Accessible by Design? Exploring How Barriers faced by Disabled Students are Resolved in Online and Distance Learning

Coughlan, Tim; Tessarolo, Felipe and Coughlan, Emily (2024). Accessible by Design? Exploring How Barriers faced by Disabled Students are Resolved in Online and Distance Learning. In: International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP 24), 8-12 Jul 2024, Linz, Austria.

Abstract

Common policies and models for enhancing the inclusion of disabled students promote a trajectory of moving from adjustments and provision in response to individual requests and assessment of needs, towards an inclusive educational experience that is accessible by design. It is possible to see partial successes in this regard, particularly in the space of online and distance learning (ODL) However there remain prominent conceptual and practical challenges and a lack of clear data on what is working. This paper reports research conducted with students via a survey (n=50) and interviews (n=4) at an ODL higher education institution: The Open University UK. These aimed to better understand the extent to which study was experienced as accessible by design, where and how adjustments were effective, where further efforts should be focused to enhance provision. Students report barriers across types of materials, activities and assessments, however they were often able to resolve barriers related to study materials independently, and most of those related to assessments were resolved with support. Barriers in communicative activities such as tutorials and online forums were more often reported as unresolved. A range of features that represent an accessible by design approach were reported as useful, and students used various sources to gain guidance around accessibility. We discuss how the findings and further data collection processes could enable accessibility by design to be enhanced.

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