Feeling a little unsure about what to do and how to go about it?

CIAT staff members are there to help you in creating effective online content that is accessible and in compliance with 508 standards.

Towson's Disability Support Services staff are available to assist with accommodations for online, hybrid and face-to-face courses.

For the more technically inclined:



Buggey, T. J. (2000). Accommodating students with special needs in the online   classroom. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 84, 41-46.

McGuire, S.S., & Embry, P. (2002). Universal design for instruction fact sheet. Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut.


Accessibility tips. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

Best Practices. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from Accessibility in Distance Education Web site:

Bohman, P. (2002).  Considering the user perspective: a summary of design issues. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

A Faculty/Staff Guide: Optimizing the Learning Environment. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

FacultyWare. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

Introduction to Web Accessibility. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

Keeping Web Accessibility in Mind. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

Maryland Online. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

Quality Matters. (2005). Retrieved January 5, 2006, from

Section 508. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

Section 508 Web-based intranet and internet information and applications. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

Towson University DSS Mission Statement. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications.  Retrieved January 26, 2006 from

Adapted from

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Phone: 410-704-2005






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