Thursday, 3 March 2016

Web Accessibility #3 - Accessibility and Accommodation

I am working through the MOOC "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" offered by Buffalo State University on the Canvas platform and this is how they have defined "accessibility" and "accommodations" in the course. It took some time for me to understand the difference between these two and hence I am writing this blog with some examples to clarify it. This is the #3 of my accessibility blog posts. Other blog posts so far can be found here.

Some of the examples and quote are from the course "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" I am following at the moment.


"In education, accessibility is a proactive approach to ensuring that learning experiences are as free from barriers for students as we can make them. Accessibility is giving forethought to how you design your courses. It is applying pedagogical approaches such as universal design for learning principles and technical standards such as section 508 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. It helps us meet the requirement that our courses are accessible “out of the box” and reduces the time students may have to wait on us to provide accommodations. Accessibility helps the students achieve independence and provide as equal of an experience as possible for them."
From the material presented in the "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" 


"Accommodations are things we do during instruction to meet a specific and unique need of a student that we can’t do ahead of time. For example, if the learning objective of an online music course requires a student to listen to a classical piece and identify by ear key aspects of that piece, then an accommodation for a student with a hearing impairment would be more appropriate than altering the assignment as it is being designed. However, if an objective required students to visually identify written lyrics, then during design we may ensure that the blind student can access the content by using a screen reader and no accommodations would be needed."
From the material presented in the "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners"

accommodations to a course should be reasonable. That is they do not reduce the course standards, do not fundamentally change the nature of the course, or do not pose an undue burden.

Accessibility Tips by Brian Suda available from 


For example, in an online course a student with disabilities including learning difficulties and or mental disorders may request a periodic phone call with the instructor. This does not mean that the instructor need to call/meet with the student daily or weekly as it an undue burden. What is reasonable is biweekly or monthly meeting when this accommodation is approved.

Another example can be approving extended time for quizzes for students with learning difficulties.

What happens if a student requests to do an oral presentation instead of a written report that the course work is asking for? Then the disability services office will have to work with the faculty member to determine whether demonstrating the mastery of course content using the conventions academic writing (referencing, the way of presenting, building up an argument etc) is a learning objective in the course. If so, an oral presentation would not be reasonable hence a different way to accommodate the student's needs would have to be searched for.

In my view, an accommodation is how a course can be adapted or (individualise) to meet a student's disabilities. While accessibility deals with making courses accessible to most students. Something important to note is accommodations are only for the purpose of allowing the student access to the course and not in any form to give the student undue advantage of success in the course.

So why thrive for accessibility why not accommodations as and when required?
Not all of our learners disclose their disabilities. If the student is on an online class for example, you may not know about their disability that becomes a barrier to accessing the course. On the other hand, fixing something that is already created to accommodate accessibility is much harder than designing for it up front. So my advise will be to thrive for accessibility and be prepared for reasonable accommodations to provide individualise support.

Watch this space for my next blog on Accessibility.


  1. Thanks Michelle, blog helps me to clarify things in my head