A Resource List for Designing Accessible Online Learning Experiences

Written by: Christie Forgette

Accessibility for all students is often neglected when designing college/university instruction that uses courseware or other digital learning tools. The 2020 Student Technology Report from EDUCAUSE surveyed more than 16,000 undergraduate students and found that about one-third of students with disabilities reported neutral or negative ratings of their institution’s approach to providing technology accommodations and accessible content. They cited such issues as instructors’ lack of awareness, insufficient  discretion, and outright refusal for their accommodations.

Designing with accessibility in mind is helpful for every student and saves time in the long run. Making a course fully accessible facilitates more meaningful learning experiences for all students, not just those who have documented disabilities and/or who ask for accommodations.

Below is a list of resources to help instructors make their courses accessible from the start. Most of these resources address incorporating digital courseware in face-to-face classes as well as teaching in online courses.

Starting Points for Designing Accessible Courses

A Guide to Designing Accessible eLearning

This chapter from A Practitioner's Guide to Instructional Design in Higher Education is devoted to accessibility. The chapter covers the historical and legal context for accessibility and includes materials from a community college training course on designing for accessibility. Particularly useful are the included rubrics, templates, and checklists.

Making Online Teaching Accessible
This book provides a foundation for online course designers looking for guidance to design their course with accessibility in mind. It features practical tips and guidance for communicating with students who need accommodations and includes training materials for instructors to make online learning accessible. 

Designing an Accessible Online Course
The University of Arkansas Partners for Inclusive Communities developed this extensive toolkit, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to help instructors design fully accessible online courses. The toolkit comprises a series of concise explanations of different aspects of accessibility and course design and includes relevant resources. It covers designing accessible course materials such as PDFs, word-processing documents, slide presentations, and videos, as well as issues in running accessible video meetings.

A Tutorial for Making Online Learning Accessible to Students with Disabilities
The University of Washington Office of Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology shares a comprehensive toolkit that covers the legal framework, design methodologies, instructional methods, and practical steps and resources around accessibility. The tutorial offers guidance on teaching an accessible online course in this hour-long webinar and in this short video lecture and audio file focused on 20 tips

Other Webinars and Podcasts

10 Tips for Creating Accessible Online Course Content
This webinar, presented by the video captioning vendor 3Play Media, explores tools for evaluating the accessibility of online content and solutions for common issues that instructors face when making their course accessible. The slides from the presentation are also available on SlideShare.

Creating Accessible Content in Online Courses
This in-depth webinar from the University of Maryland–Baltimore guides faculty through considerations for accessible design including color contrast, content structure, fonts, heading styles, alternative text, captions, and transcripts. It also provides examples of accessibility statements that instructors can use in their syllabi.  

 Advancing Digital Accessibility
Kyle Shachmut, assistant director for Digital Accessibility Services at Harvard University, is interviewed for the podcast EDUCAUSE Talks Tech and gives advice on digital accessibility. 

Other Resources from University Disability Resource Offices and Centers for Teaching and Learning

North Carolina Community College System
This helpful guide for designing online courses includes tips, techniques, and a checklist for ensuring accessibility in an online class. Many examples in the guide are designed with “Do This, Not This” graphics to clearly illustrate the advice. 

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
This resource provides numerous explanations for accessibility, such as how to create accessible content, videos, slide presentations, and other documents. Particularly useful is a section on producing captions and real-time text. 

Pennsylvania State University
This site provides in-depth insights into how accessibility needs can vary for different students. It also includes a list of tips for understanding and implementing accessibility techniques.

Quick Guides On Accessible Course Design

The following pages from individual institutional disability resource offices and centers for teaching and learning include helpful short checklists and practical advice: 


Explore accessible courseware options now!