Making Online Learning Accessible -- Guidance for Faculty and Staff

Author Information
Jeff Finlay
University of Maryland University College
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Maryland University College
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

University of Maryland University College (UMUC)'s Accessibility in Distance Education (ADE) site addresses accessibility issues in online courses.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

How this practice supports access:
UMUC's new Accessibility in Distance Education (ADE) web site has been designed to meet the needs of faculty members who are teaching students with disabilities in the online environment. The ADE site explains accessibility problems that students with disabilities are likely to encounter in navigating web-based resources, and shows faculty members how they can address and resolve these problems. The site provides faculty with information about different types of disabilities, relevant laws, and best accessibility practices.

After viewing the ADE site, faculty members will have a comprehensive understanding of how the online environment impacts people with disabilities and how they can address accessibility issues in online courses. The site provides numerous accessibility scenarios and shows ways that faculty can work with the available support services to resolve problems. There are wise words of advice from faculty members and students who participated in this project, and a special section on "Best Practices," which demonstrates how learning components ranging from websites to multimedia lectures can be made accessible.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Since its release in October 2003 the ADE site has become extremely popular with course designers, instructional support staff, disability support services, and the faculty. Disability support providers have found the site immensely useful as a means of educating faculty about web accessibility. Instructional support staff have provided extensive commentary site through its feedback form attesting that they also find the site very useful as an educational and reference tool. The site was designed with faculty members in mind, but feedback from them has been less visible. Web accessibility has not 'hit' yet as a major practice issue for online faculty, so perhaps it is not surprising that assessments of the value of the ADE site have come more from university staff well-positioned to understand the oncoming challenge. The support staff we have heard from or talked with certainly see the ADE site as very prescient and very useful, and an excellent resource to have at their fingertips.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

The information on the web site is freely accessible at no cost. Development of the site was funded with generous support from NEC Foundation of America and Verizon Foundation.

Other Comments: 

Ideal introduction for all faculty and staff seeking to understand Web accessibility issues. The site presents information clearly and attractively, is easy to navigate and its language is free of condescension or preachiness.

The Understanding Disabilities section explains the different kinds of disabilities that exist and shows how they may be impacted by inaccessible Web content. Most usefully for faculty, there are 'accessibility scenarios' for each disability type illustrating situations that might arise in an online course and showing how they can be resolved.

The Best Practices section of this site is also unique in that it offers concrete examples of revisions made to online course components as well as before-and-after comparisons which make it easy to see the differences. One example, for instance, shows two versions, one inaccessible (before) and one accessible (after) of an environmental management module that uses FLASH. Each example is accompanied by explanations of the accessibility process and the resources involved.
Compare this practice with the the University of Washington's website on designing distance courses for accessibility. [-- js, 6/11/04]

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Jeff Finlay, Assistant Director, Center for the Virtual University, Office of Distance Education and Lifelong Learning, University of Maryland University College
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