Digital accessibility

woman intently showing a coworker something on the computer

Digital accessibility is of growing importance with implications for everyone, including faculty, administrators and institutions. Listed below are citations for articles with digital accessibility best practices, definitions or thoughtful discourse.

ADA Compliance for Online Course Design

Burgstahler, S. (2017). 

Burgstahler includes solutions to assistive technology limitations, suggestions for online accessible courses, and links to resources in this helpful summary.

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The visual experience of accessing captioned television and digital videos

Butler, J. (2019). 

Butler held three focus groups with a total of 20 participants identifying as deaf or hearing impaired to get perspective on different captioning techniques used in videos. Overall, participants preferred captions at the bottom of the screen presented in complete sentences (rather than one word at a time), and they agreed that font color contrasting with video color is most helpful.

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A Review of Accessibility in Online Higher Education

Coleman, M., & Berge, Z. L. (2018). 

The authors provided a history of accessibility in online higher education and a helpful review of disability types that may lead to barriers in online learning. After comparing the advantages and disadvantages of online learning for those with disabilities, the authors argue that a more proactive approach to accessibility is necessary in higher education. 

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Key challenges and future directions for online accessibility

Linder, K. E., Fontaine-Rainen, D. L., & Behling, K. (2015). 

Researchers used a mixed-methods approach to study the accessibility of online courses at institutions across the United States. Responses revealed that institutions struggle with defining who is ultimately responsible for ensuring accessibility, and they feel overwhelmed with the rapid proliferation of online programs. However, data also revealed solutions and next steps from institutions that have been successful in some areas. 

Access and Accessibility in Online Learning

McAlvage, K., & Rice, M. (2018, June). Access and Accessibility in Online Learning: Issues in Higher Education and K-12 Contexts, from OLC Outlook: An Environmental Scan of the Digital Learning Landscape. Newbury Port, MA: OLC Research Center for Digital learning & Leadership.

McAlvage and Rice reviewed K–12 and HE terms, legal precedents and other matters in order to help practitioners improve the educational experiences of online learners with disabilities. Using research questions, the authors suggested best practices for accessible online learning. Resources were listed for accessibility advocates. 

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Accessibility in online courses: Understanding the deaf learner

McKeown, C., & McKeown, J. (2019). Accessibility in online courses: Understanding the deaf learner. TechTrends, 1-8.

In this original article, the authors discuss three possible barriers faced by online students identifying as deaf: the learning management system (LMS), course materials, and communication/language. They argue that many accessibility efforts only address one or two of these barriers, and students could miss out if any of these impede learning. After providing examples of how each barrier could be problematic, they offer solutions based in Universal Design and suggest flexibility for all students.

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Accessing abilities: Creating innovative online learning environments

Moorefield-Lang, H., Copeland, C. A., & Haynes, A. (2016). Accessing abilities: Creating innovative online learning environments and putting quality into practice. Education for Information 32, 27-33.

Using the medical-social term “differently-able,” Moorefield-Lang, et al., discuss a USC School of Library and Information Science partnership with the Center for Teaching Excellence that held workshops to better serve distance education/online students with such otherwise-termed disabilities. In so doing, they delineated standards, techniques, outcomes, and future plans. Peer professional development resulted, as did 10 Best Practices.


MU video usage faculty survey

Nagel, T., Siegenthaler, K., Wren, D., Moore, J., & Hathaway, A. (2018). MU video usage faculty survey

Online instructors at the University of Missouri were given a survey asking about their use of videos within their online courses. Responses showed that videos are a popular tool among online instructors, and many instructors make their own using their own space and software. These instructors showed a lot of passion for creating the videos, but video implementation is falling a bit shy of accessibility expectations.


The effects of interactions

Oh, Y., & Lee, M. S. (2016). The effects of online interactions on the relationship between learning-related anxiety and intention and intention to persist among e-learning students with visual impairment. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 17(6), 89-107.

Oh and Lee studied Korean elearning students with visual impairment to determine whether learning-related anxiety would negatively impact their intention to persist with online course work. They focused on three online interactions from transactional distance education theory and found that, given a survey where n = 103, results revealed significant associations between learning-related anxiety and intention to persist with elearning. The authors provided suggestions for improving such intention to persist and for facilitating online communications.

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Paying attention to accessibility when designing online courses

Oswal, S. K., & Meloncon, L. (2014). Paying attention to accessibility when designing online courses in technical and professional communication. Journal of Business and Technical Communication 28(3), 271-300. doi: 10.1177/1050651914524780. 

The writers urge scholars to go beyond merely “paying attention” to students with disabilities via examining survey results and provide strategies for online technical and professional communication (TPC) instructors and greater accessibility in such courses. They advocated proactive ways for instructors to learn about disabilities, including creating internships and service-learning opportunities. Universal Design (UD) loomed large in preparing online courses, as did adherence to the ADA.

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Increasing accessibility: Using universal design principles

Pittman, C. N., & Heiselt, A. K. (2014). Increasing accessibility: Using universal design principles to address disability impairments in the online learning environment. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 17(3). 

Pittman and Heiselt describe universal design and how to apply its principles to develop online accessible course work.

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Universal design for online courses: Applying principles to pedagogy

Rao, K., Edelen-Smith, P., & Wailehua, C. (2015). Universal design for online courses: Applying principles to pedagogy. Open Learning 30(1), 35-52.

Rao et al. described how a university instructor used UID (Universal Instructional Design) to design three online courses, invoking “cognitive access” via pedagogical practices. Five phases of instructional design, from analysis to evaluation, come forth, allowing variation and flexibility. Results showed students’ valuing of organization, instructor interaction, and flexible options; implications for practice came out of this study as well.

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Universal design in online courses: Beyond disabilities

Tobin, T. J. (2013, December). Universal design in online courses: Beyond disabilities. Online Cl@ssroom, 13(12), 1-3. 

Tobin provides examples of ways online music and biology instructors used universal design principles to enhance their online classes.

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Accessible media: The need to prepare students

Youngblood, N. E., Tirumala, L. M., & Galvez, R. A. (2017). Accessible media: The need to prepare students for creating accessible content. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator 00(0), 1-12. 

Youngblood et al. reviewed online accessibility issues across the curriculum, e.g., closed captioning, audio descriptions and online documents, in order to ensure that students understand accessibility and that educators make electronic media accessible. All this is in accordance with regulations and legislation such as the ADA.

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