What is Accessibility?

Ensuring access means that a person with a disability must be afforded the same opportunities as a person without a disability to:

  • Acquire the same information
  • Engage in the same interactions
  • Enjoy the same services
  • Experience substantially equivalent ease of use

Accessibility is:

  • the responsibility of all who create or publish digital content
  • provided for all students, with no expectation of an explanation of need
  • expected for disabilities that are easily anticipated

Sometimes a student may require certain adjustments or considerations in a course (such as an extended window for exams). This is known as an accommodation.

An accommodation is:

  • provided based on the specific needs of a student with a documented disability
  • determined by an accommodations officer on a case-by-case basis
  • provided for students whose needs require great intervention, such as live American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters or lecture transcripts for live courses
  • for circumstances that are difficult to anticipate and prepare for

Accessibility is proactive; an accommodation is reactive.  Accommodations benefit one person at a time, but accessible practice can benefit everyone who interacts with your material. Accessible design saves you time and effort in the future while benefiting the largest number of people in the present. It also reduces institutional risk. When you make accessible choices now, you will be able to support accommodations more quickly, cheaply, and effectively in the future. This is in accordance with federal and state laws.


Benefits of Accessible Design


Accessibility allows for inclusivity – a way for students to feel included within a course and participate like the rest of their classmates. Inclusion works when educators collaborate, provide support, and believe in the value of all students with or without a disability.  Accessibility is not just about giving students a chance to succeed but also a chance to be part of a class without any barriers. 



With accessible content, all students can control their own learning and engage with content in a way that does not require intervention of accommodations.  If accessible content is set up at the beginning, this allows all students to enjoy and learn by using different teaching tools in the class.  What works for one student may not be the same for another student. Having accessibility in place at the beginning of the semester empowers students to evaluate how they approach the content of the material.   


Save Time and Effort in the Future

When you use correct headings or add alt text to images, those changes are saved. If you are pasting content from a Google Doc into a Canvas or Blackboard course, for example, the heading structure will remain intact. Creating content accessibly in the first place will save you time when you move that content into different tools or formats.


Reduce Institutional Risk

Under federal law, students with disabilities are guaranteed equally effective learning opportunities as students without disabilities. When you create accessible content, you help the University live up to the letter and the spirit of these laws and reduce the risk of legal consequences.


Improved Usability for Everyone

Making your digital materials accessible can help anyone with a documented disability, but it will also help:

  • People developing their English language skills
  • People using older technologies to access the internet
  • People in very loud or very quiet environments where speech is difficult or impossible to understand
  • People using mobile devices: the Pew Research Center reported that a significant percentage of people rely on mobile devices as their only form of high speed Internet access.

In addition:

  • Accessible content is ranked higher in search results.
  • Accessible documents and transcripts can be searched by individuals and automated systems such as search engines. 
  • Flexible designs ensure access for individuals with diverse abilities, learning styles, and devices.
  • Diversity that includes the experiences of people with disabilities creates a more vibrant, rigorous University community and enriches research and scholarship.