The University of Washington: A Promising Practice in Making Distance Learning Courses Accessible to Students with Disabilities

Date Updated

The Online Learning Consortium, previously known as the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), is a consortium of institutions and organizations committed to quality online education. The Online Learning Consortium shares effective practices in order to promote quality education that is accessible and affordable for anyone, anywhere, at any time. The Online Learning Consortium recognizes practices with the following characteristics:

  • Replicability-the practice can be implemented in a variety of learning environments
  • Potential impact—the practice would advance the field if many adopted it
  • Supporting documentation—the practice is supported with evidence of effectiveness
  • Scope—the practice explains its relationship with other quality elements

These Online Learning Consortium principles, known as the pillars or elements of quality, are drawn from the familiar principles of continuous quality improvement (CQI). CQI cultures use feedback from customers, partners, and employees to continuously improve products and processes. The principles can be applied to higher education, where the quality goal is for education to reach its potential through attention to learning effectiveness, affordability for learners and providers, and satisfaction of faculty and students.

A practice at the University of Washington (UW) was selected for inclusion in the Online Learning Consortium collection of effective practices. The activity is the collaboration of DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology), the UW Access Technology Lab, and UW Distance Learning. Its goal is to improve the accessibility of UW online courses by taking proactive steps (applying universal design) and providing effective reactive support (accommodations) for students with disabilities.

Key activities of the recognized practice at the UW include working with the UW Educational Technology Group to promote accessible tools and course materials; providing stand-alone accessibility presentations; integrating accessibility into mainstream web and other technology courses; supporting a campus website on web accessibility; and participating in the "Accessibleweb" discussion list and monthly meetings. In recognition of the success of its collaborative efforts in designing courses that are accessible to everyone, the UW Distance Learning program recently received the "BizTech Accessibility Award."

For more information about this recognized UW practice, consult Practice: Making Distance Courses Accessible to Students with Disabilities and the many resources linked from the comprehensive website AccessDL, the Center for Accessible Distance Learning.