New Resource for Accessible Teaching

Faculty can enhance instruction by considering how the design and delivery of their content in a digital and/or web environment can overcome barriers to learning.  For example, one might inquire whether ‘accessibility’ could revolve around how students with visual impairments can access video and multimedia products, or how faculty can ensure that a student who is deaf can access content in their audio podcast.

In the broadest sense, ‘accessibility’ refers to the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is accessible by as many people as possible. This brief article focuses on resources that promote accessible teaching in both digital (computer) and web (online) settings.  Berners-Lee, founder and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, defines web accessibility as putting the internet and its services at the disposal of  all individuals, whatever their hardware or software requirements, their network infrastructure, their native language, their cultural background, their geographic location, or their physical or mental aptitudes (Berners-Lee, Hendler, Lassila, 2001). Limited digital and web accessibility disproportionately impacts person with disabilities, who make up approximately 12% of the civilian non-institutionalized population in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). In higher education, 9% of undergraduates are reported to have a disability (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). Barriers to access include visual (blindness, weak vision, color blindness), auditory (deaf, hard of hearing, high/low frequency hearing loss), mobility (repetitive stress injuries, arthritis, spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs/digits), and cognitive/emotional (learning disabilities, psychiatric/mental health impairments).

Faculty Development is hosting a new website offering resources that promote accessible teaching for the NIU community.  The purpose of this website is to increase awareness of digital and web accessibility issues as well as offer faculty practical assistance in improving the accessibility of their online content and delivery.   The website is organized into several topic areas impacting accessible teaching: Pedagogy, Technology, Legislation, Guidelines, and Learning Management Systems.

Pedagogy -   In examining methods to improve instruction, faculty might consider how an accessible design might be used to expand access to all users, whether a disability exists or not (Brewer, 2003, slide 3). While accessible design of content is commonly believed to benefit only persons with disabilities, Anson, Marangoni, Mills, and Shah (2004, ¶1) report that accessible design as universal design, benefits all users, independent of disability.  Universal Design, according to Danielson (1999), “is the design of instructional materials and activities that makes the learning goals achievable by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to hear, see, speak, move, read, write, and a host of other cognitive functions (pp. 2-3).”   According to Scott (2002), “Universal Design Instruction offers a proactive alternative for ensuring access to higher education for college students with disabilities. By providing faculty with a framework and tools for designing inclusive college instruction, the dialogue surrounding college students with disabilities changes from a focus on compliance, accommodations, and nondiscrimination to an emphasis on teaching and learning (¶4).” This section of the website provides resources for faculty wishing to expand their knowledge of Universal Design principles, as well opportunities to view examples of best practices.

Technology – Adaptive technology refers to assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices targeting people with a range of disabilities. A faculty member’s approach to designing and delivering instruction can be better informed by having a greater understanding of how technology is used to enhance accessibility for students with disabilities.   In the context of digital and web accessibility, hardware devices and software products which increase computer access include accessible on/off switches, flexible positioning or mounting of keyboards and monitors, speech input, specialized voice and Braille output devices, screen readers, captioned videos, alternatives to audio output, and text to speech programs. The resources in this section of the website include overviews of adaptive technology and computer applications for persons with disabilities, as well as the training necessary to locate, compare, and implement adaptive/assistive technology.

Legislation –This topic area links to resources describing landmark federal and state legislation promoting expanded accessibility. Although these resources offer both a historical and developmental view of accessibility legislation, more importantly, they provide instruction on implementation. Legislation includes the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and more recently, the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act of 2008. Of particular importance is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 amended Sections 508 (1998) which mandates that programs and services be accessible to people with disabilities.

Guidelines – In promoting accessible teaching, it is critical to provide guidelines or standards that support an understanding and implementation of web accessibility.  The guidelines for Section 508 compliance and those provided for web content accessibility by the World Wide Web Consortium provide guidance for web authors in producing accessible webpages (Brewer, slide 20). In addition to reviewing guidelines and standards, users are encouraged to submit their course website for an evaluation of accessibility.

Learning Management Systems– Resources in this topic area are geared toward expanding accessibility for users of the Blackboard learning management system. Resources include a Blackboard Quick Start guide on universal design and accessibility, video sessions in which a user who is blind uses the screen reader ‘JAWS’ to interact with and complete various tasks in Blackboard Learn including submitting an assignment, taking a test, building content and grading students, and even a description of new features in Blackboard 9.1 on accessibility. There are a number of helpful resources for users of Wimba, a synchronous/asynchronous collaboration tool integrated with Blackboard. These include examples of applying accessibility technology, product accessibility templates, and an accessibility best practices guide.

In addition to being structured by topic areas, the teaching accessibility resources website is also organized by links to NIU-based resources, NIU support units, and general resources not affiliated with NIU.  Resources are provided in the form of organization/informational websites, blogs, videos, pdf documents, PowerPoint presentations, and even an archived Wimba session.  A principal feature of this website is the ongoing modification of content, with the addition of newly identified resources that become available, while outdated or inactive websites are removed.  In addition, it is anticipated that new resources, in the form of brief practical tutorials, will be developed and added to further enhance faculty skills in expanding accessibility for teaching. Users are invited to suggest additional resources not currently featured. Faculty are welcome to explore the many resources at:


Anson, D, Marangoini, R., Mills, K., & Shah, L. (2004). The Benefit of Accessible Design for Able-Bodied Users of the World Wide Web. Assistive Technology Research Institute at Misericordia University.  Retrieved  on September 20, 2010 from

Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J., & Lassila. O. (2001). The Semantic Web. Scientific American, 2001 May 284 5:34-43.

Brewer, J. (2003). Online Overview of the Web Accessibility Initiative. Retrieved from September 29, 2010, from

National Center for Education Statistics (2002). Profile of Undergraduates in U.S. Postsecondary Institutions: 1999-2000 Statistical Analysis Report.  U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, NCES 2002-168.

Scott, S. (2002). Universal Design for Instruction Fact Sheet. Retrieved on September 21, 2010 from:

United States Census Bureau, Selected Social Characteristics in the United States: 2009, Retrieved on September 21, 2010 from:

What is Universal Design (UD)? (2008). Retrieved on November 1, 2010 from:

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