Accessibility for Disabled People in Online Learning

Why is it Important?

It’s safe to say, a lot has changed in the past few years. Most of us experienced the drastic change when our education and work had to move away from classrooms and offices, and onto our screens. In education, teachers and students have both struggled as they faced a completely new style of learning. There has been so much to figure out, trying to get our devices to cooperate, figuring out which different software to use, and so much more.

While everyone is struggling to adapt to this, disabled people have had even more obstacles to navigate. In schools for example. about 8% of children are disabled, [1]  meaning on average there will be about 2 disabled children in a standard class of 30. Our schools have spent many years figuring out how to make sure disabled children have good access to education, and it is still not perfect. Yet most of these efforts only considered in-person teaching, and online learning presents a very different set of challenges. Teachers are much less well equipped to meet disabled children’s needs in online learning, as they are already struggling to adapt themselves.

Of course, learning is not just for children. All types of learning should be accessible, whether at school, university, apprenticeships, or job training. Teachers and educators should all be doing their best to make sure online learning is as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Accommodation vs Accessibility

I think it is important to know the difference between accommodation and accessibility. For example, many buildings advertise themselves as accessible. Yet many wheelchair users find out that when they get there, they have to ring a bell and wait, as someone comes to set it up for them. This is not an example of accessibility, but rather an example of accommodating wheelchair users. They have to ask for the accommodation, and then someone else needs to do something to provide it. A truly accessible building, requires anyone to be able to navigate through it freely and independently; in this case, there would need to be a permanent ramp into the building.

Similarly in education, let’s consider a student who struggles with reading. An accommodation would be providing the student a laptop with a screen reader at the student’s request. Accessibility would be already having  alternative resources to learn the content, such as audio recordings for example.

“Accessibility is proactive, whereas accommodation is reactive”  


The aim of accommodation is “how can we help you navigate any barriers you may encounter” and the aim of accessibility is “how can we remove any barriers before you reach them”.

You can’t always achieve true accessibility, as there are so many different requirements a person may need. It may be hard for the student to know how they can be supported (especially if they are newly disabled, or newly diagnosed) so it is important aim to make teaching as accessible as possible, so students can find out what works for them. It is equally important to also be accommodating, so you are able to support students with needs you haven’t considered.

So what, can teachers do to make online learning more accessible?

I’ve talked a lot about why online accessibility is important, but how do you make online learning more accessible? There are so many access needs to consider and it may seem hard to know where to start. I have listed here a few things to think about that may help.

Is it legible and is it audible?

Make sure colours and fonts are easy to read. Consider the size, contrast, and spacing of the text. [3]

Get a decent microphone or headset. Clip-on mics can be quite cheap, and will vastly improve your student’s understanding.


Learn about Alt Text and Image Descriptions, and how to use them

  • Alt Text is used to describe the purpose of an image


If you are on a group meeting, making sure that auto-captions are available. If you are recording a video, you can easily autogenerate captions, and then edit any inaccuracies afterwards. (There are lots of programs which do this. You can find some here, or search for others).

This will  help D/deaf/HoH people as well as those with auditory processing difficulties, which is common amongst people with autism and ADHD . A good microphone will also help the accuracy of autogenerated captions.

Recordings and Transcripts

Record classes, meetings, and other live events. Consider releasing a transcript. (Which can be autogenerated a lot of the time)

There are so many reasons this can be helpful. For example, they might be too ill to attend, or only able to engage for a short time. They could struggle to understand, or have difficulty with memory. Their writing may be impaired, meaning they weren’t able to take notes. 

Learn More

If you want to learn more, the POUR Guidelines are an easy and simple guide to accessibility online. It is not specific to learning, but is still highly applicable. Other resources listed in the footnotes may also provide useful information if you want to learn more.

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