Accessibility in eLearning environments has several components – 1) legal requirements of ADA, 2) best practices in instructional design, and 3) use of assistive technologies.
In the Instructional Design and Development I Level, you learned about some quality tools and processes, among them was Universal Design for Learning. Courses designed to integrate UDL philosophies go beyond the legal requirements of accessibility, and provide a richer learning experience for all students. Technically, an online course that is entirely text-based can be considered to be legally “accessible.” However it is not a good learning experience for students. Engaging richly with content, with fellow students and with faculty, can be supported by multimedia and technology tools.
In this Learning Module, we’ll discover more about the many facets of accessibility online.
The primary laws that are involved in compliance for online accessibility are sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA), and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, or IDEA, does not apply to institutions of higher education (Thomas, 2002; U.S. Department of Education, 2011; U.S. Department of Justice, 2014; Waddell, 2007).
Though there is a lack of understanding in within higher education institutions about what the specific requirements are for accessible online courses, recent consent decrees have made the expectations more explicit. All online courses, and indeed any content posted online for any course as well as Learning Management Systems and other technology systems are subject to the expectations of the communication standards from Title II and Title III. Functionally, this means that learning materials have been determined to be “communication” and therefore must be accessible previous to any requests for accommodation (Office of Civil Rights Compliance Review, 2014).
The functional definition of accessibility is that courses enable students to (1) access the same information, (2) engage in the same interactions, and (3) make use of the same services regardless of their disability.