La Salle University is committed to providing students with disabilities equal access and participation in all of its academic programs, including online programs in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Online courses can greatly benefit students with visual or auditory  impairments and upper body limitations by allowing access to a course from anywhere and utilizing their computer to translate information. An accessible online course enables students with disabilities to participate equally with other students. An online course is accessible when it allows every student to access and navigate course content and review and submit to assignments. Online course content should consider multiple means of engagement, representation and action as demonstrated by the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines to provide multiple ways for students to gain knowledge, demonstrate knowledge and interact with the online community.

Student at Computer

Course design needs to consider accessibility for four major categories of disability; visual, hearing, cognitive and motor. To accommodate all students, information is best shared in a combination of text, video, audio and image. For example, visually impaired students or students with learning disabilities use screen readers for text that allows them to skip from link text to link text in a webpage and from heading to heading in a document. By using descriptive hyperlinks and structuring the content with hierarchical headings, students can easily skim through a webpage, Canvas page or text document to find resources that are linked from the page and gain an overview of its content and organizational structure.

Using the “Style” features built into programs like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Canvas pages, creates documents that are accessible to screen readers. Microsoft Word also has an “Accessibility Checker” that assists in creating an accessible document. The La Salle ID Team has created an Online Syllabus Template in Microsoft Word and an online course template in Canvas that include the appropriate accessibility styles. In addition, Alternative Text, (Alt Tags), need to be added to images, banners or other visual information to aid those who cannot read content presented in images. Using san serif text on plain backgrounds and high contrast color combinations can accommodate students with dyslexia or colorblindness. Clear, consistent layouts not only benefit the learning impaired, it benefits every online student.

The most common accommodations for students with disabilities is the addition of captions to videos for students who are hearing impaired. Many video platforms, including YouTube can use speech recognition technology to automatically create captions for your videos. These automatic captions are generated by machine learning algorithms, so the quality of the captions may vary. Closed captioning also assists students with other learning disabilities like dyslexia who may need to see printed words and listen to them at the same time.

We find many issues with compliance in relation to PDF’s. PDF’s that are scanned images are not accessible and should not be used. Test a PDF by trying to copy and paste text within the PDF. If text cannot be copied and pasted, that PDF should not be used. Adobe Acrobat Pro makes it easy to create accessible PDFs and check the accessibility of existing PDFs. The “Make Accessible” action walks you through the steps required to make an accessible PDF such as adding missing document descriptions or titles. It also looks for common elements that need further action, such as scanned text, form fields, tables and images. You can run this action on all PDF’s except dynamic forms or portfolios.

When an online course presents content within these accessibility guidelines, all students benefit. Go to our Faculty Guide to Canvas to view a video from Apple on Accessibility.