In part one, we learned, not surprisingly, that the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights will intervene when they believe schools are using technologies that don’t provide equal access for all students. Rather than condemn technology, their guidance focused on selecting devices that provide equal access or offer accommodations to students so that they may “acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services…”
How do you know if an online course provides the same experience? What features should courses include to be compliant with the American Disabilities Act?
Glad you asked.
When the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) begins reviewing K-12 online courses this summer, one of the 52 criteria we’ll evaluate, D10, states that “Course materials and activities are designed to provide appropriate access to all students, including those with disabilities. The course, developed with universal design principles in mind, conforms to the U.S. Section 508 provision for electronic and information technology as well as the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). “
So, what does that mean? How can schools ensure that an online course is compliant with Section 508 and the ADA? Fortunately, the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) has created a guide. TxVSN is legislated to review online courses in Texas and their TxVSN Accessibility Guidelines should provide some guidance to help ensure that all students have equal access within online courses. CLRN will be following TxVSN’s guidance as both California and Texas utilize iNACOL’s national standards for online courses.
TxVSN’s publication outlines 10 guidelines to ensure that online courses are accessible to all students.
- Course navigation is consistent, clear and visible. The course may be navigated without a mouse.
- General accessibility attributes are followed in all elements of the course.
- Document structure is controlled through the use of styles.
- Text elements include recommended fonts, formatting and contrast ratios.
- Alternative text and/or descriptions are provided for all non-text elements throughout the course.
- Links are visually and functionally consistent throughout the course.
- Color used throughout the course provides sufficient contrast and is easily viewable with the color function turned off.
- Columns and tables are organized in a linear manner and use column and row headers properly.
- Textual equivalents are present for all corresponding multimedia elements within a course.
- Links for required applets, plug-ins, or other applications are provided to the student for download in the course.
What do each of those mean? The TxVSN guidelines also include a variety of check lists, each which covers how the 10 guidelines should be implemented. These checklists include: common attributes, course navigation, word processing, presentations, spreadsheets, PDF documents and forms, and multimedia.
During the coming year, in order CLRN’s course standard D10 to pass, CLRN will expect that audio files include a transcript, that videos include captions and/or transcripts, that all web pages have “breadcrumbs” for navigation, and that all illustrations, images, and charts have alternative text that describe the image. In the following years, CLRN will increase our expectations regarding how online courses accommodate students with disabilities.
Ensuring that all students have equal access to content and activities is everyone’s job: schools, publishers, and reviewers, but as they say, “You’re only a lawsuit away from being compliant.” Given the increasing popularity of online courses, we all have our part to ensure courses are fully accessible.