Accessibility Policy for Postsecondary Distance Education

I have been developing an accessibility policy for distance education for my college. It’s specific to the Schoology learning management system and other technologies and protocols we use on our campus.  It’s based on the policy that I used at my former workplace for my instructional design graduate assistantship, the University of South Alabama’s Innovation in Learning Center. I would love my readers’ feedback on it.


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 online course accessibility for persons with disabilities. Follow these basic guidelines for compliance: (Section 504, 1973 Rehabilitation Act & Section 508, Electronic and Information Technology)

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

Images. 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.

Hyperlinks. 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.

Fonts. 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.

PDFs. 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.

Media. Caption all media. 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.

Providing accommodations in Schoology. 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 Dr. Rogers has provided a list of publishers’ links to their accessibility statements. If you do not see the publisher you use listed, please notify her, and she will add it.

Dr. Sandra Rogers,

Instructional Design Specialist

Teacherrogers Products
Pre-K, Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Staff, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

Call for Comprehensive Commonsense Gun Reform

American Flag

Let me begin by stating that I don’t have the answer for gun violence in America, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to understand the situation nor advocating on behalf of those who have lost their lives to it.  This blog serves as a summary of the current gaps in legislation, school safety, consumer protection, and research.  The purpose is to consider all factors causing the problem and then develop problem statements.  Only by understanding the current situation fully, can we move forward with our objectives and (non)training solutions.

These ideas will, hopefully, help us to form a solid argument for gun control. Through revision from your feedback, and as I learn more details, I seek a plan of action based on commonsense gun laws. In my opinion, the current situation is riddled with inadequacies in regards to public safety due to lax and inconsistent laws.  Today, in honor of the #MarchForOurLives,  I advocate change for good and applaud those involved in making informed decisions about gun laws that aren’t based on political or financial gains.

School Safety- Here are some of the ideas being promoted that require proof of efficacy:

(A) Restrict entry to a single-point and require visitors to sign-in to limit access to nonstudents and nonpersonnel.

(B) Provide a sufficient number of resource officers and counselors in accordance with school size to address student and staff needs.

(C) Provide active shooter training and drills to prepare students and staff for such situations.

(D) Use metal detectors at the entryway to deter crime.

Gun Restrictions- There is a critical need to reform gun laws. Here’s a list of proposed measures to reduce gun violence: 

(A) Raise the age restriction to 21 to purchase a rifle or shotgun in accordance with the existing federal laws regarding handgun purchases from a licensed dealer.  Additionally, handguns and rifles purchased from unlicensed dealers (e.g., neighbor, gun show seller, or online store) should have the same age restrictions.

(B) Require comprehensive background checks on nonlicensed buyers and enforce a centralized database to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, suspected terrorists on the no-fly list, the mentally ill, and other federally prohibited persons. A panel of gun violence experts cited these as effective means to curb gun violence (The New York Times)

(C) Reinstate the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. This is supported by the American Public Health Association (APHA).  Gun violence experts also cited these as effective measures (The New York Times).

(D) Ban the sale of bump stocks that modify regular guns to perform as rapid-fire assault weapons.  This should already be strictly enforced by the government as it bucks existing federal laws for machine guns (18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(23); 27 C.F.R. § 479.11). See also 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b).

(E) Ban online sales of ‘ghost guns’ sold as maker kits that bear no serial identification.

Consumer Protection-The consumer is left unprotected in almost all aspects of gun sales. Congress should ensure unsafe guns are recalled through an oversight agency such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Our Consumer Product Safety Commission does not have jurisdiction over firearms and ammunition. Currently, unsafe guns are only recalled by the manufacturers. Governmental oversight of unsafe guns was blocked by Rep. Dingell in 1972 and 1975 and has not been brought up for legislation since though many have tried (Bloomberg).

Gun manufacturers should be required to test guns to ensure they work properly. For example, according to the Bloomberg report, nine different Taurus guns may fire when bumped or dropped even with the safety on.

Gun sellers, as defined by the ATF,  should obtain a federal firearms license. Moreover, the ATF needs to provide sufficient oversight, as the US DOJ Report #1-2004-005 found negligence in their inspections of licensure.

Congress should allow the use of smart gun technology such as devices that scan the owner’s fingerprint before it can fire.  See President Obama’s memorandum based on the Department of Justice review (Federal Register), which reported its potential for reduction of accidental deaths by guns and use of stolen guns in criminal activities. Gun lobbyists kept Smith & Wesson from developing smart gun technologies through slander and a boycott of their products after President Clinton pushed the Gun Safety Agreement in 2000 with them. The APHA supports innovative technology to reduce gun violence and accidental shootings.

Research– Gun laws should be based on research and safe practices for society. Congress should lift current restrictions on federal funding for research into gun violence. For example, the CDC National Violent Death Reporting System needs support from all 50 states, U.S. territories, and D.C.

What other recommendations do you have?

Note: I’ve written 170 blogs on this WordPress site. This is the only political one.

Ask Congress to support and fund gun violence research

Dear Readers,

I signed a petition on the Action Network to ask Congress to support and fund gun violence research. See petition below.


Join a diverse, nonpartisan, and interdisciplinary group of organizations in adding your name as an advocate to call for Congress to provide dedicated federal funding for research into gun violence. The current restriction on federal funding for gun violence research limits our understanding of this epidemic and prevents us from enacting evidence-based policies that will protect our lives, our families, and our communities. We also ask for Congress to remove restrictions preventing federal agencies from sharing information that could help them better understand – and ultimately prevent – injuries and loss of life.

Three of the deadliest shootings in modern US history have happened in the last six months. These are but three of hundreds of recent mass shootings that have torn apart families and communities.  These acts of violence now happen with such frightening regularity that in some cases they pass almost without recognition, not even registering in the public conscience long enough for us to know the names of the lives lost and communities shattered.

Gun violence is a public health crisis that, on average, takes the lives of 100 people (Bauchner et al., 2018) and injures hundreds (CDC) more in the United States every day.  In order to address gun violence as the public health issue that it truly is, both the public and our elected officials who serve us need to understand what works to prevent gun violence, and this can not be accomplished without credible, scientific research.

Research into the causes and prevention of violence is not a partisan issue.  Yet for more than two decades, Congress has failed to provide dedicated funding for gun violence research, in part because of the Dickey Amendment, a law that states that “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Although the Dickey Amendment does not explicitly prevent research on gun violence, it is widely acknowledged that absent clearer guidance from Congress it has had a devastating effect on violence prevention research at the CDC.  As advocates for science, we demand policies based on scientific evidence, and we ask that Congress immediately repeal the Dickey Amendment and provide dedicated funding for research into the causes and prevention of gun violence.

Without this research, we cannot identify risk and protective factors, nor can we develop prevention strategies.  Gun violence affects all communities, but disproportionately affects marginalized communities, who will continue to suffer the greatest consequences of our inaction. The lack of publicly funded research on gun violence has left us without evidence to guide us in responding to an epidemic that kills tens of thousands of people each year and adversely impacts millions more.

We further ask that the federal government repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, a 2003 provision prohibiting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from releasing information about its firearms database to the CDC and the National Institutes of Health.  Researchers need systematic data collection and a national database dedicated to storing and collecting data on gun sales and registrations.  This information must be coupled with a database on firearms injuries and deaths nationwide to monitor and better understand the scope of this national public health problem.  To help accomplish this goal, we ask Congress to provide funding for the CDC National Violent Death Reporting System to support the participation of all 50 states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia in reporting gun violence statistics to the national database; currently, 42 states receive funding.  In order to prevent gun violence, we must understand how it affects adults and children in all states, without exception.

Research and policy development on firearm-related injuries and deaths warrant the same level of attention, and dedicated federal and state funding and support, as are currently directed to public health challenges presented by the opioid epidemic, cigarette smoking, and HIV/AIDS. Regardless of political party, every member of Congress must play a role in supporting the research we need to protect our communities and enact evidence-based policy to combat gun violence.

We urge you to honor victims, survivors, and their loved ones by writing and implementing evidence-based policies to protect our communities from gun violence.  We stand together in asking Congress for the support and funding needed to make these policies a reality. Signing this petition will add your name to this open letter calling for action.

References (I’m adding the references within the document and a few that were missing from the original call to action hyperlinked message.)

American Public Health Association. (2016). Fact sheet on preventing gun violence. Retrieved from https://www.apha.org/~/media/files/pdf/factsheets/160317_gunviolencefs.ashx? on February 28, 2018.

Dockrill, P. (2017, September 16). Here’s why gun violence research in the US is about to come to a grinding halt. Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/shelved-obama-gun-research-program-could-terminate-studies-of-firearm-violence?

Bauchner, H., Rivara, F. P., Bonow, R. O., Bressler, N. M., Disis, M. L. N., Heckers, S., … & Rhee, J. S. (2018). Death by gun violence—A public health crisis. JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, 20, 7-8. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.16446

Beckett, L. (2014, May 15). Why don’t we know how many people are shot each year in America? Retrieved from https://www.propublica.org/article/why-dont-we-know-how-many-people-are-shot-each-year-in-america?

Bieler, S., Kijakazi, K., La Vigne, N., Vinik, N., & Overton, S. (2016). Engaging communities in reducing gun violence. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Branas, C. C., Richmond, T. S., Culhane, D. P., Ten Have, T. R., & Wiebe, D. J. (2009). Investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault. American Journal of Public Health, 99, 2034-2040. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.143099.

Chapman, S., Alpers, P., & Jones, M. (2016). Association between gun law reforms and intentional firearm deaths in Australia, 1979-2013. Journal of the American Medical Association, 316, 291-299. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.8752

Center for Disease Control (CDC). Leading causes of nonfatal injury reports, 2000-2006. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/nfilead.html

Fenway Health. (2016). Gun Violence and LGBT Health. Retrieved from http://fenwayhealth.org/?source=email& on February 28. 2018.

Gani, F., Sakran, J. V., & Canner, J. K. (2017). Emergency Department Visits For Firearm-Related Injuries In The United States, 2006–14. Health Affairs, 36, 1729-1738.

Kellermann, A. L., & Rivara, F. P. (2013). Silencing the science on gun research. Journal of the American Medical Association, 309, 549-550. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.208207

Kellermann, A. L., Rivara, F. P., Rushforth, N. B., Banton, J. G., Reay, D. T., Francisco, J. T., … & Somes, G. (1993). Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. New England Journal of Medicine, 329, 1084-1091.

Wellford, C. F., Pepper, J. V., & Petrie, C. V. (2005). Firearms and violence: A critical review. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Can you join me and take action? Click here: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/12b649467ddaddbdee0b0564502325b49833096c?source=email&