FW: Access to on-line courses
Karen.Ozmun at METROKC.GOV
Wed Oct 27 08:50:11 PDT 1999
below is a link to an article on-line. complete text follows. fyi, karen
[forwarding header deleted -- from EASI]
Scroll down to Information Technology Section
"Giving Access to the Disabled" Page: A69
Full Text of Article:
The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated October 29, 1999
Colleges Strive to Give Disabled Students Access to On-Line Courses
By DAN CARNEVALE
As they race to expand their distance-education offerings, colleges
and universities are finding that they must include the virtual
equivalents of wheelchair ramps when building their on-line
They must accommodate, for instance, the sophomore who can't see the
impressive navigational graphics on a Web page because he's blind, and the
graduate student who can't listen to a streamed audio lecture
because she's deaf. In fact, many students with disabilities find that
Web sites' technological extravaganzas are more of a burden than an
Distance-education administrators and advocates for people with
disabilities agree that provisions of the Americans With Disabilities
Act and the Vocational Rehabilitation Act apply generally to on- line
education programs. But the courts are still sorting out the specifics
of the laws' requirements, and many faculty members find themselves
learning about on-line accessibility as they go.
Meanwhile, some colleges and universities are preparing their own
accessibility guidelines, hoping to make faculty and staff members
think carefully about the needs of students who may not be able to
see, hear, or move well. And some Web sites are offering helpful
advice on accessibility for anyone planning to put information on
For the most part, distance-education students with disabilities
already can get the equipment they need to make up for their
impairments. Blind students can use software that reads on-line text
aloud or produces a Braille message for the students to follow.
Students who cannot move their arms easily can use adaptive equipment to
manipulate the computer with other parts of their bodies.
But some common features of the Internet make navigation difficult for
people with certain disabilities. Text-reading programs, for instance,
can't make heads or tails of all those pretty graphics. The problem is
easily avoided if the programs can pick up and read aloud alternate
texts that are placed behind the graphics, but not every Web site
provides those texts. Sites with frames and tables -- two workhorses
of Web-page design -- tend to confuse those programs, which often read
from left to right, ignoring the layout.
Problems can also arise from deficiencies of the software students use
to overcome their disabilities. Some programs have trouble reading
certain symbols and graphs -- which can make taking a mathematics or
science class on line extremely difficult.
It's not that Web-site creators are ignoring the accessibility issue,
says Jane E. Jarrow; it's that they don't always realize how important
accessibility is. Ms. Jarrow is president of Disability Access and
Information Support, an organization that offers advice about
accessibility to both individuals and institutions. "There's a whole
art to the issue of making things accessible on line," she says. "But
people don't think to do it."
An important issue for universities is trying to determine exactly
what the law requires. While the details are being fleshed out in the
courts, "it's hard to know what the law means," says NormanCoombs, a
history professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and
chairman of Equal Access to Software and Information, which provides
guidance on how people with disabilities can use technology as an aid.
Many students' accessibility difficulties will probably be resolved on
a case-by-case basis, Mr. Coombs says. For example, the law probably
won't require universities to provide disabled students with special
equipment to take on-line courses. But he adds that if an institution
is providing equipment -- such as laptop computers -- to all of its
students, it will most likely have to offer adaptive equipment to
those with impairments.
Current laws are adequate to guarantee the disabled access to the
Internet, Ms. Jarrow says. But such access may be slow to arrive,
because every type of disability must be considered in light of the
law and the current state of technology. "The institutions know they're
obligated," Ms. Jarrow says. "The issues are more practical than legal."
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has
specific guidelines for compliance with the disabilities law on
traditional campuses. But the agency has not yet issued such rules for
on-line education. In general terms, the civil-rights office advises
that students with and without disabilities should be assured of the same
access to on-line courses. And it measures compliance not by access alone,
by the effectiveness of the access. The office also says that disabled
students should receive course information -- in a timely and accurate
manner -- that is equivalent to what non-disabled students get.
The office often refers people to a comprehensive set of
on-line-accessibility guidelines published by the California Community
Colleges System. Among its tips: Provide clear, prominent navigation
mechanisms (for those who can't click on small links). And don't rely
on color alone to distinguish characteristics of a page (for students
who are colorblind).
The goal is that virtual classrooms should be held to the same
accessibility standards as conventional classrooms, says Carl Brown,
director of the High-Tech Center Training Unit for the California
Community Colleges System. "The notion here is that everyone should
have equal access to information."
Many colleges that put courses on line are trying to educate their
faculty and staff members about how to make the material accessible to
the disabled. "Sometimes you're not aware of what you're doing and
what impact it has," says Janet D. Scott, director of Chemeketa
Online, the distance-learning arm of Chemeketa Community College, in
Salem, Ore. "We learned a lot from experience."
So the college compiled a handbook and other guidelines to help
faculty members who want to make their on-line offerings as accessible
as possible. The guidelines include tips that might not occur to
non-disabled users. Keeping individual Web pages relatively short, for
example, means that students using text readers don't have to listen
to a long, drawn-out page before clicking on to something else.
Much of what colleges can do to make Web pages accessible is fairly
simple. But making sure that the education disabled students get is
equivalent to that received by other students requires more effort --
and maybe more cash.
"If you're going to try to meet that standard of equivalence -- not
compliance, but equivalence -- that raises the cost," says William H.
Berdine, chairman of special education and rehabilitation counseling
at the University of Kentucky. "Absolute equivalence is a higher
Creating on-line courses has cost the University of Kentucky about
$15,000 for each low-tech offering and about $30,000 for each that is
more advanced. A large part of that expense stems from making the
entire course accessible to disabled students.
But other institutions say observing the disabilities law doesn't have
to be costly for on-line courses, especially if compliance is part of
the plan from the start. "A ramp into a building doesn't cost much if
you put it in when you build the building," says Rochester's Mr.
But paying someone to revamp a Web site's coding, page by page and
line by line, can cost a college a lot.
California's Mr. Brown encourages colleges to offer technical support
and to educate their faculty and staff members so accessibility can be
built into courses while they are being created. "It doesn't cost
anything at all," he says. "It's just a matter of taking the time to
Several on-line services also help Web-site designers build accessible
pages. A program called Bobby checks pages and points out potential
problems of access (http://www.cast.org/bobby/). The program was
created by the Center for Applied Special Technology, an organization
devoted to using technology to expand opportunities for everyone,
including people with disabilities.
Named after the slang term for a British police officer, Bobby reviews
a site to make sure there is alternate text under each graphic. It
also notes, in detail, ways in which the site's accessibility could be
Michael Cooper, the design and technical leader for Bobby, says the
program benefits all people who use the Web, disabled and unimpaired.
"We believe a Web page that's accessible is easier for a non-disabled
person to use," Mr. Cooper says.
Mr. Coombs, for his part, stresses that most inaccessibility stems
from Web-site creators' failure to think things through.
"Poor design, or thoughtless design, or whatever we want to call it,
puts up needless barriers," Mr. Coombs says. "With a little bit of
effort, everything could be accessible."
Section: Information Technology
Copyright - 1999 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
End of Document
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