Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

by Kathleen Bastedo

“A deep-seated commitment to creating inclusive courses (online and onsite) involves breaking down the distinction between students who have disabilities and students who do not in favor of universal design principles that address the needs of all students.” -ADDIE, Looking to “Up” my ADA Game (Issue 7)


According to the Florida Department of Education, all students attending Florida institutions of higher education with documented disabilities are eligible to receive accommodations and accessibility services.  These services must be provided in both the face-to-face environment as well as in the online environment. Along with a student’s documented need, several laws have been enacted to ensure that students with disabilities are given the needed services provided by the institution’s student accessibility office.

Related Laws

The two laws that specifically relate to the provision of accessibility services from the institution’s disability office include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990 and Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990

As part of the ADA, Title II actually extends to include all activities of state and local entities such as k-12 public schools, public colleges, and universities whether or not they receive federal funds. Please note that the US Department of Justice has made it clear that the ADA applies to programs offered on the Internet. This includes web pages and digital materials in online courses and programs that students are required to access for educational purposes.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973

For institutions that receive federal funds, Section 504, part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, was designed to provide access for qualified students to educational programs without discrimination.

Together, the purpose of these two laws is to make sure educational programs are all designed to provide students with the opportunities that are equal to that of their peers.

Addressing Accessibility at your Institution

There are numerous ways to promote online course accessibility during faculty development:

  1. Add an accessibility statement to the syllabus statement
    1. Provide samples to faculty
    2. Use positive, welcoming terminology
  2. Provide 30-minute training sessions for faculty
    1. Provide brief, informative multimedia training workshops
    2. Emphasize how multimedia can be made accessible
    3. Include best practices and tips associated with the featured multimedia
  3. Consider notifying faculty each term regarding the importance of accessible course materials. Provost letter sample
  4. Provide faculty with an accessibility resource page
    1. General Accessibility Pages (for entire institution):
    2. Specific Accessibility Pages related to online courses:
  5. Build a relationship with your student accessibility Services Office
    1. Determine how you can work together to provide accessible online materials
    2. Schedule regular meetings e.g. once per semester


Institutions have their own interpretation and policies governing accessibility of course materials. Please check with your institution’s policies regarding how accessibility of online course materials are handled. Also check with your student accessibility offices to see what services they provide and consider how you can work with your institution’s office to better meet the needs of students with accessibility needs.

Institutional Resources

General Resources

Sample Course

The TOPkit sample course has additional information regarding ADA and accessibility of online course content.

Week 2 Content in the Online Environment

Accessibility and Online Course Content

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I have been working at UCF since 2006 as an instructional designer. My online teaching and learning research interests include accessibility of online course materials for individuals with disabilities, copyright and fair use, simulations and training, and the cognitive theory of multimedia learning.