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Technology in the Classroom and for Online Courses

Online course accessibility

CUNY offers courses through online systems, which offer opportunities and challenges for students with disabilities. Although the asynchronous nature and remote access to these courses can eliminate physical and transportation barriers, the technologies used to create online courses can also hinder access. Following are some suggestions to assist faculty in ensuring that online classes are accessible:

  • Reading materials should be available in accessible electronic formats.
  • Make sure, whenever scanning print materials that you will post on course websites, to create files that have been recognized as text by optical character recognition software, not simply scanned as images or copies, which will ensure access to blind or other print- disabled students.
  • Video and audio recordings should be captioned and or transcripts provided.
  • Graphics and images should be labeled with descriptive text tags.
  • Use one-on-one discussions with any student needing accommodation to better understand how to provide access to your course.
  • Use many of the techniques and recommendations provided throughout this Guide to make your online course accessible to all types of student learners.
  • While the use of digital and electronic formats allows for greater access to course offerings by students with disabilities, some students may still be excluded when course materials are not designed with the needs of all learners in mind. Examples of problematic course materials are videos that lack captions or audio descriptions, which exclude viewers with hearing or visual impairments. Many students with learning disabilities can also experience increased comprehension when video-based materials are captioned. This concept of universal design of instructional materials and practices has thus become an important tool in ensuring that all learners have complete access to course materials.

    Keeping the following guidelines in mind when designing, developing, and delivering course content will allow you to address any significant barriers to learning.


  • Recognize that some students cannot see pictures in textbooks, on web sites, or on presentation slides. Include a brief description of a picture that you believe serves a vital role for the course curriculum.
  • Deliver the description orally, along with the picture on a presentation slide, if showing the slide to the class. The description should be included as an alternative text for a course-based web page.
  • Check that any web site with illustrations or pictures that you refer students to provides adequate descriptions for important elements.
  • Video

    Like pictures and illustrations, the use of video can present particular challenges to students with visual disabilities. The use of videos in a curricular context should be accompanied by at least:

  • Brief descriptions that convey the significance of the visual action, with pertinent dialogue that can give the student sufficient context to derive a meaningful experience.
  • Captioning or full transcripts that enable students with hearing disabilities to access the content, which, combined with the visual action, can enable students to fully benefit from the experience of classroom videos.
  • Audio/Captions & Transcripts

  • Audio materials like podcasts, lecture recordings, and other material should be accompanied by synchronized captions or have transcripts available for students with hearing disabilities.
  • Videos that feature video descriptive services, an enhancement of narration that describes the visual elements of the movie—the action, characters, locations, costumes and sets– without interfering with the movie’s dialogue or sound effects. This type of enhancement can provide accommodation for students with visual impairments.
  • Blackboard Features & Access

    Be sure to consult www.blackboard.com for the latest documentation to see which features are inaccessible to students with disabilities.

    Keywords such as “accessibility” and “disabilities” will bring up results that will give you the latest information on how to create accessible course content using Blackboard, as well as provide information on features that do not work for users with certain disabilities.

    Other Technology Tips

  • When creating PDF files, be sure not to lock them with security features so as to prevent access.
  • Whenever possible, convert your course material into formatted text rather than relying on a scanned picture of a printed page.
  • When creating presentations and posting them on course web sites for students, convert your presentation to a common format like RTF (Rich Text Format) to allow for better access.
  • Ask IT or the office of disability services on campus if software or services are available that make accessibility and conversion of course material to accessible formats easier.
  • Students themselves can serve as guides to what they need. Discuss the curriculum as well as the material you plan to use during the course of the semester to ensure that the student has an opportunity to work with you to make any necessary changes.
  • Science Labs can present unique challenges for students across a wide range of disabilities. From reading instruments to navigating through space, these challenges are usually manageable with some forethought and planning. This can be done with the approach that measuring a student’s ability to understand and learn is a primary objective.
  • Here are some suggestions you can consider when teaching a lab science course.
  • Our Sources and Additional Resources:

  • Universal Design — The process of embedding choice for all students in the things we design:
  • CUNY Assistive Technology Services:
  • W3C: Quality Assurance Tips for Webmasters:
  • W3C: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines:
  • Microsoft Office:
  • Creating Accessible Adobe PDF Files:
  • Making Science Labs Accessible to Students with Disabilities:
    http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/science_lab. html
  • Alternate Format Materials Handbook for Postsecondary Disability Service Providers in New York State (NYSDCS):
  • Making Accessible PDFs (Ohio State University Web Accessibility Center):
  • Teaching Online (University of Central Florida):