Recommended Resources: Online Learning Accessibility & Policy

June 11, 2021 BY KELLY MAHONEY

Book with a yellow question mark, representing a resource guide We may be accessibility experts, but we certainly didn’t get here without doing our research. That’s why we’ve compiled this industry-specific resource guide on the implementation of online learning accessibility policies & best practices at institutions of higher education. Read through our recommended resources below:

The basics

Recommended reading:

Sections 504 and 508

Sections 504 and 508 make up two parts of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal anti-discrimination law that implicates federal & federally-funded programs in their treatment of individuals with disabilities. Sections 504 & 508 were added more recently in order to expand the law’s protections to electronic and information technologies.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Our ADA brief includes an explanation of the law itself, how it impacts large-scale online video, and implications for enterprises, media companies, & educational institutions.

WCAG 2.0 Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are considered the industry standard(s) on best practices for online accessibility. We recommend checking out Penn State University’s guide to WCAG 2.0, which includes summaries of every principle, guideline, & idea for implementation.

WebAIM Resource Library

Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM) offers accessibility training, consulting, evaluation, & certification. The WebAIM resource library contains checklists, tools, and more to cross-reference your web accessibility footprint.

 Learn more about video accessibility laws 📝 


University accessibility assets

One of the most useful resources for writing online learning accessibility policies in higher education is the University of Washington’s compilation of accessible IT policies. Review policy examples from institutions such as:

Higher education professionals interested in accessibility should also reference the Section 508 Tools & Training for a glossary of terms, training classes, and example playbooks.

Online learning policy aides:

Michigan State University

Though MSU disclaims their tutorials for creating accessible documents are not comprehensive, they are a great place to start! MSU’s tutorials include guidance on creating accessible PDFs, Microsoft documents (like Word and PowerPoint), and how to correctly structure headings.

California Community Colleges

California Community Colleges’ Accessibility Center contains a treasure trove of guidance for making online education accessible in a variety of ways. Some helpful highlights include:

University of Washington

The DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center at UW provides “20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course,” which gives recommendations on instructional methods, as well as how to design, select, and/or use accessible IT.

Procurement policies

For guidance on procurement policies in higher education, we recommend reviewing the University of Washington’s example compilation of accessible IT policies, which provide outlines for procurement at institutions such as:

What is universal design?
Universal design is the concept of designing buildings, environments, products, or services that are accessible to everyone, regardless of age, ability, or other factors. When this concept is applied to an educational environment, it is referred to as Universal Design for Learning – similarly, the goal is to create a flexible educational framework that can be applied to a variety of online learning environments, regardless of individual ability or learning differences.

Universal design aides

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

W3C is an international community of experts working to develop web accessibility standards, and are responsible for the WCAG guidelines that are now held up as precedent. Check out their guide to Accessibility, Usability, and Inclusion for more on accessible design.

Penn State’s checklist

Penn State University’s Quick Accessibility Checklist is a resource for anyone who wants to create or edit web-based course materials. The list offers specific tips for adjusting text elements, multimedia elements, and HTML tags.

University of Washington

Another resource from their DO-IT center, UW provides guidance on incorporating universal design principles in specific educational environments, including instruction and student services.

User experience

One of the best ways to learn how you can improve online learning accessibility is to consider your user’s experience – we recommend consulting user experience guides like the ones from A List Apart magazine and the Nielsen Norman Group.


Learn more: beginner's guide to captioning with link to download the white paper


This post was originally published on February 6, 2013 by Shannon Murphy & has since been updated for accuracy, freshness, and clarity.

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