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)
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
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
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
"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,
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
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.
Feeling a little unsure about what to do and how to go about it?
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.