Checking Online Classes for Accessibility
Learning & Course Management Systems
For a list of resources to help make courses more accessible, check out our resources for instructors.
Colleges and universities use management systems (referred to as LMS or CMS) to deliver their online programs. The most-often used systems, and information about their access features, can be found at these links:
Parts of a Typical Online Class, Possible Barriers & Strategies for Accessibility
Navigating the Class
Most LMS's include menus, icons and graphics to access various parts of the class, such as lectures or discussions. Sometimes the layout of the LMS can be confusing or not intuitive. Icons or graphics might not have alt-tags.
Academic departments and instructors need to assess the design of the LMS used and evaluate the ease or difficulty of navigating the site. Students may need to try out a sample class to see how to navigate it. They might need to work with the instructor or support staff to learn strategies for navigation, such as shortcut keys.
Instructors often write out their lectures for students to read. Others use "lecture capture" software that may show a slideshow with voice-over lecture. Videos, either of the instructor in front of the on-campus class, recordings from TV, or commercially produced are also used for lectures. Each of these methods has potential barriers.
Instructors need to ensure that text that appears on the page is readable by text-to-speech software, and is not "image-only."
The accessibility of video material to Deaf, hard of hearing, blind, vision impaired and other students is often overlooked by instructors, departments and video producers.
Instructors need to ensure that videos used in classes have captioning and audio description. Commercial videos will often have a "CC" symbol to indicate captioning. In-house videos need to have captions added. YouTube's built-in captioning feature is unreliable and should not be used.
As in an on-ground class, reading assignments supplement lectures. Readings can be links to web pages and other online material, text documents, or, most often, PDF's.
Text in these virtual formats can sometimes be problematic if not formatted correctly; while it may appear to be text, it may actually be an image that is unreadable by text-to-speech software. Many PDF's are particularly problematic.
Instructional designers can assist instructors in making sure that articles and other reading materials are actual, readable text.
Discussions & Collaborative Learning
Asynchronous discussions can be more successful for disabled students than real-time discussions, since students have time to process and respond to the information that their reading.
Depending on the format of the LMS' Discussion tool, threads can be difficult to navigate, especially for students with vision or visual-spatial impairments. Replies and Replies-to-Replies can get confusing.
Real-time collaborative software can be inaccessible to blind or vision-impaired students, if there are many graphics and icons used as controls. Live discussions can be difficult to track for students using interpreters or CART; to address this, speakers should identify themselves before speaking.
Instructors and instructional designers should explore the features of collaborative tools. Software like BlackboardCollaborate or AdobeConnect seem to work better with accessibility tools, such as captioning pods, and include Chat windows along with audio to offer multiple modes of communication.
Some students with learning and other disabilities may need additional time in order to read, process and respond to test items.
LMS' usually have a feature in which the instructor can adjust the length of time assigned to each exam, by individual student. Instructional designers can assist with enabling this feature.
As with reading assignments and other parts of a course, exams should be readable by text-to-speech software, and components of exams such as audio or video, must be accessible as mentioned above.