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Accessibility in Online Language Courses

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Knowledge and understanding of accessibility design principles, the law, and guidelines are fundamental to be compliant and successful today. Accessibility is especially critical in online education and Web developments when striving to provide education that is inclusive and embraces all.

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Accessibility is an essential part of online education. As providers of information and content, we must be aware of the needs of people with disabilities, and enable online education that is inclusive and accessible to all. For most of us a “click” is all that is needed to access a whole world of information. As many say “information is at the tip of our fingers” as we reach to the internet. But this is not the case for our family, friends, and neighbors who may have a disability such as impaired vision or hearing. In this case, content must be provided that is inclusive and compliant with accessibility principles. This will open online education opportunities and ensure that all of us, with disabilities or not, can participate fully.

Whether you are new to the accessibility concept or you want to refresh your knowledge and get some updated information, you will find this lesson informative and helpful. We will start with some background information that will help understand the accessibility concept in general as well as become familiar with the law, standards and guidelines.

Americans with Disability Act (ADA):
Most of us are familiar with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) which was signed into law on July 26, 1990. The ADA, as stated in the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Web site, is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.

The ADA is an "equal opportunity" law for people with disabilities. To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as 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. Visit the ADA site for additional information.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended in 1998:
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others. The United States Access Board discusses the Section 508 law and its responsibility for developing accessibility standards for EIT to incorporate into regulations that govern Federal procurement practices.

Section 508 Standards and Education:
The U.S. Department of Education has included an accessibility statement which states
- Section 508 is a federal law that requires agencies to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to electronic information and data comparable to those who do not have disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.
- The Section 508 Standards are the technical requirements and criteria that are used to measure conformance within this law.

More information at the U.S. Department of Education Accessibly Statement.

Web and online accessibility:
Online accessibility means that users with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with online educational purpose with our online course content. To further the understanding and how users with disabilities use online content, please view the following two videos from the WebAIM © organization.

Video 1:
Gain an appreciation of web accessibility by understanding the user perspective.”
- Video at
- Transcript at

Video 2:
“The students in the video share some of their experiences with the web and accessibility.”
- Video at
- Transcript at
How people with disabilities use the web provides a great overview and includes scenarios of users with disabilities using the Web that will help you start working on being inclusive.

Standards and guidelines for online accessibility:
To work on accessibility and compliance, designers and educators should follow Section 508 Standards and Checklist, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 which provides an excellent checklist, and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Perspectives videos to explore the impact and benefits of providing content that is compliant for everyone. The W3C is an international consortium that also develops standards for the Web.

Here is a list with some of the videos from W3C:
Keyboard Compatibility
Colors with Good Contrast
Clear Layout and Design
Text to Speech
Video Captions
Customizable Text
Voice Recognition

Section 508 and the WCAG 2.0. guidelines checklist is recommended to have when designing and verifying accessibility compliance. Additional information is available also at Section 508 best practices Webpage. The best practices have abundant resources to help you implement accessibility principles, technologies and work with  Word and PDFs to make them accessible.

Some benefits:
-Helpful illustrations, properly-organized content, and clear navigation helps learners
- Captions and transcripts necessary for deaf users can be helpful to others, including anyone who views a video without audio
- Takes into account the use of Assistive Technologies (AT) used by learners with disabilities
- Provides additional support to students who are not native English speakers and still in the process of learning the language
- Access for people with low literacy and people not fluent in the language
- Assist adult learners with age-related impairments, even though they may not be regarded as having a disability.  
- Access for mobile device users
- Accessibility is essential for social equity and opportunity to all

- At your institution, contact the office that provides services and resources to learners with disabilities and access
- Take any training that it is provided and become familiar with Assistive Technologies (AT) and tools available to work on content and instructional material
- Review your course for accessibility using the checklist for Section 508 standards and WCAG 2.0 guidelines
- Find out accessibility compliance of the applications you use including the learning management system (LMS)
- Add an accessibility statement in your syllabus. Your institution may provide one.

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