We all know that when teaching in a face-to-face format, there are sometimes accommodations that need to be made for students who choose to request those accommodations through COD's office of Disabled Students Programs and Services. We are legally obligated to assist students with verified needs and documented accommodations.
Those same obligations exist in the online environment with some additional requirements that we must be mindful of. There are certain aspects of accessibility that are required in the online environment even if no student has self-identified as requiring accommodations:
Materials and the course learning management system must be navigable by keyboard and screen-reading technology.
Images must include alternate text (alt. text) so that images can be read by screen-reading technology.
Videos must be closed captioned.
In addition to making the course accessible for students with disabilities, these practices also ensure a more robust experience for all students. We know, for example, that captions help non-native speakers better interact with videos.
Make a course accessible from the get-go is the best practice as it is easiest to do this when you are developing materials rather than having to go back to materials if you are notified by a student that they require an accommodations after the course has begun.
At College of the Desert, the Distance Education Subcommittee is working to ensure that all course to meet accessibility requirements and the DSPS office is helping us meet this task. If you need help with making course content accessible, please contact Jonathan Gorges, DSPS Office.
The Board of Governor’s approval of distance education (DE) regulations for the California Community Colleges permits colleges to explore and develop educational initiatives using advanced communication and computing technologies to address student access issues related to geographical, cultural, disability or facility barriers.
Ensuring that distance education courses, materials and resources are accessible to students with disabilities is a shared institutional responsibility. Faculty need to receive appropriate training in order to ensure that they understand what constitutes accessibility, and institutions must provide faculty with both the necessary training and resources to ensure accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12100 et seq.), section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. Sec. 794d), and California Government Code section 11135 all require that accessibility for persons with disabilities be provided in the development, procurement, maintenance, or use of electronic or information technology by a community college district using any source of state funds. (See Legal Opinion M 03-09). Title 5, section 55200 explicitly makes these requirements applicable to all distance education offerings.1
The following are a few general principles that should be followed in ensuring that distance education courses are accessible to students with disabilities. They embody the general concepts of the law but do not provide a detailed legal analysis of the ADA requirements. Persons utilizing this document who are unfamiliar with the ADA and DSPS Coordinator for further information. A separate and more detailed set of revised guidelines on accessibility and distance education will be issued by the System Office at a later date.
One of the primary concepts of Distance Education (DE) is to offer students “Learning anytime, anywhere.” Therefore, all DE resources must be designed to afford students with disabilities maximum opportunity to access distance education resources “anytime, anywhere” without the need for outside assistance (i.e. sign language interpreters, aides, etc.).
Distance education resources must generally be designed to provide “built-in” accommodation (i.e. closed or open captioning, descriptive narration) and/or interface design/content layout, which is accessible to “industry standard” assistive computer technology in common use by persons with disabilities.
Whenever possible, printed information should be provided in the alternative format preferred by the student (i.e. Braille, audio tape, large print, electronic text, MP3, DAISY). When choosing between possible alternative formats or methods of delivery, consideration should be given to the fact that methods which are adequate for short, simple or less important communications may not be equally effective or appropriate for longer, more complex, or more critical material. (Example: Use of a telephone relay service may be an acceptable method for a faculty member to respond to a brief question from a deaf student during his/her office hours, but would not be appropriate as a means of permitting that same student to participate in a class discussion in a course conducted by teleconference.) Issues concerning accommodation should be resolved through appropriate campus procedures as defined under title 5, section 56027.
Adoption of access solutions which include assigning assistants (i.e. sign language interpreters, readers) to work with an individual student to provide access to distance education resources should only be considered as a last resort when all efforts to enhance the native accessibility of the course material have failed. This is particularly true since colleges have for several years received funding to assist them in providing access to distance education. In the event that a student files a discrimination complaint, a district relying on the use of readers or interpreters to make a distance education course accessible will bear the burden of demonstrating that it was not possible to build in accessibility.
Access to DE courses, resources and materials include the audio, video and text components of courses or communication delivered via existing and emerging technologies. Access includes the audio, video, multimedia and text components of Web sites, electronic chat rooms, e-mail, instructional software, CD-ROM, DVD, laser disc, video tape, audio tape, electronic text and print materials. Where access to Web sites not controlled by the college is required or realistically necessary to completion of a course, the college must take steps to ensure that such sites are accessible or provide the same material by other accessible means.
Distance education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.
Any DE courses, resources or materials purchased or leased from a third-party provider, or created or substantially modified “in-house” after August 1999, must be accessible to students with disabilities, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the instructional activity or result in undue financial and administrative burdens on the district.
In August 1999, the Chancellor’s Office began requiring that the curriculum for each DE course and its associated materials and resources be reviewed and revised, as necessary, when the course undergoes curriculum review pursuant to title 5, sections 55002 and 55206, every six years as part of the accreditation process. Thus, this process should now have been completed for all distance education courses. If a college has not yet reviewed its distance education courses to ensure accessibility, it should do so immediately. However, in the event that a student with a disability enrolls in an existing DE course before this review is completed, the college will be responsible for acting in a timely manner and making any requested modifications to the curriculum, materials or resources used in the course, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the instructional activity or result in undue financial burden on the district.
In the event that a discrimination complaint is filed alleging that a college has selected software and/or hardware that is not accessible for persons with disabilities, the Chancellor’s Office and the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights will not generally accept a claim of undue burden based on the subsequent substantial expense of providing access, when such costs could have been significantly reduced by considering the issue of accessibility at the time of initial selection.
In all cases, even where the college can demonstrate that a requested accommodation would involve a fundamental alteration in the nature of the instructional activity or would impose an undue financial and administrative burden, the college must provide an alternative accommodation which is equally effective for the student if such an accommodation is available.
The college is responsible for assuring that distance education courses, materials and resources are accessible to students with disabilities. All college administrators, faculty and staff who are involved in the use of this instructional mode share this obligation. The Chancellor’s Office will make every effort to provide technical support and training for faculty and staff involved in the creation of accessible distance education courses, resources and materials.
1. Learn more about Section 508. (Links to an external site)