Virtual School Course Design: Accommodating Students With Disabilities


Virtual School Course Design: Accommodating Students With DisabilitiesAn adequate, sustainable force of educators with strong preparation for working with students with disabilities has been difficult to secure in traditional settings; that shortage exists in online settings as well. While there are nascent understandings about instructor work with students with disabilities in K-12 online settings, understanding about course design for diverse learners, including those with disabilities, is lacking. This study was carried out using ethnographic participant/observer techniques and artifact collection and analysis over the course of nearly six months. During the course of the research, barriers to accessible course design and strategies for addressing them were identified.

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Written By
  • Mary F. Rice – University of New Mexico
What we already know
  • Students with disabilities are a growing population in online courses and programs.
  • Students with disabilities are entitled to services under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) regardless of whether their school is traditional, virtual, or a combination.
  • Federal regulations require that materials created and distributed by any entity receiving federal funds meet technical accessibility standards.
  • Online course designers often lack experience designing for disability access and may treat required or recommended features as a checklist of technical items rather than developing a comprehensive approach. This is particularly apparent as design issues apply to young people, especially in the context of institutional vision.
What this report adds
  • Description of the course design process from the perspective of two Algebra II course design teams
  • Articulation of barriers encountered by the teams as well as individual, team, and institutional responses
  • Discussion of the technical and human dimensions of advocating for equity as part of the design process
Implications for practice and/or policy
  • Institutions should promote a comprehensive vision of course design and offer an array of materials that foster sympathetic dispositions toward as well as technical knowledge about effective access for students with disabilities.
  • Standards and guidance from national, state, and local entities around online learning should be broadened and extended to include specific information about students with disabilities.
  • Software developers should make programming changes that support the embedded accessibility features more effectively.
    Teachers and course designers should have more opportunities to collaborate on course design.

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