Accommodating all learners and creating accessible online classrooms (AACU)

Dec 11, 2020, on the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) Blog
Melissa A. Parenti and Jennifer Pope Frawley

As many institutions continue to transition from in-person to online learning environments, it is important that college faculty consider the needs of all types of learners—including students with visible and invisible disabilities, first-time online learners, and students taking classes while juggling multiple responsibilities at home.

Many students with disabilities face challenges in this transition, as they are removed from the structure of the physical classroom and must now rely solely on technology for their coursework. This means not only having to navigate a possibly unfamiliar learning management system with assistive technology, but also relying on the applications and tools within these systems to communicate with the instructor and other students, submit assignments, and actively participate in group projects or peer discussions. They may also be presented with inaccessible course materials, such as videos without captioning, or course readings that may not have been set up to work well with screen readers (such as PDF documents that are not structured correctly). These challenges, as well as students not knowing how or where to ask for help in this new online environment, can create many barriers to students’ success.

Solutions to some of these challenges can be found through universal design for learning (UDL) guidelines, which offer an immediate and accessible way to enhance students’ educational experience by emphasizing the change in the learning environment rather than requiring a change from the learner.

By creating supportive experiences that help all students in a manner best suited to their unique circumstances, UDL guidelines can bolster student motivation, change how they receive and perceive information, and improve their capacity to navigate, organize, and approach a learning task. Below, we share examples of how higher education instructors might adopt UDL guidelines in online or hybrid formats.

 To discover how to increase engagement, provide various ways to acquire knowledge, and using multiple means of action and expression, read the Accommodating All Learners and Creating Accessible Online Classrooms (AACU) December 11, 2020, blog.

Then, visit CELT’s Accessibility in Your Course page.