Accessibility in Online Learning Environments
Federal legislation, like the American Disabilities Act, Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, outlines the requirements for federal agencies to accommodate people of all abilities. For faculty, it is important to understand how these civil rights laws affect higher education and impact university services. At the course level, these laws can affect how content is delivered in the traditional, hybrid or online class.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination of people with disabilities when attending any organization or institution that receives federal funding. This means that students of all abilities have an equal right to attend classes or programs that are physically or electronically offered on campus.
Section 508 (Student Accessibility)
Section 508 is the portion of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that addresses the need for Federal Agencies, like the University of North Texas at Dallas, to make electronic information accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 most often applies to web accessibility, but also includes web services offered by the university such as course management systems or electronic library resources
American with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that U.S. programs and services be accessible to individuals with disabilities. There are a total of 11 laws that protect persons with disabilities. A 1996 Department of Justice ruling makes it clear that ADA accessibility requirements apply to Internet resources. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.
Section 508 addresses the accessibility of all course materials and media elements and applies to the design and development of online environments. All distance education courses offered by UNT Dallas are required to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and all university web sites should also be in compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Instructors should be familiar with the Americans with “Disability Act”, Section 504 and Section 508 requirements and use resources to avoid violations and be in compliance. The Office of Distance Learning and Instructional Technology can assist and guide instructors with the creation of accessible online courses and material for the online environment.
Watch the following video A Personal Look at Accessibility in Higher Education
Watch the following video Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessibile to Everyone
Quick Reference Guide
This quick reference guide is designed to provide an understanding of how to use different types of technology to create accessible course content.
View our Quick Reference Guide for Accessible Course Content. (PDF)
Tips and Best Practices
- When choosing electronic resources for your class, such as ebooks or courseware, ask how their product complies with accessibility legislation.
- Visit and become familiar with the Disability Services at UNT Dallas website,
- Visit their section on Accessibility to learn how adaptive technologies might be used to access your course materials.
- Include information about students’ rights and responsibilities in your syllabus and be aware of the rights and responsibilities of students with accommodation requests. New students may not be aware of these requirements and will need to register with Disability Services to receive academic accommodations.
- Use the Accessbility Checker when creating content in the Rich Text Editor in Canvas.
How to Create Accessible Course Content:
- How to Create Appropriate Alternate Text for Images
- How to Create Accessible Word Documents
- How to Create Accessible PowerPoint Documents
- How to Create Accessible PDF documents
- How to Create Accessible Tables
- Convert image-based PDFs into text-based Word Documents
- Intro to Closed Captioning for Video
- YouTube Closed Captioning Instructions
- Designing for Screen Readers
- WAVE accessibility checker for websites.
Publisher Accessibility Information
Below are links to major publishers with information on the accessibility of their online content.
In addition to technical accessibility, Universal Design for Learning is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. Through funding from the U.S. Department of Education, UDL-Universe was developed to serve as a one-stop portal for UDL and faculty development resources.
For more information, please visit Disability Services Office