Online Learning Accessibility
Related policies and additional references:
Equal Opportunity, Non-discrimination, Sexual and Other Forms of Harassment Policy, Equity Dispute Resolution Process, Personnel Manual, Faculty Handbook
Online Learning Accessibility Policy
St. Mary’s University strives to provide accessibility for online courses for all students. The University is committed to ensuring individuals with disabilities the ability to independently acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same benefits and services within the same timeframes as other students with substantially equivalent ease of use including information processes and services provided thru online platforms.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), [i] Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 508 Electronic and Information Technology Accessibly Standards all address equitable access to the educational opportunities, programs, activities, benefits and effective communication, in addition to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability for students.
The University is committed to full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act, (ADAAA) and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, as well as other federal and state laws pertaining to individuals with disabilities. Under Section 504 and the ADAAA, a person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. Section 508’s Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards all address equitable access to the educational opportunities, programs, activities, benefits and effective communication. The University is committed to providing reasonable access to individuals with disabilities that do not create a fundamental change in programming and/or impose an undue burden on the University.
Online Learning Accessibility Policy Statement
The University adheres to non-discrimination online through reasonable adjustments of polices, practices and procedures to offer access and avoid discrimination on the basis of disability. In doing so, the University follows guidelines regarding the design and development of online courses in a format that offers equitable access to the opportunities and the benefits afforded by technology-based courses. In compliance with Section 508, the University strives to provide electronic and information technology developed, maintained or procured for the University’s online programs that is accessible to people with disabilities. The university will use designs that are consistent with the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
- Effective Communication requirements [ii] are followed to ensure, through the provision of appropriate auxiliary aids and services, that individuals with disabilities have access to the same type of communication as non-disabled individuals.
- The Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards of Section 508 [iii] outlines the standards by which the University strives to adhere to assure content delivery is accurate, in an appropriate accessible format for individuals with disabilities and in sufficient time to make the same use of the content or software.
- The University strives to provide accessible online Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as Blackboard, and supportive academic solutions for the teaching and learning environment. A link to the LMS providers’ online accessibility statement and certifications will be provided in the course.
- Supplemental web-based applications such as conferencing should be accessible to all students.
- Online courses should be developed and maintained in conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines-Version 2(WCAG 2.0) Level A. Available checklists, step-by-step instructions and face-to-face training reflect the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Website [iv] and provide an explanation of how to conform to WCAG 2.0.
- When links to external web sites are provided to students within an online course, it is the responsibility of the instructor to make sure the sites and content are accessible or be prepared to provide the content in an alternative format. Academic Technology Services (ATS) can provide assistance to the instructors in reviewing content for accessibility. The Disability Support Services (DSS) Office is available for options addressing accessiblity for individuals with disabilities.
- Online courses may include multiple documents and files in addition to the HTML content that makes up courses Web pages. These materials should conform to the guidelines listed above and align with the Guidelines for Accessible Distance Education [v] published by the Georgia Tech Research on Accessible Distance Education (GRADE) initiative.
All administrators, instructors, or staff involved in the development and delivery of online courses or instruction that are accessed through the internet are responsible to ensure that the online materials are accessible to students with disabilities. Instructors teaching online courses should complete training through the ATS. Relevant parties are responsible for contacting the ATS Office to ensure technological aspects of the materials are accessible and the DSS Office is available for options addressing accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Faculty are expected to review and sign the Accessibility Checklist for Web Content and Online Courses before the commencement of every online course.
Accommodations require an interactive process initiated by all students. Online students adhere to the same processes [vi] and procedures [vii] for all students at the University seeking accommodations through the office of Disability Support Services.
Implementation and Compliance Committee
The purpose of the Online Learning Accessibility Committee is to collaborate to identify issues and recommend solutions in online courses to assure compliance and accessibility of such content. The Committee will regularly review and update standards and/or guidelines for the universal design of digital materials and professional development, training, and technical support for instructors and staff involved in the creation of accessible online courses. Members of the Committee are appointed by the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and may include, but are not limited to:
- Associate Provost for Faculty, Assessment & Accreditation
- Associate Provost Dean of Students (ex officio)
- Executive Director of Academic Technology Services (Co-Chair)
- Director of Disability Support Services (Co-Chair)
- ADA and 504 Coordinator(s)
- Instructional Designer
- Faculty Representative from each School
- Registrar Services Coordinator
Beginning with the Fall 2016 semester, St. Mary’s University used a phase-in approach to bring Identified courses into compliance:
- Courses, existing or new, that are in the path of current students who are known to have disabilities shall be prioritized for being brought up to standards.
- New or revised courses published after the effective date of this policy must comply with this policy and include a way for users to report if they find the page to be inaccessible. Users can report inaccessible pages at the Barriers Report on the Disability Support Service webpage. (hyperlink).
- Existing courses must be brought up to standard during the next course revision cycle (1 – 2 years).
- The University will strive to ensure that high priority web pages, defined as those pages required for participation for online courses and disability services, comply with this policy in addition to the pages most frequently visited. (1 – 2 years).
- Remaining University web pages will be brought into compliance (3 – 5 years).
- Courses are brought up to standard when the courses have changed in the design, the method is reported ineffective, or after the course has been taught for two semesters or during the next course revision cycle (1 – 2 years).
This policy will take effect August 1, 2016.
The University’s Online Learning Accessibility Committee will monitor issues and solutions in the online courses to insure compliance. The ADA and 504 Coordinator(s) and Disability Support Services director are responsible for overseeing compliance with regards to state and federal regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and require reasonable accommodations.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – A federal civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination based on a student’s disability.
- Accessibility – The extent to which a product, service, or facility is available to all people.
- Accommodation – A provision of access for students with qualifying documentation meeting ADA criteria to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to Web-based course materials.
- Assistive Technology – Technology meant to provide help in performing a task, whether general or specific (e.g., braille keyboards, screen readers, mouth-sticks)
- Auxiliary aids – Any services or device that enable persons with a disability to participate, enjoy the benefits of programs or activities conducted by the university online such as transcription/captioning.
- Disability – A mental or physical functional limitation that substantially limits any major life activities (e.g., performing manual task, hearing, seeing, concentrating, reading)
- Learning Management System – A system for students with the ability to use interactive features such as threaded discussions, video conferencing and discussion forums.
- Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act – States that an individual with a disability is entitled to equal access to all programs, services, and activities receiving federal subsidy. This includes Web-based communications.
- Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act – An amendment to the Rehabilitation Act that requires electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies to be accessible by people with disabilities, as well as employees with disabilities.
- Universal design – The proactive design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
- Web Accessibility – All people can understand, navigate, contribute, and interact with the Web (W3C) (e.g., inclusive of disabilities, English as second language, non-traditional)
- W3C – World Wide Web Consortium. The main international standards group for website design.
Academic Technology Services
Disability Support Services