From E-Learning Faculty Modules

Federal and state laws, and local guidelines and policies for online learning require that the e-learning is accessible to the broadest range of possible learners. People have a broad range of different abilities especially regarding the following:

  • Sight (acuity, light contrast, color in/sensitivity)
  • Hearing (acuity and range)
  • Touch
  • Motion / mobility
  • Symbolic processing (reading), including perception, cognition, memory, thought processing, and other psychological factors

These different abilities may manifest differently in different people, and many have a combination of sensory and information processing challenges. In terms of accessibility, it is important to present information that may be perceived and understood on multiple channels.

This would suggest that multimedia is available on multiple perceptual channels: an image also has “alt text” that describes the image’s informational value; a video is captioned or transcribed; live events have “communication access realtime translation” (CART) functionalities; color is never used as the only informational channel; and all web functionalities may be accessible using browser-based accessibility devices (such as text readers).




Learners will...

  • Explore why online courses and trainings need to be accessible
  • Review how to make online courses, trainings, and multimedia accessible
  • Consider the time, resources, and monetary costs needed for creating accessible multimedia
  • Learn about campus resources that may support their accessibility endeavors
  • Consider some easy ways to get started in terms of accessibility

Module Pretest

1. What do relevant federal, state, and local laws and policies assert about the need for accessibility in e-learning?

2. How may online courses, trainings, and multimedia be made accessible to the widest possible range of users?

3. What sorts of time, resources, and costs are involved in creating accessible multimedia?

4. What campus resources exist to support your accessibility endeavors?

5. What are some easy ways in terms of getting started in retrofitting an existing course for accessibility? Or, simply, what are some easy ways of getting started in building an accessible online course, training, or multimedia learning object?

Main Contents

Why should online courses and trainings be accessible?

Human learners approach online learning with a varying array of abilities, due to differences at birth, injuries, diseases, and aging. Some disabilities may be previously unknown to the individual, who may not have officially been tested for particular abilities.

Reaching out to Learners and Future-Proofing the Work: The building of online courses and course contents (digital learning objects and other kinds of multimedia) involves a non-trivial amount of work. Much design and effort go into creating these learning experiences. For the widest number of students to be able to use these materials, it is important to build accessibility into the contents from the beginning. Building contents in an accessible way may “future-proof” the digital contents, for longevity in their use. There are certainly practical reasons to build accessible learning.

It’s the Law: Federal (The Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 508, and others) and state laws require that websites and online courses be made accessible.

How should online courses, trainings, and multimedia be made accessible?

It is important to understand basic principles of accessibility.

  • All contents should be understandable in more than one perception stream. So printed electronic text needs to be machine-readable to change that into audio (the computer browser “reads” the text out loud). An image’s “alt text” (alternate text) may be “read” by the browser for the informational value of the image. A video includes not only an audio stream but a textual one for those who have hearing acuity challenges; a person with visual acuity challenges may listen to the sound effects and audio stream.
  • Users should maintain controls on video speeds and simulations. Users need to be in the proverbial driver’s seat and to define their own experiences. They should be able to pace at a speed that is comfortable to them. They should be able to review their experiences as needed.
  • Information in imagery should not purely be conveyed in color. For example, a map should not just be readable by color contrasts—because many experience various levels of color blindness. So embedded text or other labels may clarify the information being conveyed.
  • Simulations and videos should also avoid “strobe effects” which may trigger seizures in some people. Special effects should also not lead to nausea or cybersickness.
  • Information structures should be made clear to those using text readers. This means that the text in a document should be labeled (tagged with styles)—as headers, as body text, and so on, so that there is a clear focus on what the functions of each piece of text may be.
  • Sites have to be understandable even if a user has shut down all imagery. In other words, a site has to be built with the proper informational structures for users to get the full information needed in a very stripped down form.
  • Live online events and conferences would benefit from live captioning (if available). Sufficient pre-planning for events will enable all to participate fully. Post-live-event debriefings and transcriptions may make work accessible well into the future.
  • Tables should be created in a way that is easy to understand. This means that each table should be labeled appropriate, with proper column headers, captions, and summaries. That means that text should be written prior to the introduction of a table to explain its contents. Then, the table should be built in a way that each of the labels is clear and that the contents of each of each of the table’s cells is clear. There should also be text following a table that further explicates the contents of the table and the value of that information for the learning.

What time, resources and monetary costs are involved in creating accessible multimedia?

The following provides some basic information about costs. This is general information only.

Video Transcription Costs

The costs of transcribing video runs at about $3 per video minute. Getting these elements transcribed will require having the video in a form that is digitally accessible by the transcription agency.

Many professional transcription agencies only provide a textual transcription, often without punctuation. If speakers have accents or are addressing complex terminology, those parts of the video may be lost. The audio quality of the initial capture also greatly affect whether the audio may be transcribed. (Audio “gain” and noise can make certain comments unintelligible.)

If this is done in-house, there are the attendant costs of staff time. Transcribing is very time-consuming, particularly if the transcriptionist is not working from an extant set of digital notes. It will help to give the transcriptionist the original slideshows and notes that go along with a lecture, for example, to enhance not only the quality of the transcript but also to speed up the work.

Image Alt Texting Costs

Alt texting requires expert eyes on the images to pull out the informational value of the imagery. This means that the subject matter expert (SME) needs to be hands-on in terms of identifying the contents of the image, the relevant observations, and even the crediting of the photo.

Live Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) Costs

Costs for CART services vary for events, whether they’re live face-to-face ones or online ones. These are approximately $100 or so an hour for the event. There may be lead-up costs as well for training speakers to work with CART transcribers / translators.

What campus resources may be accessed to support accessibility endeavors?

At K-State, the Disability Support Services office is the main office of contact for accessibility mitigations for learners. They also do provide trainings to faculty for accessibility work. (Please see the References below for the contact information.)

Also, the Information Technology Assistance Center (iTAC) instructional designers may work with faculty to get started on accessibility accommodations in their online courses.


How To

A Dozen Tips for Faculty to Make Accessible E-Learning Courses (.docx version)

A Dozen Tips for Faculty to Make Accessible E-Learning Courses (.pdf version)

Ten Tips for Faculty to Make Accessible E-Learning Courses

In the Summer of 2007, Kansas State University passed the Course Accessibility Standards Policy. This policy addresses the federal laws of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It also addressed the Kansas Information Technology Policy 1210 / Web Accessibility Requirements. These are the underpinnings for the university push to make all online courses accessible—so there is equal access to course content for all students, including those with disabilities.

Disabilities may relate to challenges with sight, hearing, mobility, and information processing. As you create content for your course you will want to think about how these individuals may be affected. Often times, simple and subtle changes can make the difference between inaccessible content and accessible content. This tips handout addresses ten basic ways to make a course accessible. These are simple ways to create course accessibility. Items marked with an asterisks (*) should be considered a priority when putting content on-line.

1. Use course file types in universal product formats.

Use mainline commercial products that output digital files in a universal product format. A universal product format means one that may be accessed using typical browser plug-ins or browsers with the embedded players or readers.

• Text files in the .doc, .txt, .rtf and .pdf formats are generally considered universal.

• Image files in the .jpg or .gif for the Web are generally considered universal.

• Video files in the Windows Media (.wmv), Real Media (.rm), Quicktime (.mov), and Flash (.mp4, .swf and .flv) formats are considered universal.

• Audio files in the .wav or .mp3 are considered universal.

• HTML (hypertext markup language) is generally considered accessible; it is also platform-independent.

Some faculty may find that having files in two formats (.doc and .pdf, .ppt and .pdf) may make course materials much more accessible as some learners may not have readers for some file types. Offering learners options may be helpful. With the new .docx file format with the latest Microsoft Word, students may need to download a .docx converter.

Ensure that the software “authoring tools” used offer options for accessibility accommodations. These programs may offer 503 accessibility standards to label images and transcribe audio and video.

*2. Ensure that text documents are not just digital image graphics.

If you use PDFs you must make sure that the files also contain text. PDFs of a scanned document are usually graphics. We see the text, but one cannot copy and paste the text as if it is a word processing document. To add text use an OCR program; the “Recognize Text using OCR” option under “Documents” in the menu of Adobe Acrobat Professional may also work.

*3. Use tags used for document structure and markup.

Use tags in your Word, and PDF files. These tags behave much like html tags in that they create structure for the document. Tags help maintain visual differences in text files such as headings, they also have the ability to relay this information to students using software to read the text to them, such as screen readers. For example, a student who is blind can use their software to navigate the headings just as a visual student may use bold words to scan a document. For PDF files these tags are behind the scenes but just as important. Using tags in Word documents will also make it easier to write long documents and maintain formatting.

4. Use clear, simple English.

Write the contents in a way that is suitable for many different levels of understanding. Use the precise words that are meant, and follow the basic grammar and syntax rules of English. Avoid slang or colloquial expressions, which may be culturally-based. Avoid imprecision.

5. Label informational graphics. Transcribe and label audio and video.

All informational graphics—images, photos, tables, drawings, and others—should be accompanied by alt text. This text should both contextualize and describe the graphic to convey necessary information. Decorative graphics do not require alt text descriptions. Branding logos and labeling graphics should be described in a textual way because such images embed meaning.

Ensure that all audio and video files are accompanied by a verbatim transcript. These should have occasional and accurate time stamps linked to the sound, so learners may track with the video. Optimally, video would have synchronous captioning.

*6. Make accessible PowerPoint™ slideshows.

When using PowerPoint™, use the layouts provided. Do not create your own text boxes. Only text typed in provided layouts will be available for students using adaptive technology such as screen readers. When writing your slides make sure that you also write your text in the order you want it read. When putting files on-line try to also provide a text, or .rtf, version as well to increase accessibility to the information. If you use PowerPoint™ files often, consider purchasing the software LecShare ( to make this process easier.

7. Use color in an accessible way.

Colors need to be sufficiently contrasted for those with low vision. Colors that do not register with those who are color blind (such as red and green) should not be used for informational purposes. Also, colors should not be used alone to differentiate between elements; rather, text, layout, and other strategies should also be brought in, so that those with visual acuity issues can still acquire the same information and learning. For example, use bold words in text as it may help many learners, but add an asterisk before the word for those using text reading software (Example: *important)

8. Summarize and label data tables.

Text readers need to be able to understand how to read tables. Because screen readers read in a serial, linearized way (straight across from top left to the bottom right), accessible informational tables require clear cell labeling. A summary of the table’s layout should be explained—so those using a text reader understand the table’s orientation. Row and column headers should be defined for each cell especially in larger data tables. The W3 Consortium has an important resource on this in regards to using html.

9. Plan live online events to be accessible.

If there will be live guest speakers or live synchronous events--using a live virtual classroom, interactive television, voice chat or text chat—some preparation would enhance the accessibility. This may mean pre-event setup with textual script and information. This may mean soliciting ideas and participation from learners prior to the live event, which may feel more pressured to students. Post-event transcripts should be offered, so the learning value of that live event has been captured. During the event, if a textual version may be made available, that would enhance the real-time accessibility. If you have students who are deaf or blind you should contact Disability Support Services to find out how you can prepare the event for accessibility. This should be done at least one month in advance.

10. Support user control of automations and sequenced actions, as much as possible.

Automations should be controllable by the users. Sequenced actions should not be set on a timer but directed by the users. All automated interactivity should also have some textual description for those unable to access the automated experience. This may refer to the use of immersive spaces, simulations, games, and other such interactions. Much of the technologies used to create these experiences are not accessible for those who are blind or visually impaired.

Possible Pitfalls

The standards for accessibility are constantly evolving. This means that it will be important to stay apprised of the laws and policies which affect this work.

The more sophisticated computer-mediated communications (chatrooms, videochats, video blogs, and whiteboards, to name a few), multimedia, simulations, and immersive worlds, become, the more there will be a need for accessibility mitigations. Instructors must consider the proper balance between these various technologies.

Various software makers are adding functionalities that enhance accessibility. For example, digital still cameras capture metadata about location and other factors that may inform the value of imagery. Or various authoring tools have spaces for alt-texting (of imagery) and captioning (of video and multimedia). Also, many user controls are built into various multimedia objects for more learner controls. Some slideshow tools have pre-built color palates that are sufficiently high-contrast for readability. It is helpful to know what these functionalities include and how to maximizes uses of these.

The other main challenges has to do with "future-proofing" work or making sure that it is accessible into the future.

Module Post-Test

1. What do relevant federal, state, and local laws and policies assert about the need for accessibility in e-learning?

2. How may online courses, trainings, and multimedia be made accessible to the widest possible range of users?

3. What sorts of time, resources, and costs are involved in creating accessible multimedia?

4. What campus resources exist to support your accessibility endeavors?

5. What are some easy ways in terms of getting started in retrofitting an existing course for accessibility? Or, simply, what are some easy ways of getting started in building an accessible online course, training, or multimedia learning object?


Local Resources

K-State’s K-Access / “How Can you Improve the Accessibility of your Online Course”

K-State Accessibility Standards Policy

K-Access’ Quick and Simple Accessibility Checklist

K-State’s Disability Support Services

Federal Guidelines

Section 508

WebAIM Section 508 Checklist

US Department of Health & Human Services

Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities (US Department of Justice)

Policies Related to Web Accessibility (W3C)

Extra Resources

Free Video Captioning Tool

WebAIM “Captioning with MAGpie 2.0” (a free video text-captioning tool)

MAGpie Captioning Tool (a free video text-captioning tool)

Universal Design

Universal Design

CAST’s “What is Universal Design for Learning?”

National Center on Universal Design for Learning

Live Events and Communication Access Realtime Translation

Accessibility—Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)

NCRA Professional Directory


Building Accessible E-Learning Collaboratively