Accessibility in Online Courses at EFSC
Eastern Florida State College increasingly relies on Internet technology and digital content to serve students, including online courses through Canvas, its Learning Management System.
Federal law requires government institutions ensure that digital content is accessible to people with disabilities in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, internationally accepted standards for web accessibility. Accordingly, the offices of Academic Affairs, Academic Technology, eLearning, and Student Access for Improved Learning (SAIL) at Eastern Florida State College have collaboratively developed Accessibility tools and resources for faculty to ensure that their online courses are fully accessible to all students.
These tools and resources have been developed in accordance with various federal laws. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, for example, prohibits the College as a post-secondary, public institution from discriminating against any individual on the basis of disability. Specific provisions of the ADA govern types of access to programs and services.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive federal funding, such as financial aid or Title III grants. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act sets federal governmental agency standards for digital content. A 2017 “refresh” or updating of Section 508 requires government institutions to ensure that digital content is accessible to people with disabilities by January 2018 in accordance with WCAG 2.0.
Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility, which means that no one is alone in this endeavor. Faculty, Academic Affairs, eLearning, Academic Technology and SAIL all work together as a team to ensure accessibility of online courses.
Faculty, for example, serve as the content experts and curriculum developers to design course documents in accordance with accessibility guidelines, check accessibility of required software and web applications, and create accessibility plans for required content that is inaccessible.
eLearning and Academic Technology offer training sessions and individual assistance to faculty, provide resources for faculty to check digital content in all forms for accessibility through tools such as the UDOIT Accessibility Checker, develop training materials, review online courses according to accessibility standards and otherwise support faculty in creating accessible digital content.
SAIL staff work with faculty in a proactive fashion to reduce accessibility barriers for existing and new courses, review documentation of student disability, determine reasonable accommodations for eligible students with disabilities and notifies faculty of these accommodations, and otherwise assist faculty in meeting the needs of students with disabilities.
While federal law requires that postsecondary institutions that receive federal funding make all digital content accessible to all students, course material publishers are not similarly bound. Therefore, faculty must be diligent in reviewing digital content (often bundled with textbooks) available from any publisher’s website, as well as e-books themselves. Should any of this content pose accessibility barriers, the College cannot change the content itself — only the publisher can do that. While more publishers are working to comply with accessibility law and others work with the College to make content accessible, some publishers may not. Faculty should consider carefully whether to use content that creates accessibility barriers. If this kind of content is nevertheless selected for a class because it is the only available software to meet course learning outcomes, a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (or VPAT) must be obtained from the publisher for the College to approve the course material.