2003 Conference Proceedings

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by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D.
Director, DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology)
Box 355670, University of Washington 98195
Phone: 206-543-0622
Email: sherylb@u.washington.edu

Distance learning courses offer opportunities for education and career enhancement for those who have access to the technologies they employ. However, even if they have access to assistive technology, some people with disabilities face barriers to distance learning courses because of the inaccessible design of coursework. Libraries, university departments, museums and other groups who offer content used in distance learning programs should take steps to assure that their materials are accessible to everyone.

This presentation summarizes access challenges, legal issues, and design considerations for assuring that distance learning courses are accessible to potential instructors and students with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. The field of universal design provides a framework for the discussion. Access issues and accessibility solutions related to the following curricular materials and delivery options will be discussed.

It is unlikely that distance learning courses will be accessible to students and instructors with a broad range of abilities and disabilities unless the universal design of media and technological tools is routinely considered as courses are being developed. This presentation will focus on steps programs can take in order to develop policies and procedures regarding the accessibility of distance learning courses.

It is difficult to develop policies in an area where technological changes occur constantly. How can an organization begin the process of developing its policies, procedures, and guidelines? This presentation will discuss each of the following recommended considerations. (Burgstahler, 2002)

Designed correctly, distance education options create learning opportunities for everyone. Designed poorly, they erect barriers to equal participation in academics and careers for potential students and instructors with disabilities. Employing universal design principles as technology-based distance learning courses are created can bring us closer to making learning accessible to everyone, everywhere, at any time. In this presentation, examples of policies and procedures that have been developed by distance learning programs will be presented and useful handouts with resources for further study will be provided. The content of this presentation will help programs that offer distance learning options develop policies and procedures that assure that their offerings are accessible to individuals with disabilities.


This paper is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (grant # 9800324) and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education (grant #P33A990042). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Federal government. Much of the content of this presentation was published in the following publications:

Burgstahler, S. (2002). Distance learning: Universal design, Universal access. Educational Technology Review, 10(1). Available http://www.aace.org/pubs/etr/issue2/burgstahler.cfm

Burgstahler, S. (2002). Universal design of distance learning. Journal of Information Technology and Disabilities, VIII(1). Available http://www.rit.edu/~easi/itd/itdv08n1/burgstahler.htm

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