Online Course Accessibilty - Getting it Right

Accessibility in Online courses is critical to all students and faculty.  This web site is provided as a tool for faculty:

  • to use when making course design and course software decisions
  • to use when creating content
  • to use when selecting and creating assessment materials
  • to use when selecting publisher-based resources for use in online courses

Direct questions about online course accessibility to Douglas Tiedman, Office of Instructional Technology, 701-858-3832.

Resources on Accessbility for Online Faculty

Technical Assistance with Creating ADA Compliant Documents and Media

How to Caption YouTube Videos (PDF) NOTE: OIT will perform this function when requested.

Keep Text-Based Materials Accessible in Blackboard (PDF)

Designing Accessible Content (webpage)

Blackboard offers a free online course about making accessible courses. Sign up for Universal Design and Accessibility for Online Learning.

For training opportunities on Accessibility see our Just-in-Time Training web page or contact Doug at the Office of Instructional Technology, 701-858-3832.

WCET Video Sources on Accessibility

Institutions are at varying stages of implementing accessibility processes from individuals managing reactive accommodations to robust campus-wide initiatives. This facilitated discussion will address what questions to ask at your institution regarding online course accessibility such as: Who is responsible for ensuring the accessibility of online course materials? Promoting a Culture of Accessibility for Online Students (webcast: 57:00)

In February 2015, the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) filed suit against Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for alleged violations of the ADA and Section 504 by failing to provide adequate closed captioning for online video resources. The U.S. Department of Justice is handling the case. Higher education institutions must be in compliance with federal accessibility laws but their ability to do so is challenged by a number of factors, including leadership, staff resources, cost, decentralized video production activities by individual faculty and departments, copyright, and more. The expert presenters in this program will cover a wealth of valuable information to help colleges and universities conduct an internal assessment of who is in charge, how to develop a remediation plan, what captioning features are needed (e.g. closed captioning, real-time, transcripting), and what can be learned from Kent State’s and Texas Tech’s work for providing captioning services to students, faculty, and staff.  This WCET facilitated discussion will outline the Features, Costs, Good Practices, and How Captioning Benefits All Students (Transcript)(57:00)

Over the past few years, there have been a number of public complaints and agreements with colleges and universities regarding providing accessible information technologies. These agreements have elevated the awareness of disability issues and have heightened the urgency to develop proactive strategies to create university-wide compliance.  We will hear from individuals who have worked at institutions (Penn State University and the University of Montana) that experienced highly-publicized adverse actions. They will share how their institutions managed to change these difficult situations and create a positive impact, assuring that information technologies used at their institutions are accessible for all students. This WCET facilitated discussion will outline Accessibility Across the Campus: Turning a Negative to a Positive (webast 60:00)

Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a document which evaluates how accessible a particular product is according to the Section 508 Standards. It is a self-disclosing document produced by the vendor which details each aspect of the Section 508 requirements and how the product supports each criteria. VPATs are used by buyers to determine how accessible a product is and where any potential deficiencies are. They are required by some buyers before a purchase is made. The VPAT contains documentation on each of the following sections as laid out in Section 508. The vendor only needs to fill out sections that are appropriate to the product.

    • Section 1194.21 Software Applications and Operating Systems
    • Section 1194.22 Web-based Internet Information and Applications
    • Section 1194.23 Telecommunications Products
    • Section 1194.24 Video and Multi-media Products
    • Section 1194.25 Self-Contained, Closed Products
    • Section 1194.26 Desktop and Portable Computers
    • Section 1194.31 Functional Performance Criteria
    • Section 1194.41 Information, Documentation and Support

VPATs are a complex issue to deal with and provide many challenges on both the vendor's part and on the purchaser's. On one hand, the vendor does not want to be too detailed about their product's deficiencies, even if the problems are quite small and they are working on them. On the other hand the purchaser doesn't want to have to do a full-blown accessibility evaluation of a product and wants to simply take the VPAT at face value. Oftentimes the procurement officer who receives a VPAT doesn't have the skill to know how to interpret it. One company can be quite honest and list numerous problems even if they are minor, and another company could be dishonest in their product appraisal and not list many details so their deficiencies seem to be fewer. If the procurement officer doesn't actually validate and clarify what the VPAT states, the one with fewer apparent problems might get selected. There is a natural business inclination in this case to make it so your VPAT doesn't get in the way of sale.

There might be contractual language that states your VPAT has to be accurate or a legal recourse could be taken, but in the end the damage is already done. A system may have been purchased that is not accessible, and users cannot interact with it and fixing the problem will be costly. There are some companies that have been quite truthful in their VPATs, but those can often seem like the exception rather than the rule. (source: