Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On-line enrollment trends re-emphasize need for accessibility

It probably comes as no surprise that the
number of on-line students is increasing.

According to the ARS Technica news article linked above, there were approximately 3.2 million students who took at least one on-line class in the Fall 2005 semester. That is a jump of more than 1 million students compared to the same semester one year earlier.

With that fact in mind, it is imperative to make on-line learning accessible.

It takes a stronger sense of self discipline for students to achieve success in on-line classes. I would tend to think this sense can only be complicated when the students have a disability, much less when they encounter an inaccessible on-line class. If a student has a disability and the material is not in a format that provides access, he/she will spend valuable time attempting to resolve the technological dysfunction. The time to do this will take away from the already-tight time schedule the student has, trying to fix what should have already been fixed.

The increase is a trend that is very likely to continue for years to come. It re-emphasizes the points that noted ADA legal expert Salome Heyward made during her presentation at the AHEAD in Texas conference:

1. It is not just web access that needs to concern colleges and universities. The schools need to begin by looking closely at the contracts they are signing with vendors providing on-line material like WebCT and WebAssign.
2. Pay attention to the issue of access before signing the contract.

3. School administration needs to be aware of access concerns before they sign and commit the school.
4. If the administrators overseeing the contracts are not aware of access concerns, it is the duty of the ADA Coordinator/ DSS Coordinator to make them aware.

5. On-line programs such as WebCT and WebAssign are as accessible as they are designed to be. They can be made to be accessible.
6. Other items posted to these sites, such as lecture notes from individual professors, need to be put into an accessible format if they are not already in such.

As DSS cordinator, you can use your resources within AHEAD to help connect your school to experts to guide in this area. Like so many other things, it is all about knowing your resources.

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