State Level Activities
State Leadership Activities
Program Goal Areas
Distance Education and Accessibility Resource Guide Outline
Introduction | General Disability Distance Education Resources and Guidelines | Accessible Distance Education Courses on Assistive Technology | Accessible Distance Education Courses on ADA, Accessible IT, and Employment | Distance Education Courses on Web Accessibility | Conferences | Bibliography
During the last several years, the range and magnitude of courses and other learning opportunities now available on the Internet has expanded tremendously. These courses range from those in higher education to professional services short courses, and even courses for fun and recreation. Such learning experiences involve computer and/or telecommunication-mediated communication that extend much farther than traditional distance education. Online courses attract people who have difficulty traveling large distances. Such courses are also beneficial to people with multiple chemical sensitivity and anxiety issues.
However, because technology is used to communicate, it poses both benefits and issues for students with disabilities. While the technology can be adapted or designed to include individuals with disabilities, inadequate or lack of any accessible design can impose new barriers to full participation in educational opportunities.
People with low vision, those who are blind, who have cognitive limitations, or who have limited physical mobility may have great difficulty in utilizing these online learning opportunities. While educational entities must comply with civil rights laws, such as Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act,1 many of these entities are designing inaccessible online learning resources. According to Cynthia Waddell of PSINet, "access to electronic and information technology for people with disabilities is emerging as a significant law and policy issue. Unless attention is paid to accessible Web design, this period of rapid technological development will create a digital divide locking out people from participation on the Web on the basis of disability" ("Electronic Curbcuts" The ADA in Cyberspace, American Bar Association website).
The beneficial effects of accessible distance learning using multimedia forms of communication—text, video, audio, synthetic speech—is that with skillful integration, "they can meet the needs of different sensory disabilities, and, at the same time, they can enrich communication for persons with different learning styles. In short, it takes thoughtful planning by the teacher [or online course developer] to use the technologies to meet everyone’s needs" (Coombs, N. "Universal Access with Adaptive Technology Discussed at 14th CSUN Conference," Library HI-Tech News, August 1999, No. 165, 13).
Since most of these distance-learning courses are web-based curricula, the web design must ensure that audio, graphics, and video clips are accessible to people with sensory or cognitive disabilities. For example, a person who is deaf will not be able to access the audio or video clip on a website unless the audio portion is also provided in captioned format. A person who is blind or who has learning disabilities cannot navigate a web page that is not coded to convey web content to text browsers and screen readers. According to Waddell,
In fact, many providers on inaccessible online curricula may not be aware that their materials are inaccessible, called "discrimination by inadvertence" by the National Council on Disability’s latest report, The Accessible Future (June 2001) .
To address the need for accessibility and distance learning opportunities, in August 1999 the Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges released its guidelines, Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities. This action was in response to the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, Web accessibility complaints. These guidelines are now considered a model for the nation.
U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige has reinforced President Bush’s proclamation to "leave no one behind" and pointed out that students with disabilities can reap great benefits from distance learning. However, at the present time, distance-learning opportunities for individuals with disabilities is still a potential issue, especially since so many educational entities practice "discrimination by inadvertence." According to Art Blaser, Professor of Political Science at Chapman University (Orange, California), "online education is high on many agendas; web access isn’t. There is a lot that’s accessible in the current state of distance learning. But the truth is, I notice the inaccessible stuff. And there’s far more of that". ("Distance Learning—Boon or Bane?" Ragged Edge Magazine, September 2001 .)
Even though many education associations, commissions, and organizations advocate for education for individuals with disabilities, Blaser has found that they do not specify what their level of commitment is for their online accessibility. For example, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc.’s Commission on Institutions of Higher Education’s guidelines on electronic education developed by the regional accrediting commissions states "requirements for service to those with disabilities" as an example of "legal and regulatory requirements" but does not specify anything more. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges states only that "access for learning or physically challenged students may pose some concerns since these students frequently avail themselves of distance learning."
Besides many educational entities’ lack of accessible online offerings, many are contracting with several for-profit software corporations offering "platforms" for conducting online courses. Most of these companies are not aware of the disability access issues and how people with disabilities use assistive technology, such as screen readers, to use the Internet.
Accessibility Not an "Add-On"
When online accessibility cost-effective arguments occur, the civil rights of such access should counteract any such discussions. However, Blaser points out that these arguments continue to be used showing that an "expensive" course could cost $30,000 to adapt with a "less-expensive" course at $15,000. However, such costs indicate that accessibility is perceived as an "add-on" feature to an already existing inaccessible course. Educational entities and the software platforms they purchase need to understand that "following accessible design principles and using the accessible features of ready-made software costs nothing more at all" (Ibid.). In fact, accessible design is often less expensive than using lots of graphics, video, and animation that renders many sites inaccessible when communicating content is the important feature. However, graphics, video, and animation can be made accessible by building into the website design descriptive alternative text. "Programmers now are much cheaper than lawyers later," states disability advocate, William Loughborough.
At Oregon State University’s (OSU) Center for Technology Access, Director Ron Stewart notes that providing adaptive information technology equipment and software to more efficiently access online curricula and information is not as costly as originally perceived. OSU conducted a study of the cost of assisting a student who is blind through a four-year degree program. What the institution found was that without adaptive technology, the cost averaged nearly $10,000; with adaptive technology, the cost was only $1,500. As Norman Coombs reveals, "not only does adaptive technology provide the student with more independence and better prepare the student for the workplace, but adaptive technology is cost-effective for the university" (Coombs, N. "Universal Access with Adaptive Technology Discussed at 14th CSUN Conference." Library HI-Tech News, August 1999, 15).
Blaser believes that the disability community can affect the future of distance learning by educating educational entities that accessible online learning is not just the "right thing to do," it’s the "only thing to do." (Blaser, A. "Distance Education—Boon or Bane?" Ragged Edge Magazine, Iss. 5, September 2001.)
Included in this guide are links to accessibility and distance learning resources and guidelines; assistive technology courses; ADA, accessible IT, and employment courses; web accessibility courses; conferences; and a bibliography.
General Disability Distance Education Resources and Guidelines
The Center for High Tech Training for Individuals with Disabilities
Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities, August 1999.
Do-IT, University of Washington
The Center for High Tech Training for Individuals with Disabilities
IMS Global Learning Consortium and CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
Model Distance Learning Computer Training Program for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals
Northwest Center for Technology Access, Oregon State University
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D)
Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) Distance Learning Program
SNOW (Special Needs Opportunity Windows)
VATU (Virtual Assistive Technology University)
Accessible Distance Education Courses on Assistive Technology
Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP)
Assistive Technology for Kansans Project
Institute on Disabilities, Temple University’s Center for Excellence
Maine CITE: Technology Collaboration through Distance Learning
RIATT (Research Institute for Assistive and Training Technologies)
VATU (Virtual Assistive Technology University)
Accessible Distance Education Courses on ADA. Accessible IT, and Employment
ADA Distance Learning Workshops
ADA Accesibility Guidelines (ADAAG) Education Course
EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information)
ITTATC (Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center
Web-Based Certificate Series on Supported Employment
Distance Education Courses on Web Accessibility
EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information)
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind)
Conferences (Note: The conferences listed in this section may or may not include distance education regarding learners with disabilities.)
E-Learn 2002, World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare & Higher Education, October 15-19, 2002, Montreal, Canada. Co-sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) and the International Journal on E-Learning.
"e-Learning in Higher Education: Reaching New Heights", November, 6-9, Denver, CO. Sponsored by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WCET).
Digital Education Leadership Conversation, December 5-6, 2002, San Diego, CA. Sponsored by Converge Magazine; 3Com; AMD; Apple Computer, Inc.; DellE.com; Gateway; Hewlett Packard; Intel; Microsoft; Mitel; Sun Microsystems; and Symantec.
Tenth Annual Distance Education Conference, January 21-24, 2003, Austin, TX. Sponsored by the Center for Distance Learning Research, Texas A&M University.
A Virtual National Conference, January 21-30, 2003, online. Sponsored by the North Carolina Distance Learning Alliance. The NC Distance Learning Alliance is a consortium of educators dedicated to promoting excellence in online instruction from North Carolina’s three leading public instruction systems: the University of North Carolina College System, the North Carolina Community College System and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
Stop Surfing-Start Teaching 2003 National Conference: Teaching and Learning Through the Internet, February 16-19, 2003, Las Vegas, NV. Sponsored by the University of South Carolina, Continuing Education Program.
19th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, August 12-15, 2003, Madison, WI. Sponsored by the University of Wisconsin, The Graduate Program in Continuing and Vocational Education.
For additional publications on distance education and disabilities, check the NARIC Search section on their web site or call NARIC at 1/800-346-2742.
Amtmann, D. & Johnson, K. L. "Increasing Access to Higher Education through the Use of the Internet." Technology and Disability, 8(3), 133-139, 1998.
Bitter, J. A. "Learner Online Interaction." Journal of Rehabilitation Administration, 24(1), 37-45, 2000.
Bitter, J. A. "Distance Learning Considerations." Journal of Rehabilitation Administration, 22(2), 129-135, 1998.
Blaser, A. "Distance Education—Boon or Bane?", Ragged Edge Magazine, Iss. 5, September 2001.
Burbules, N. C. & Callister, T. A. Universities in Transition: The Promise and the Challenge of New Technologies, 2000.
Burgstahler, S. "Universal Design of Distance Learning", Information Technology and Disabilities, (8)(1), Special Issue: Distance Education and Disability, January 2002.
Carnevale, D. "Colleges Strive to Give Disabled Students Access to On-Line Courses." The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 29, 1999.
Cavalier, A. "Faculty Support: Removing the Barriers to Effective Distance Education in Assistive Technology." Technology for the New Millennium, Proceedings of the RESNA 2000 Annual Conference, June 28-July 2, 2000, Orlando, FL, RESNA Press, Arlington, VA, 2000, 261-263.
Cavalier, A. "Distance Education for Postsecondary Students with Diverse Needs: The State of the Art and Science." The State of the Arts and Science, Proceedings of the RESNA 1998 Annual Conference, Minneapolis, MN, June 26-30, 1998. RESNA Press, Arlington, VA, 1998, 318-320.
Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges, Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities, August 1999.
Collins, B. C., Schuster, J. W., & Grisham-Brown, J. "So You’re a Distance Learner? Tips and Suggestions for Rural Special Education Personnel Involved in Distance Education." Rural Special Education Quarterly, 18(3-4), 66-70, 1999.
Cook, R. A., & Gladhart, M. A. "A Survey of Online Instructional Issues and Strategies for Postsecondary Students with Learning Disabilities", Information Technology and Disabilities, (8)(1), Special Issue: Distance Education and Disability, January 2002.
Coombs, N. "Universal Access with Adaptive Technology Discussed at 14th CSUN Conference," Library HI-Tech News, August 1999, No. 165, 13.
Coombs, N. "Bridging the Disability Gap with Distance Learning." Technology and Disability, 8(3), 149-152, 1998.
Cooper, H. & Keefe, C. H. "Preparation of Teachers of Visually Impaired Students via Distance Education: Perceptions of Teachers." Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 95(9), 563-566.
Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Teacher Education Division. "Training Rural Educators in Kentucky through Distance Learning: A Model with Follow-Up Data." Teacher Education and Special Education, 20(3), 234-248, 1998.
DeMario, N. C. & Heinze, T. "The Status of Distance Education in Personnel Preparation Programs in Visual Impairment." Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 95(9), 525-532.
Disability Statistics Center, Disability and the Digital Divide, Disability Statistics Abstract No. 22, August 2000,
DisabilityWorld.com, "European Survey on eLearning for Disabled People."
Dolby, N. Riding with Margaret: Reflections on the Limitations of Distance Learning, 2001.
Electronic Training Village, "What Is the Extent of eLearning in Europe?" European eLearning Summit, Brussels, May 10-11, 2001.
Freed, K. A History of Distance Learning: The Rise of the Telecourse, Part 1 of 3, 1999).
Gallagher, P. A. & McCormick, K. "Student Satisfaction with Two-Way Interactive Distance Learning for Delivery of Early Childhood Special Education Coursework." Journal of Special Education Technology, 14(1), 32-44, 1999.
Grisham-Brown, J., Knoll, J. A., Collins, B. C., Baird, C. M. "Multi-University Collaboration via Distance Learning to Train Rural Special Education Teachers and Related Services Personnel." Journal of Special Education Technology, 13(4), 110-121, 1998.
Huebner, K. M. & Weiner, W. R. "Distance Education in 2001." Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 95(9), 517-524.
Lance, G. D. "Distance Learning and Disability: A View From the Instructor’s Side of the Virtual Lectern," Information Technology and Disabilities, (8)(1), Special Issue: Distance Education and Disability, January 2002.
Liu, L., Cook, A. M., & Varnhagen, S. "Evaluation of technologies for distance delivery of continuing education to rehabilitation professionals." The AT Odyssey Continues: Proceedings of the RESNA 2001 Annual Conference, June 22-26, 2001, Reno, NV, RESNA Press, Arlington, VA, 163-165.
Ludlow, B. L., & Brannan, S. A. "Distance Education Program Preparing Personnel for Rural Areas: Current Practices, Emerging Trends, and Future Directions." Rural Special Education Quarterly, 18 (3-4), 5-20, 1999.
Lueck, A. H. "Live and Online: A Year-round Training Program for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments in California." Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 95(9), 533-542.
National Council on Disability. The Accessible Future (June 2001).
Paralyzed Veterans of America. "Class Action." Paraplegia News, 55(2), 12-17, 2001
Pisha, B. & Coyne, P. "Smart from the Start: The Promise of Universal Design for Learning." Remedial and Special Education, 22(4), July/August 2001, 197-203.
Putisek, M., Marincek, C., & Bester, J. "New Opportunities: Distance Learning for People with Special Needs." Assistive Technology on the Threshold of the New Millennium, AAATE [Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe] 1999 Conference Proceedings, Amsterdam, 86-89, 1999.
Russell, M. "Shirley Does the Disabled, "PR Watch Archives", 8(2).
Sargent, C. A., Binion, M., & Wilson, S. "The Ohio Assistive Technology Distance Learning Project: A Review of the First Year." Spotlight on Technology, Proceedings of the RESNA 1999 Annual Conference, June 25-29, 1999, Long Beach, CA, RESNA Press, Arlington, VA, 1999, 168-171.
Sargent, C. A., Binion, M., & Owens, D. "The Ohio Assistive Technology Distance Learning Project: Evolution to Web-based Education and the Implementation of an Impact Study." The AT Odyssey Continues: Proceedings of the RESNA 2001 Annual Conference, June 22-26, 2001, Reno, NV, RESNA Press, Arlington, VA, 208-210.
Sax, C. "Distance Education: Taking It to the Next Level." Spotlight on Technology, Proceedings of the RESNA 1999 Annual Conference, June 25-29, 1999, Long Beach, CA, RESNA Press, Arlington, VA, 1999, 291-293.
Sax, C. "Learning from a Distance: Assistive Technology Training for Rehabilitation Counselors." The State of the Arts and Science, Proceedings of the RESNA 1998 Annual Conference, Minneapolis, MN, June 26-30, 1998. RESNA Press, Arlington, VA, 1998, 311-313.
Scadden, L. A. "The Internet and the Education of Students with Disabilities." Technology and Disability, 8(3), 141-148, 1998.
Schenker, K. T., & Scadden, L. A. "The Design of Accessible Distance Education Environments that Use Collaborative Learning", Information Technology and Disabilities, (8)(1), Special Issue: Distance Education and Disability, January 2002.
Schnorr, J. M. "Developing and Using Technology for Course Delivery." Teacher and Special Education, 22(2), 114-122, 1999.
Tobin, T. J. "Issues in Preparing Visually Disabled Instructors to Teach Online: A Case Study,", Information Technology and Disabilities, (8)(1), Special Issue: Distance Education and Disability, January 2002.
Waddell, C. "Electronic Curbcuts" The ADA in Cyberspace, American Bar Association website.
Wood, W. M., Miller, K., & Test, D. W. "Using Distance Learning to Prepare Supported Employment Professionals." Journal of Rehabilitation, 64(3), 48-53, 1998.
Note#1 Online access is the law. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that people with disabilities not be "excluded from the participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance," including higher education. The Americans with Disabilities Act's Title II applies to state colleges and universities. "[T]he issue is not whether the student with the disability is merely provided access, but the extent to which the communication is actually as effective as that provided to others," said the Dept. of Education's Office of Civil Rights's 1998 report on the California Community Colleges. " Title II also strongly affirms the important role that computer technology is expected to play as an auxiliary aid. The ADA's Title III applies to "public accommodations," which include private colleges. The ADA mandates nondiscrimination "in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations."
The 1998 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act include Section 508, which requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508's rules just took effect this past June. Although this may not constitute an obligation for universities that don't sell goods to the federal government, more universities than you might imagine do have federal government contracts. (Blaser, A. "Distance Education-Boon or Bane?", Ragged Edge Magazine, Iss. 5, September 2001.)
The National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership is a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and RESNA. The grant (Grant #H224B050003; CFDA 84.224B) is funded under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, as amended and administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.
This website is developed with grant funds. The information contained on these pages does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education or the Grantee and no official endorsement of the information should be inferred.