TCC08: Making Distance Learning Courses Accessible

Making Distance Learning Courses Accessible to Students with Disabilities

Hands, Deaf-Blind Keyboarding
cc licensed flickr photo shared by cobalt123


  • Adam Tanners, Doctoral Student in Exceptionalities, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI
  • Kavita Rao, Educational Technology Specialist, Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, Honolulu HI


  • Background
  • Legal Mandates
  • Four Scenarios
  • Conclusion

Four student profiles

  • Matthew: Blind
  • Marlee: Deaf
  • Albert: Learning disability–difficulty reading large blocks of text, overwhelmed by too much info
  • Steven: physical disability–unable to use standard mouse or keyboard, voice is soft & hard to understand

Assistive Technology = anything that increases, maintains, or improves “functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities”

Universal Design


  • Many built into computers
  • More available specialized

Instructional Methods

  • Address diverse learning styles–multimodal materials
  • Alternate methods of presentation & evaluation


  • IDEA: K-12 setting, “least restrictive environment”
  • ADA, Title II
  • Rehabilitation Act Section 504 & 508

Issue isn’t just whether students have access, but whether the communication is actually as effective as that provided to others. It’s not just whether it’s possible, but how usable it is.


Online course with asynchronous (LMS) & synchronous (Web conferencing)

  • Text-based files
  • Threaded discussions
  • Video files & audio podcasts
  • Interactive online class meetings

Matthew (Blind)

  • Limitations
    • Reading & inputting text on screen
    • Seeing graphics & video
  • Accommodations
    • Screen reader
    • Refreshable Braille display
    • Braille textbook

Tips for Matthew

  • Alt text for all graphical content
  • Create textual content in HTML, text, or accessible PDF (PDF needs to have the meta information with the text, not just an image of the text)
  • Create descriptive audio for videos (i.e., have someone describe the video)

Question: How accessible is Sakai?
Answer: Not sure yet–he hasn’t tested it

Marlee: Deaf


  • Hearing audio content
  • Hearing and speaking during synchronous meetings


  • Captioning
  • Alternative text for audio (i.e., transcript)
  • Video conferencing

Tips for Marlee

  • Elluminate has real-time captioning available (I’ve never seen anyone use this in a presentation before–very nicely done. It requires someone to type it out, but it’s possible.)
  • Can use a relay system with video interpreter
  • Select pre-made videos with captioning
  • Caption videos that you create for the course
  • Provide the script for narrated presentations & podcasts
  • If you use a script for your presentations, you have a transcript already for accessibility

Albert: LD


  • Large blocks of text
  • Dense information


  • Text-to-speech software


  • Create textual content in HTML, text, or accessible PDF (same as Matthew)
  • Course design–good use of white space, good design principles

Steven: Physical


  • Keyboard & mouse
  • Turning pages in printed text


  • Alternative computer input (too much to go into in this session–lots of options)
  • Electronic text


  • Course design (including big icons to make better “targets” for less accurate input devices)
  • Electronic version of all reading materials, including textbook


Tips often overlap–things that help one student often help others too

PowerPoint slides–don’t JUST read them, but if you read them it, then that content is available via audio

Not every instructor can do all of these–students should be proactive about asking for which parts they need. Know your audience.

Question: If you could only do 1 or 2 of these tips, which would have the most impact?

  • Captioning videos–even people who don’t have hearing disabilities may use it.
  • Electronic text–give people ability to access it

Read the other liveblogged posts from this conference.

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5 thoughts on “TCC08: Making Distance Learning Courses Accessible

  1. I’m interested in start working on projects for disabled people. Is there any other e-learning company in the world that has donde something like that? I guess so!!! I’m looking for advices!!

  2. I thought that you and your audience might like to know that National Distance Learning Week is coming up this November 10. I just interviewed the National Director, Dr. Ken Hartman. You can hear the interview and learn more at

    Rodney B. Murray, Ph.D.

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