Key Accessibility Considerations for Remote Learning

Key Accessibility Considerations for Remote Learning

The online learning environment is subject to the same laws governing seated classes insomuch that educational institutions have an obligation to ensure that learning opportunities and experiences should be accessible. In the online environment the ADA as Amended, Section 504 and additionally WCAG 2.0 standards are applicable. WCAG delineates the features necessary to meet minimum accessibility requirements in the online/remote participation environment and are comprehensive. Given the current situation, it will be impossible to meet all of these standards in the time available but there are some suggestions we can put forth in respect of particular groups of students for instructors and ITS to consider. Please note that the extent to which accommodations in the online environment will be necessary will, in part be dependent upon whether a synchronous or asynchronous environment is selected.

Please also note that not all students with disabilities and chronic medical conditions do connect with ARS and so there may be some students’ whose needs only become apparent in this new environment and as a result of the unique challenges it may pose for them. 

Please note that ARS will not be able to remediate inaccessible course materials given the current circumstances; moving forward instructors should be aware of the new Digital Accessibility Policy.

Sample Syllabus Statement:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (504) require that institutions in higher education make reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities. Accessibility Resources and Service (ARS) is the designated office to determine reasonable accommodations for students engaging in both seated and on-line courses, clinical and fieldwork experiences, as well as, campus housing and dining. 

Accommodations are determined individually to minimize the effects of the disability’s impact and functional limitations and to give students an equal opportunity to meet and complete the established academic standards and course/program requirements. Access is a University responsibility and accommodations are implemented in partnership with instructors and other relevant departments and members of the University community. 

The process to connect with ARS for accommodations can be found on the “Connect” tab of the ARS Website.

Students who are already connected to ARS and with an accommodation record should issue their accommodations notification email as soon as possible from the ARS Hub and reach out to instructors to discuss the implementation of their accommodations.

Please contact ARS with any questions through the ARS Website or by email

Key accessibility considerations for students with accommodations and support needs in an online/remote learning environment:

  1. Universal Design

    1. Adopt a universal design approach recording Zoom sessions to the cloud which will provide transcriptions and make these available to all students with slides and teaching materials. This will assist students with executive functioning challenges, students with sensory impairments and students whose domestic and learning circumstances are challenging as a result of the remote learning environment.

  2. For Office Hours consider the use of MS365 Teams or Google Meet

    1. Captions are available in these platforms and as well as providing essential supports for hard-of-hearing students can be helpful for many other students.
  3. Document accessibility

    1. Instructors may be tempted to increase the amount of readings required to supplement direct class instruction and as the basis of online discussions and assignments; readings shared by an instructor should be in an accessible form, for example as a Word doc or accessible PDF. Image based PDFs are not accessible and will require conversion to an accessible form before sharing/posting. Check for select, copy and paste functionality in a pdf document; if you can do this then basic accessibility is present. If you cannot do this the document is not accessible and it should not be used. Also reference the accessible documents resources from the Digital Accessibility Office for assistance.

  4. Web-page accessibility - Sakai, blogs etc: there are a whole range of standards to meet to ensure accessibility and it is challenging even for professional web designers to meet them; at this time we suggest focusing on:​

    1. Ensuring that all images have alternative text or “alt-text” tag. This is the phrase you see when you hover your on-screen pointer over an image and is used by assistive technologies to give information about the image to the user.

    2. Using a font that is maximally accessible e.g. 14px/16px, Arial, and left justified. This may appear a little large but will address the needs of many students who are print challenged by adopting a universal design approach.

    3. Also reference the authoring website resources from the Digital Accessibility Office for assistance.

  5. Videos – should have closed captions / subtitles

    1. For instructional material from, for example, YouTube, TED Talks, or other website videos, check to ensure that captions are available and accurate. Open the video and look for the "cc" in the player.

    2. Captioning/subtitling a video you have prepared to share online: 

      1. Record your presentation with narration and then upload to YouTube and use the automatic captioning feature to get 90ish% of the captioning done, then tidy up the subtitle file and upload - set your video to "private" and pass the URL to your students - see Captioning YouTube Videos which describes this process.

      2. Professional captioning for deaf students - upload your video to Sakai and into the Warpwire plugin and request subtitles.

    3. Captioning/subtitling in real-time:

      1. Professional captioning for deaf students - contact ARS staff who will liaise with a 3rd party captioning service and advise on the necessary steps. 

      2. Another possibility is to use Office 365/PowerPoint in the Slide Show menu check Always Use Subtitles and then share your screen through Zoom - this is not a substitute for CART needed by some deaf students.

    4. Instructors presenting course content remotely whether in real-time or using a recording and who are moving between different presentations/displays should take care to verbalize their actions and supplement visual material orally to support students using assistive technologies and those who have difficulty with attending to visual material.

  6. On-line testing with accommodations

    1. Instructors will need to be flexible in relation to testing to ensure that students with testing accommodations are not disadvantaged; this may necessitate the use of alternative assessment methods.

    2. Many students affiliated with ARS are in receipt of testing accommodations; the most common of which is extended testing time. This is easily facilitated within the common LMSs used but does have limitations and does not allow for some of the more nuanced testing accommodations managed by the ARS Testing Center which are addressed in the following point. For students in receipt of a stopped clock accommodation, we suggest adding an additional 10% of testing time. Sakai and GradeScope allow for this accommodation.​

    3. Short quizzes are notoriously challenging to administer with accommodations when delivered in the context of a time-limited class meeting period; by all means use them but consider the extent to which they contribute to the course grade if students’ testing accommodations cannot be met.

    4. If you have students needing the physical assistance of an examination assistant or more complex accommodations beyond your scope in an online environment you are encouraged to reach out to ARS staff via to explore options or ask the student to complete our modified Non-Standard Scheduling Request Form. This information will also be shared with students.

Resources and information:​

  1. Explore Access - Designing an Accessible Online Course

  2. WebAIM tutorial describes how to use headings, add alt text, create links, and use Word’s Accessibility Checker to identify accessibility problems

  3. Using Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can run optical character recognition on any pdfs

  4. Using Powerpoint Translator - Microsoft 

  5. Flipped instruction with PowerPoint Recorder 

  6. Generating automatic captions and a transcript for your Microsoft Stream videos

  7. Creating accessible PowerPoint presentations - Microsoft 

  8. Creating accessible Word documents - Microsoft

  9. 20 Tips for Instructors about Making Online Learning Courses Accessible from DO‑IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internet working, and Technology) at The University of Washington)

  10. And for those of you with more time on your hands! Accessibility in Online Courses and Materials Applying Universal Design for Learning by Samantha Harlow is the Online Learning Librarian at UNC Greensboro

  11. Universal Design for Learning Guidelines