eLearning has become a great equalizer, providing valuable education via distance learning to students who may not otherwise have access to higher education. Because eLearning is delivered exclusively online, certain standards and guidelines have been established to ensure that college and university course content is accessible to all students, regardless of their limited ability. The US federal government mandates that online college and university courses must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act Section 508 and Title 5 standards for accessibility.

ADA Compliance for online college courses means that college and university courses served on the Web must be accessible to all students, including those with visual and hearing impairment. Many visually impaired students use screen readers to audibly interpret text on a web page. Therefore, the text on the web page of an eLearning course must be descriptive and accessible when the student is using a screen reading device. This includes descriptions of images, links and any other non-text elements. However, accessibility standards do not just apply to web pages, but rather to all educational content that may be served on the Web.

Content That Must Be Accessible

Electronic Documents

All electronic documents must be accessible to all students, including Word documents, PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets and any other type of document that is downloaded and used for educational purposes. The federal government publishes useful guidance tools for creating and checking the accessibility of PDFs and Word documents. You can find additional Section 508 resources for creating documents that are ADA compliant at the Section508.gov site.

Video and Audio Supplements

All audio content must be clear and the recording quality must be such that the hearing impaired listener can dramatically increase the volume level without distorting the message. Video content should be supplemented with captions and audio descriptions. See content building category of Section508.gov for testing tools and more information about creating ADA compliant multimedia.

Social Media

Social media posts pose a unique challenge for educators. An ADA compliance social media kit is available from Digitalgov.gov and can be used to establish best practices for course communication on social media platforms.

In March 2015, the US GSA experimented on Twitter with methods to describe images in one tweet with a descriptive follow-up tweet, however, this method is not feasible in all situations. Those who post for educational purposes must attempt to be mindful of the students with limited abilities when composing tweets or Facebook posts for courses.

Website Content

Individuals who are involved in the creation and deployment of web content must be educated with regards to ADA standards to ensure that future web content is compliant. For web pages that are currently deployed, use an automated tool to detect potential ADA issues. W3 publishes a list of free automated checking tools that will assess existing web pages for ADA compliance.

Failure to Comply

Failure to comply with ADA compliance for online college courses may result in legal action on behalf of the student or students with limited abilities. Moreover, the college or university may be censured by the federal government for noncompliance, putting future funding at risk. Ensure that all digital course content is accessible to all students by requiring those individuals creating course content, as well as technical support staff responsible for posting the content online, are aware of the ADA standards and best practices.

See also: 25 Great Scholarships for Hearing Impaired Students