In recent years, you have probably heard about the importance of accessibility in education, and perhaps you have wondered whether your own teaching practices and materials are meeting the needs of all students. Or perhaps you worry that the entire topic is too technical and complicated to be grasped by someone without special training and expertise?

This webinar, you will learn a few basic, easy to grasp principles about accessibility and universal design that you will immediately be able to apply to your teaching. You will also be provided with some resources that you can further explore to deepen your knowledge.

Julie Maybee

View the recording Accessibility and Meeting the Needs of Our Students webinar co-hosted by Julie Maybee, Professor and Chair, Philosophy.

Why Create Accessible Online Content by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education

How to Make Online Content Accessible by Naliza Sadik,  Educational Technologist – Educational Technologist | Instructional Designer, Office of Online Education

Faculty Experience with Making Online Course Content Accessible Julie Maybee, Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy

You can also view the webinar presentation slides and read the overview of the webinar below - prepared by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education.

In thinking about meeting the needs of all students, we should realize that according to the CUNY IT Accessibility website, “approximately 9,000 CUNY students self-identify as having a disability. This is thought to represent only about half of the CUNY student population with disabilities.” At Lehman alone, we have 600 students who self-identify, but again, it is thought that only about half of students self-identify.

  • But rather than thinking only in terms of disability, we would like everyone to start thinking about designing courses so that they are readily accessible and optimized for the greatest number of students possible. Through the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), we can build on principles from the learning sciences, and improve the learning experience for all students - UDL can make learning easier for those who are novice technology users, for people of all ages, and others like English language learners who may benefit as much as those who need screen-readers from such features as captioning or transcripts to accompany videos.  
  • The legal basis for providing accessible learning goes back to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as well as Title II, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, plus a number of additional measures passed since then that have addressed these issues.
  • CUNY has a commitment to furthering accessibility, stemming from both the legal requirements but also its desire to serve all students. While all constituents of CUNY have a responsibility for carrying out this commitment, it is acknowledged that faculty play a central role.

Some faculty may be concerned or worry that they do not have the legal, technical, or other expertise needed to play their role in this commitment. But one need not be an expert or have great technical skills to make a positive contribution to this effort. There are resources available at CUNY to help faculty learn simple techniques and a rich array of self-paced and facilitated trainings to assist you at any level or stage in your growing awareness. Staff and offices are available to assist both you and your students--among them the CUNY Assistive Technology Services (CATS) ( ) and Lehman Student Disability Services.  Visit these websites to get a sense of the resources available to you and students.

Word Documents - to create more accessible courses, start with your content. By using headers in Word, and avoiding using only such measures or color or italics for emphasis, you can immediately make your documents more accessible. Be aware that many people cannot distinguish between red and green - use other means to convey emphasis.

PDF, Images and Hyperlinks - if you start out with an accessible Word document, your PDFs will then be more accessible as well. Be careful not to scan documents as images before saving to PDFs. Distinguish between images that are mainly informational and those that are mostly used for aesthetic reasons - provide alternative text (ALT-TEXT), words that describe the image for the former. This is easy to do in both documents and in Blackboard itself. Use descriptive hyperlinks that say what the link is showing rather than just pasting in the URL or saying “click here.” All of these tips make it easier for someone who uses a screen reader to read your text.

Video and Multimedia - in regard to multimedia, use captions or post transcripts for videos you create. You can start by writing a script for yourself - that makes it easier to create captions or post a transcript. Check out whether third-party videos have captions or if on YouTube, whether the automatic captioning is accurate. If not, you may want to provide a text summary of the video. YouTube has some fairly easy to use tools for adding captions or creating captions once you have posted.

In an effort to make education at CUNY accessible to all, including people with disabilities, a newAccessibility Training Resource Tab has been added to the top of the CUNY Blackboard homepage. The page provides links to various resources for CUNY students, staff and faculty, including links to training videos and the accessibility websites. The Blackboard Accessibility Course in Blackboard is a great place to start, providing a self-paced, self-enrollment tutorial which can take you step by step through simple measures you can use in your learning materials accessible.

Julie Maybee, our faculty co-host, encouraged faculty to think of accessibility not as an “add-on” but to consider it an issue of justice. Just as faculty would not intentionally do things in their courses to specifically exclude certain groups of students, so the idea is to prepare and render courses accessible to include all students. Some of these tasks, like preparing your syllabus, just naturally fall into the category of things that faculty themselves must do. She expressed that she hoped faculty would join her and others to lobby and promote a more institutional approach to supporting these efforts, such as providing services to faculty so as to directly assist in preparation of content. Dr. Maybee advised that to avoid feeling overwhelmed, to just pick one or two things to start with, rather than trying to do everything at once.

After making her course accessible to students who had disabilities, she learned that UDL really is for everyone. Many of her students who did not have a specific disability also benefited from the UDL design measures. For example, one student who was not visually impaired nonetheless used a screen reader so that she could listen to lectures while commuting in her car. English language learners also mentioned that they found closed captioning greatly enhanced their learning. There are surprising ways in which students find UDL helpful.