Upcoming Joint Presentation with Boston University: Accessibility in Distance Education and Online Learning

Updated: February 22, 2018

We’re pleased to announce 3Play Media will speak at the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning in Madison, Wisconsin, August 7th-9th. In its 29th year, DTL focuses on success factors and innovative practices in delivery and design of distance education. Attendees and presenters come together to pool their knowledge as well as discuss major issues, new developments and trends in online learning. 3Play Media’s Tole Khesin will speak with Rob Haley of Boston University’s Distance Learning Department as both share information on relevant accessibility legislation and best practices for online video captioning.

Below is a preview of the topics we will be discussing at DTL in August.


The utilization of video for distance education has become imperative in online learning programs. Video is an engaging medium creating conversation and community, but disabled students are shut out as accessibility issues arise. Captions are required for the deaf to follow spoken content of a video. Similarly, the blind require accessible text for screen readers. Knowing this, institutions of higher education face legal, functional, and ethical challenges when providing accessible video accommodations. In this session, 3Play Media will explain accessibility laws and legal requirements for students and staff, while Boston University’s (BU) Office of Distance Education covers institutional accessibility costs, derived benefits and best practices for accessible technologies.

Upcoming Accessibility Legislation for Online Video

More than 36 million people in the US are deaf or hard of hearing. Transcripts and closed captions allow the disabled access to audio and video content. Over the years, numerous federal and state laws have sought to mandate closed captioning and transcription. Even so, the proliferation of online video has outpaced accessibility initiatives, leaving many disabled students more disadvantaged than ever before. Many higher education intuitions have been reactive not proactive, and thus, may find themselves at a disadvantage as accessibility laws tighten.

Currently, legislation impacting accessibility in the United States is as follows:

  • Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act. This law requires all federal electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and the public.
  • Section 504, also of the Rehabilitation Act, entitles people with disabilities equal access to any program or activity that receives federal subsidy. Web-based communications for educational institutions and government agencies are covered by this as well.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act, covers federal, state, and local jurisdictions. It applies to a range of domains, including employment, public entities, telecommunications, and places of public accommodation. This act ensures equal access to those with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 broadened the definition of disability, meaning those with a vast array of cognitive, psychological and physical disabilities are now covered by the ADA.

Why should universities provide accommodation now? A recent ruling in a lawsuit between the National Association of the Deaf and Netflix has broadened the concept of a “place of public accommodation.” A precedent has been set that could have implications for online video interfaces, particularly for education or enterprise organizations. It is worth noting that states, such as California, have enacted legislation mirroring Section 504 and 508.

Implementing Accessible Video for Distance Learning

Online education is gaining popularity through MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses). But as a recent novelty, MOOCs have been built from the ground up. Traditional universities however, face the challenge of creating comprehensive online learning programs that meet the needs of all students whilst testing new technology and incorporating instructional practices. Accessibility implementation must happen on multiple levels: procurement contracts, faculty training, IT integration and online course production.

Online educational content must be accessible in three ways:

  • Hardware: Devices such as a laptops or tablets need to have the capability to interface with accessible software.
  • Software: Accessible software must have keyboard, screen and audio assists enabled for disabled users to access material.
  • Content: Content loaded into accessible learning management systems should be in an accessible format.

Boston University monitors students who require accessibility considerations and anticipate their needs in advance. Instructional designers and producers ensure educational content is compatible with the devices students use. To this point, video captions must be able to function within their learning management system, Blackboard.

Boston University Accessibility Solutions

Boston University’s Distance Learning Office has integrated the needs of disabled students with interactive online environments. Offering online degrees since 2002, the Metropolitan College at Boston University has developed best practices for hosting, managing, and publishing accessible online video. The BU media strategy utilizes media to enhance the online experience and add value for students, but carefully monitors video analytics so they may react to usability issues. Providing captions to students with learning disabilities has allowed BU to encourage learning as well as scale accessibility implementation in a cost-effective way.

The evolution of the Distance Learning program focused on the evolution of learning as a whole, asking the question: “How will the student of tomorrow learn?” More than 10 years later, fully embracing a new modality of learning, BU now has 16 online graduate and doctorate degrees available.

Though a private university, BU looks to accessibility requirements that public universities face in developing their accessibility policy. They believe in captioning their video archive steadily and anticipate a federal law of all educational intuitions to be forthcoming. It is this forward thinking that has lauded BU numerous awards in online education and maintained their leadership in this burgeoning industry.

Benefits of Captioning Beyond Accessibility

Boston University has found captions and transcripts particularly important to the School of Social Work, which captions all video content for online learning. Many of the students in this program have no disability. The derived benefits are numerous. Closed captions have been shown to improve comprehension and remove language barriers for people who know English as a second language. In fact, in results of a recent survey conducted through MIT’s OpenCourseWare, students found transcripts to be extremely useful in online learning, with 95% recommending the practice for an enriched learning environment. Additionally, closed captions compensate for poor audio quality, slow bandwidths or a noisy background. Distance learning requires flexibility, so it’s important to remember that captions allow video to be watched whenever or wherever; like in sound sensitive environments such as a library or office.


Accessibility in universities is a growing issue. Technology and multimedia proliferate classrooms both on-campus and online. Furthermore, the 2011 World Health Organization report brings to light some startling statistics that show disability is rapidly on the rise, disproportionate with population gains. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans aged 12 or older experience hearing loss severe enough to interfere with day-to-day communications. Accessibility plans must be executed so disabled students can access information and enjoy the educational process in the same manner as their peers. Closed captions and transcripts are the most ideal resolution in establishing fully accessible online video lectures.

About the Presenters

Rob Haley is the Senior Media Producer at Boston University’s Office of Distance Education. Since 2009, he has directed a team of media producers, designers and student workers producing innovative educational media content. This media is designed to enrich online courses and programs. Prior to Boston University, Rob Haley spent over a decade in cable television. During that time he won three local Emmy awards as a videographer, editor and producer. This is Rob’s second year presenting at the Distance Teaching & Learning conference, his 2012 presentation was titled: “Customized Media Object Examples and How They Enhance Course Content.”

Tole Khesin is one of the owners of 3Play Media, which provides premium closed captioning and transcription services to make video accessible, searchable and more engaging. Designed to easily integrate with other campus technologies, 3Play Media also provides interactive transcripts and video search tools to maximize the value of online video. Tole often speaks on the topic of accessibility in higher education, his most recent presentations were at ATIA, AHEAD, the Boston Accessibility Conference and the Campus Technology Conference. 3Play Media is based in Cambridge, MA and was founded in 2007.

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