Accessibility Policy for Postsecondary Distance Education

Note. This is specific to the Schoology learning management system and other technologies and protocols we use on our campus. This statement is based on the policy that I used at my former workplace for my instructional design graduate assistantship at the University of South Alabama’s Innovation in Learning Center. I recently added the use of headers, which was missing from that policy.

The logo has the word accessibility with four icons on it: eye, hand, ear, and brain.
This Accessibility Logo was created by Christy Blew of The University of Illinois on behalf of the EDUCAUSE IT Accessibility Constituent Group.

Accessibility Statement for Distance Education

The U.S. federal laws require electronic and information technology access at the workplace for persons with disabilities (Section 504, 1973 Rehabilitation Act; Section 508, 1998 Electronic & Information Technology Amendment). Educational institutions receiving funding from the federal government must comply with the following guidelines:

  1. Provide a hierarchy in the headers of your documents, course pages, and websites.
  2. Describe images and hyperlinks with an alternative text.
  3. Do not use coloring as the sole indicator of meaning.
  4. Use san serif fonts for online text.
  5. Check and repair all portable document formats (PDFs) for accessibility.
  6. Caption all video and provide transcripts for audio.
  7. Provide students with disabilities the prescribed accommodations, as needed.

This is not a comprehensive list but rather one that highlights the main access issues for the universal design (UD) of distance learning to meet the needs of all learners. Burgstahler makes a valid point: (2017, para 5)

Distance learning programs can benefit
from following the leadership of the federal
government through actions that are proactive
(applying UD principles) and reactive
(providing accommodations) when it comes
to making distance learning programs fully
accessible to individuals with disabilities.
This dual approach will result in more
inclusive programs and minimize the need for
accommodations for specific students.

For more information on the framework of the universal design for learning (UDL), see the Center for Applied Special Technology.


Persons with visual impairment use screen readers to hear the content on your online course or website. They can also tab through the headers to get an overview or to find specific content. To distinguish headers from paragraph within the text, use the Paragraph tool in the rich text editor to create Heading 1, 2, 3, et cetera. Avoid creating headings from paragraph delineated text by making it bold and increasing the font size.


Alternative (alt) text helps students that use assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) as their learning accommodation. For example, screen readers such as Microsoft’s JAWS (Job Access with Speech) read the description aloud to the user with vision impairment. Make sure you concisely provide alt text for each image in your online course so that students will hear and learn about the images shared. This includes images on a course page or within a document or multimedia presentation (e.g., PowerPoint, Word, or PDF). For Schoology, currently, you cannot add the description for the image during upload. Add it afterward by selecting the image in edit mode. For PowerPoint 2016, follow this pathway to add alt text: Right-click image > Select Format Picture > Select Alt Text. For PDFs, use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to add alt text to images. This software allows you to edit PDFs and is available in the Faculty Development Center.


When you add links to Schoology, it asks for the name of the link to display and the URL. Provide the specific name of the website instead of a confusing web address, also known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator). The exact name of the website will aid all learners in understanding where the link will take them. Additionally, assistive technology (e.g., JAWS) will read aloud the long URL if you do not give it a name. Imagine listening to an entire URL reading: “h-t-t-p-s-semicolon-forward slash-forward slash-shc-period-schoology-period-com-forward slash-home.” This would cause extra cognitive load on the listener. Here are good and bad examples:

Use of Color

Color-coding presents a problem for visually impaired students, as they will not be able to access the meaning of particular coloring of text for emphasis (e.g., red text conveying importance, etc.).  Simply add the word or words to convey the meaning such as Important.


Sans serif fonts are recommended for online text to provide accessibility. Sans serif fonts do not have the ‘hats and shoes’ on certain letters that serif fonts include. Fortunately, Arial, which is a sans serif font, is the default for Schoology. Avoid using serif fonts because they may waver and become difficult to read on low bandwidth or poor Internet connections.


Are your PDFs readable? Conduct a word search within the Find box of a PDF for a word you see in the document. Type Ctrl+F if you don’t see a Find box. If you receive the message, “No matches were found,” then the document is a scanned image, which cannot be read by persons who use assistive technology. Use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to repair unreadable (scanned image) PDFs. Remember that this software is available in BL12. Here is the pathway to fix your PDFs with Adobe Acrobat Pro XI: File>Action Wizard>Create Accessible PDFs> Action Step #5 is the Accessibility Checker.

Ensure your Word documents are accessible before you save them as a PDF. Microsoft has accessibility checkers that will highlight any issues in your document. Within Word 2016, select the following pathway: File > Info> Check for Issues > Check Accessibility. Then fix issues such as missing alt text for images. See Adobe Accessibility Quick Reference Card for information on earlier versions of MS Word that you may have at home. Currently, our campus has MS Office 2016 on its computers.


Caption video files and transcribe audio files. Closed captioning is the preferred format (instead of open captions) so the user can turn it on or off according to their needs. If you do not have your media captioned, at the very least, provide a script until you caption the video. However, transcripts do not provide equal access to media files because the words and images from the video are not in sync to enhance meaning.  Audio files or podcasts must include a transcript.  For narrated PowerPoints, transcribe the audio in the note’s section of each slide.

Captioning Key, funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program, provides a document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning. They mention several free captioning services.  Our current practice is to upload media to YouTube and use their auto-captioning service and then correct inaccuracies. Ask the instructional designer for the how-to guide on how to set up an unlisted YouTube channel and the video tutorial on how to correct automated captions on YouTube in your video manager account. We also provide the video software production/editor tool, Camtasia Studio 9, which incorporates closed-captioning. The instructional designer can train you to use it.

Test Accommodations

In Schoology, you can assign assignments or tests to individuals when you create them. Reuse your existing assignment or test by saving it to your Personal Resources in Schoology. Then bring it back into your course as a new test with a different name. We suggest naming it with ‘Extended Time’ in the title so students know they are receiving the accommodation. Go to the Schoology test settings to add the prescribed accommodations. Warning: Do not reassign the mainstream test to an individual in Schoology, as it will disappear the test scores of the other students. Instead, instructors should make a separate assignment or test for the student(s) with accommodations.

Publishers’ Accessibility Statements

As a best practice, online courses should provide accessibility statements to the publishers they use (Quality Matters™ Rubric Standards, 2014). This will help those who need access to alternative text files and/or eBooks from publishers, as well as other alternatives to interactive products for adaptive technologies used. Visit the Instructional Design LibGuide on Accessibility where I provided a list of publishers’ links to their accessibility statements. Please inform the instructional design team to update this accordingly.


Burgstahler, S. (2017). Equal access: Universal design of distance learning programs. DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology): University of Washington. Retrieved from

Section 504, Rehabilitation Act. (1973). Office of Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved from

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. (2019). WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative. Retrieved from


Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.


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