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Reaching Students with Sensory Disabilities through Accessible Design

Submitted by on October 24, 2012 – 5:10 pm2 Comments

  • Accessible design brings students with sensory disabilities into the mainstream.
  • Video captioning and transcripts enable the deaf and hard-of-hearing through equal access.
  • ALT text and explanations on visual data, like charts, enable the sight-disabled.

It’s hard-wired in our nature – we care about people more than concepts. That’s why a people-first focus can inspire us to do almost anything we aren’t naturally inclined to do, from rooting for an international Olympic athlete to designing accessible online content. During the 12-month 2008–09 academic year, 88% of 2-year and 4-year Title IV degree-granting postsecondary institutions reported enrolling students with disabilities (Raue, 2011). Approximately 11% of college-level students self-report as having a disability (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). Particularly for instructors teaching online for the first time, designing online courses that are equitable for all, no matter the learning style or ability, may seem overwhelming. But by understanding how students benefit from accessible design, the process of incorporating accessibility features in an online course becomes less challenging and more inspiring. Here are some basic accessibility and design considerations you can use to bring online students with these sensory disabilities into the mainstream of 21st Century education. Students with Hearing Impairments Research shows that students with hearing impairments may have lower achievement in the classroom (Statistical fact sheet, n.d.). To increase success rates in the online learning environment, instructors should consider including features throughout the course that accommodate students who are hearing impaired:

  • Transcripts for any audio components, like video or narrated presentations at the location of the audio item and in the resources section of the course.
  • Captions for videos, which can be easily created using free speech-to-text tools like Google Chrome’s Speech Recognizer app and Online Dictation tool.

Students with Vision Impairments

Descriptive ALT text
accommodates students with
vision impairments


Accommodations for students with vision impairments can help to improve college graduation rates, which have been lower for the sight-disabled than for the general student body (Sum, n.d.). For online courses, instructors can incorporate the following:

  • Provide ALT text for hyperlinks and images for students using screen readers.
  • Provide thorough explanations of charts, graphs, or other visual data.
  • Choose font colors that students who are color blind can easily see.

For more information on accessibility features, take a look at these tips that will show you a variety of ways instructors can create accessible online courses.

Share Your Experience: Have you personally experienced the benefits of including accessibility features in your online course? We want to hear your story! Please share with us using the comments box below.

  References: National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Retrieved from Raue, K., and Lewis, L. (2011). Students With Disabilities at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions (NCES 2011–018). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Statistical fact sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sum, S. (n.d.). Access guidelines for distance education instructional delivery: Preparing media for the web. Informally published manuscript, Media, Foothill College, Los Altos Hills, CA, Retrieved from By Robin Bartoletti