Accessibility in Online Course Materials: Identifying and Repairing Accessibility Barriers

Author Information
Eliizabeth J. Pyatt
Christian Vinten-Johansen
William J. Welsh
Michael L. Brooks
R. Matthew Barkau
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Penn State
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Recent changes in the legal landscape including the adoption of ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 and other developments have clarified that Website accessibility should be considered alongside accessibility of physical buildings.  The Penn State Accessibility Technology and Information (ATI) team have developed a set of best practices including a triage method to prioritize which accessibility issues to address first.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Based on an assessment of institution needs and consultation with users requiring accessibility accommodations in course work, the Penn State ATI team identified a series of critical "blockers" then focused training events and documentation to explain the blockers and point different users (web developers, faculty, staff) to tools to repair blockers in their online documents.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Users report being more able to understand what they need to fix in terms of accessibility during training sessions and that they are able to find materials they need on the Penn State accessibility Web site ( The triage and prioritization process also allows Web teams to formulate a plan to address accessibility issues.
Note: Some elements of navigation on the Penn State Accessibility Web site are inspired by a similar architecture from the University of Minnesota's Website (

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

If an institution or author wishes to develop online materials for a large audience, accessibility should be included in the workflow. Beyond the legal factors, developing accessible products often enhances the experience for many students and can lead to improved search engine rankings. Many accessibility guidelines follow suggested design and usability guidelines, so an added benefit of accessibility guidelines is to add "teeth" to other best practice guidelines.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

To develop training and documentation, access to a screen reader and captioning tools are strongly recommended. Additional free plugin testing tools for Firefox is also available. Accessibility repair tools vary depending on the materials needing to be repaired, but are often included in software already purchased for developers including Dreamweaver, Microsoft Office, Flash and Adobe Acrobat. Captioning tools are also reuired for videos.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Development of training and documentation requires dedicated staff time (approximately 2-3 staff or staff equivalents). Costs to repair accessibility issues depend on materials needing to be repaired. Materials posted in HTML format tend to be the easiest to repair and verify. Others, such as Flash based materials, can be repaired but requires more in-depth training for developers.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Elizabeth J. Pyatt
Email this contact:
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Christian Vinten-Johansen
Email contact 2:
Effective Practice Contact 3: 
Accessibility Website Team
Email contact 3: