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About Accessibility


“Accessible design is good design.  It benefits people who don’t have disabilities as well as people who do.  Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology for everyone.”
~ Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft

Accessibility is an essential aspect of modern education.  Approximately 25% of our students experience some form of a disability, creating a range of challenges when accessing content.

Embracing accessibility is not just about compliance; it’s about providing equal learning opportunities for everyone. By becoming more knowledgeable about accessibility, faculty can significantly enhance the educational experience for all students. Let’s ensure our digital content is accessible and inclusive for every student.


  • Many students don’t register with DSPS despite having disabilities.
  • Students may avoid seeking help to not be labeled as disabled.
  • Many students have undiagnosed disabilities due to limited testing availability.
  • Teachers should follow accessibility standards in all of their content, to benefit all students.
  • It’s legally and ethically important to make learning materials accessible.

The Four Principles of Accessibility (POUR)

“Universal Design” is the creation of products and environments so they are usable by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

The following four principles lay the foundation necessary for anyone to access and use web-based content. 

It must be:

        • Perceivable
        • Operable
        • Understandable
        • Robust

The “POUR principles” remind us of the overall challenges of accessibility, and how to approach them when designing or creating course content.

An infographic of the four elements of the POUR approach to Universal Design, representing Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust.

Source:  World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)


POUR perceivable“Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”

In essence, this asks that you remove any barriers to accessing your content by providing alternative methods of access to compensate for missing or weaker senses (e.g. closed captions for a deaf student, or an audio transcript for a deaf student).

This also means that content should be constructed in a way that is perceivable by assistive technology, like screen readers for a person with blindness.  These tools are essentially how the student “perceives” the content.

This principle relates but is not limited to:

  • Media content like video, audio and imagery
  • Text alternatives like closed captioning
  • Sequencing of content and layout
  • Color and contrast
  • Text size and formatting


POUR operable“User interface components and navigation must be operable.”

This principle asks that content is can be controlled through a variety of tools for example, through keyboard only use, and is generally available in a usable fashion.

It also means that your website or app should be error tolerant, allowing enough time to complete and correct tasks and do so easily.

This principle relates but is not limited to:

  • Content availability
  • Date and time allowances
  • Seizures and other involuntary physical reactions


POUR understandable“Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.”

Content should use language and functionality that is easy to comprehend. Nothing should be a surprise for the student because the action and result have a direct correlation and there is a level of consistency that aids understanding.

This principle relates but is not limited to:

  • Predictable and consistent navigation
  • Use of language such as abbreviations, jargon, reading levels
  • Predictable and consistent actionable components
  • Feedback and communication


POUR robust“Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”

Content should be designed to work across different platforms, technologies and devices within reasonable limits.

This principle relates but is not limited to:

  • Content and files
  • Media and players


It’s The Right Thing To Do

It may be the law but there is the human impact to consider. What is it like for someone who has a disability to access information?  Here are a some enlightening videos of people sharing their experiences.

A Personal Look at Accessibility in Higher Education (5:58 min)

This video highlights the experiences of students and faculty with disabilities in higher education.


Accessibility of Online Course Content (11:14 min)

A look at Portland Community College’s web accessibility guidelines and how supporting students with disabilities is a shared responsibility across the college. Video includes stories from students whose education is impacted by inaccessible web content and ways faculty and staff can improve online course materials to make course content more accessible. This is an OER (Open Educational Resource).


Screen Reader Demo (13:15 min)

A person who is visually impaired may not be able to read what is on a page so they may need some kind of assistive technology to help them to ‘read’ the contents of a page to them. If the material is not accessible then they will have a really hard time figuring out what exactly is on that page. It will really hinder them in being able to get all of the information that a sighted person can get by just glancing at the page.

Here is a great video that a visually impaired person created where she describes and shows how a screen reader works. She also recommends things that you can do to make your materials more accessible to the screen reader. Notice, that the video is closed captioned. Click on the CC button to see them.


It’s The Law

ADA and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

Certain accessibility requirements must be addressed when developing learning materials for electronic dissemination to students.

Distance education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.

By law, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, learning materials, including interfaces, images, sounds, multimedia elements, and all other forms of information, must be made available for use by anyone, regardless of disability.

Detailed information about accessibility guidelines are available at Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


Online Education and Website Accessibility (Office of Civil Rights)

An important message from the Office of Civil Rights on the value and responsibility of ensuring that educational content online is accessible to all students.


State-Level Guidelines

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office issued Distance Education: Accessibility Guidelines for Students with Disabilities in January 2011.

These Guidelines state:

California state laws and regulations require “community colleges to make their distance education offerings accessible to students with disabilities. Government Codes section 11135 et seq. prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including mental or physical disability, by entities receiving funding from the State of California.

The Board of Governors has adopted Title 5 regulations setting forth the general requirements applicable to all independent study courses (section 55300 et seq.) and those requirements specific to distance education courses (section 55370 et seq.). Section 55370 expressly states that the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act are applicable to distance education courses.

If a college has not yet reviewed its distance education courses to ensure accessibility, it should do so immediately. However, in the event that a student disability enrolls in an existing DE course before this review is completed, the college will be responsible for acting in a timely manner and making any requested modifications to the curriculum, materials or resources used in the course, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the instructional or result in undue financial burden on the district.”

Furthermore,  in June of 2018 the CCC Chancellor’s Office issued the “Information and Communication Technology and Instructional Material Accessibility Standard”. This standard applies to all instructional modalities (face-to-face, hybrid, and online). 

This Standard states:

This includes electronic instructional materials, such as, syllabi, textbooks, presentations and handouts delivered within CCC’s learning management system (Canvas), via email or via another electronic means for face-to-face classes as well as e-learning courses. It also includes electronic instructional activities such as instructional videos, online collaborative writing, web conferencing, blogging, online assessments, and any other instructional materials as technology evolves.

Infographic illustrating the several layers of law around accessibility with a representation of legal frameworks.

“Do’s and Dont’s” of Accessibility

Instructors are not expected to know and understand ALL of the nuances of accessibility and their course content, but it is essential that they have a fundamental awareness of the breadth of accessibility, and how to ensure a “good faith effort” toward helping all students access it.

Check out this helpful guide on a variety of accessible design strategies:

Thumbnail image of a larger infographic PDF with examples and instructions for designing for accessibility.
Designing for Accessibility (PDF)


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