Tips for Accessibility When Moving to Online Course Delivery

While there are many advantages to online course delivery, including potential improvements to accessibility, there are also some notable risks.  Both the institution as a whole and individual instructors are considered “educational service providers” under the Ontario Human Rights Code and are required to provide equitable access for students with disabilities.  The duty to accommodate persists so long as teaching, learning and assessment continues - even in the face of disruptions due to severe weather, outbreaks of communicable illnesses, and labour unrest.

New Software

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires that web content meets specific standards, which is something the University considers when selecting online tools.

  1. Instructors are encouraged to use platforms that are endorsed by the University.
  2. If you are considering a new Web-based platform or software, ensure it meets the WCAG 2.0 web accessibility standards.

Videos or Live Streaming

  1. If you are posting video content for your class, captioning is usually required.  A transcript of the video is also considered best practice (see “resources” below).
  2. If you are live streaming lectures, continue to have your class at the same time as when it was originally scheduled.  Keep in mind that some students are only able to function effectively at certain times of the day, and they have built their schedules around those medical needs.
  3. If you have a student who normally uses a Sign Language Interpreter or captioning service, you may receive an email about next steps for content that is live streamed.
  4. If you have students who use our note taking service, we may still use note takers for lectures that are live streamed.  This service is intended for students who are participating in class to supplement their learning when they are unable to efficiently take notes for themselves.  It is not a suitable replacement for attending class (either in person or online).

Virtual Proctoring

  1. You may be asked to adjust time limits according to students’ accommodations.
  2. Be prepared for the possibility that some virtual proctoring software may exacerbate disability-related symptoms and/or present problems for students who use adaptive software.  If a student contacts you to say they cannot access the test or exam because of a software issue, offer a make-up opportunity once there has been time to find an appropriate solution.

Assigned Readings

  1. Some students with disabilities use “alternate format material” in order to access their readings using technology. If there are new readings assigned during the semester, it may be necessary for some lead time to have the text converted to an appropriate format (see “resources” below). 

Scheduling and Timeliness

  1. Provide students with time to adapt when making changes to the delivery of a course. A minimum of 24-hours’ notice (preferably more) is essential. Keep in mind that students may need to make changes to their living environment in order to participate online (e.g. children who need attention, access to a suitable computer, a quiet place to work, etc.)
  2. If there is a disruption that causes the University to close, there will initially be a period of time when many students are in transition as they move home.  During this time, they may have limited capacity to participate in online learning.
  3. Summarize all of the changes to the delivery of the course in one place.  To the extent possible, avoid additional or ongoing changes as this can be very difficult for students with disabilities that affect their executive functioning.
  4. Consider offering virtual office hours - a time when you will be online (or available by telephone) and available to chat with students in your course(s).  If this is not possible, let students know how long it will normally take you to respond to email (e.g. next business day).
  5. To the extent possible, establish deadlines that fall during the normal academic day.  This helps to promote healthy boundaries for students’ overall wellbeing. 
  6. Develop a plan for how you can be flexible around deadlines.  Can you allow for a couple of days buffer in your plans for marking in case some students need some additional time to finish an assignment?  If a student approaches you with reasonable explanation about the need for extra time, can you accept their request in good faith without asking for additional documentation?

New Requests for Accommodation

  1. Many forms of academic accommodation are specific to both the individual’s abilities and the requirements of the academic environment.  When there are changes in teaching, learning and assessments, inevitably there will be new requests for accommodation.  If there are a lot of changes all across the institution in a short period of time, it may take a while to work through the accommodation process.

Integrity of Learning Outcomes

  1. Providing accommodations for students does not mean waiving the essential learning outcomes of your course(s).  These are the indispensable academic requirements, without which, the very nature of the course would be fundamentally altered.  It is better to defer an essential requirement than to waive it all together.

Consultation about Disability-related Concerns

  1. If you are asked to provide an accommodation that might jeopardize the integrity of your course, or you are not sure about what to do, consult with Student Accessibility Services.  You may ask the student for the name of their SAS Advisor, and explain that you would like to consult with their advisor to ensure you are following the appropriate protocol. 

Resources & Contact Information

Important: Tests & Exams

If you use the SAS Exam Centre, please remember that all test and exam bookings must be submitted at least 10 BUSINESS DAYS ahead of when you intend to write.

In addition, the last day any bookings can be received is the first business day in November, March or July as appropriate for the semester.
read more