One of the goals of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is to assure that all
programs and facilities are accessible to all members of the university community. In the
past, our student body has primarily been physically on the campus, either residing in dorms
or commuting to the campus. Students who identified themselves as having a disability could
contact our Department of Disability Services (DDS) for various types of accommodations
and assistance. DDS might, for example, provide a note taker for a deaf student or create
tactile maps for a student with a visual impairment.
Our university's expanding online courses and distance education programs enable students
with disabilities to take classes without the hurdle of getting to our campus, thus opening our
campus to a much wider audience. However, these programs also change how we help these
students successfully navigate through their classes. When a student is miles away from
campus, traditional accommodations such as note takers and readers are not viable options.
When all or most of a course's materials are available only in electronic forms on the World
Wide Web, faculty need to be aware of how this may limit access for some students. Last
year staff from several of our university offices began to address the problem of how distance
education students with disabilities can access online course materials. The two main areas
we addressed were establishing guidelines for creating accessible electronic content and
creating a policy and procedures for implementing these guidelines.
The two widely-accepted sources of standards or guidelines for creating accessible
electronic materials are those in Section 508 of the U.S. Workforce Investment Act of
1998: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/508/508law.html and the checkpoints of the World
Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0:
wording in these resources is very technical and can be confusing to Web developers
and Web content creators. While basing our guidelines on these resources, we rewrote
them so our faculty and support staff could understand and apply them to our specific
campus Web environment.
Most Web content can be made accessible with minimal effort; however, multimedia
content presents special challenges. For example, audio content requires a text
transcript for hearing- impaired users; video content may require captioning for both
hearing-impaired and visually-impaired users. So for multimedia guidelines, we wanted
to do more than merely tell our faculty and staff what accessibility accommodations are
required. We also needed to explain the amount of time, effort, technical skills, and costs
that these accommodations involve. With the aid of distance education grant funds from
our Office of the Provost, we used student labor to perform some of the tasks (for
example, captioning an audio file) and to record the time it took to make these
accommodations on sample content. From these tests we are able to give faculty and
staff realistic estimates of how long it might take them to fix their content themselves.
Our findings also include recommendations for alternate solutions for handling complex
content, including a list of outsourcing services and software tools.
Policy and Procedures
Our university has a policy (and procedures for implementing the policy) for
accommodating students with disabilities on campus. Students with disabilities who
enroll in residential programs usually inform DDS when they register to take that class;
DDS then arranges for reasonable accommodations. While this "just-in-time" model has
worked well for residential students, we are concerned that many distance education
courses will require more lead time to make accommodations. For example, making an
established online course with large amounts of material in video format accessible will
probably involve several weeks of labor to add captioning. For these courses, the policy
will require more advance notice from nonresidential students.
Currently, our policy and implementation plan for distance education courses is under
development. Parties involved in establishing the policy include staff from the Office of
the Provost, University Counsel, Department of Disability Services, Learning Disabilities
Services, campus computing services, and representatives from all affected schools. We
expect to have the policy in place later this Fall.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Accessible Electronic Content website is
Distance Education Clearinghouse
Instructional Design at Instructional Communications Systems
Training for Videconferencing
If you have trouble accessing this page, need this information in an alternative format,
or wish to request a reasonable accommodation because of a disability, contact:
Rich Berg email@example.com
© Copyright 2006 Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin
Last Updated: January 2006