Virtual School Meanderings

July 18, 2017

EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: Civil Rights and Online Learning

As I mentioned in the Week 4 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course yesterday, today I wanted to post a sample of a guest blog entry.

Ray Rose is an online learning and accessibility evangelist.  He works with educational institutions to improve educational opportunities for all.  His experience with online learning goes back more than two decades when he directed one of the country’s first online teacher professional development projects and was part of the team that created the first virtual high school in the US.  His blog can be found at and presentation slides at

It is the policy of [   ] University to comply with all federal, state and local authorities requiring nondiscrimination, including but not limited to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and Executive Orders 12898 (Environmental Justice) and 13166 (Limited English Proficiency). 

This statement is typical of non-discrimination statements that educational institutions in the US are required to make. They must state the organization/institution does not discriminate in order to receive Federal funding; the chief administrator sign a statement attesting to that non-discrimination statement. Most everyone agrees with that statement, even if they don’t really understand the full meaning of it.

For this post, I’m focusing on accessibility in online learning, but academic institutions have similar obligations in making their website accessible.

We don’t deny access to educational programs on the basis of race. But counselors at a New England high school just a few years ago were directing Hispanic and Black students away from online advanced placement courses. A few years ago two Midwestern cyber charter schools applied to their state education department (SEA) for operation with an admissions policy that said they would not enroll any special needs student (student with an IEP). The SEA approved the application without comment about the discriminatory admission plan.

Two examples of blatant discriminatory practice that I hope most reasonable people, when the situation was described, would recognize it as not right. What is not as obvious is the issue of access in online learning for people with disabilities. Nationally about 13% of K-12 students are identified as having special needs. While it should be clear that denying a student the opportunity to enroll in an online course is illegal and immoral, designing a course that a student with a disability cannot take full advantage of, is less obvious.

People with disabilities may use adaptive devices and software to help them access materials. One example used by people with a print disability is a screen reader. A screen reader is an application that does what the name says. It reads text on the computer screen. But a screen reader can’t describe a graphic. The author/course designer needs to add a description of the graphic for the screen reader. These are called Alt Tags. Without a description, the screen reader will say “graphic”. That doesn’t help the user understand the content.

Another action that helps a number of individuals is captioning of video materials. Captioning is important for people with hearing disabilities, but also beneficial for people who have auditory processing issues. Interestingly, a great many people can benefit from captioning of videos. Currently captioning takes time and effort to meet the legal standards. YouTube’s automatic captioning, based on YouTube’s own statements is only 50-70% accurate and the legal standard is 99%.

It has taken the online education field a long time to recognize their legal and moral responsibility when it comes to making online content accessible. Since about 2007 the US Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has been enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended. The US Department of Justice has been enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Together both of these enforcement agencies have cited both K-12 and higher education institutions for denial of access to learning opportunities for people with disabilities.

What is most important in the enforcement actions, is the position that digital resources (e.g. websites, fully online courses, the online component of blended courses) of educational institutions need to be fully accessible. The operational definition of accessibility: “those with a disability are able to acquire the same information and engage in the same interactions—and within the same time frame—as those without disabilities” makes it clear. (For more details on the implications see the iNACOL publication Access and Equity for All Learners in Blended and Online Education.)

Unfortunately the information has not been incorporated into teacher preparation and educational leadership programs. It is just starting to be a more broadly recognized issue in higher education online programs. In Texas, the Texas Distance Learning Association (TxDLA) began offering an Online Accessibility Certificate program over a year ago, and each offering is filled within days of registration opening.

Ray Rose is an online learning and accessibility evangelist.  He works with educational institutions to improve educational opportunities for all.  As is the pattern here at Virtual School Meanderings, this will be the only entry posted today.


  1. I wanted to thank Ray for providing this guest blog entry today. I also wanted to alert students to the conversion about accessibility that Ray and I were having in the comments for the Commentary Entry that I posted yesterday.

    Comment by Michael Barbour — July 18, 2017 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

  2. […] EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: Civil Rights and Online Learning […]

    Pingback by Statistics for July 2017 | Virtual School Meanderings — August 11, 2017 @ 1:52 am | Reply

  3. […] Guest Blog Entry: Civil Rights and Online Learning […]

    Pingback by EDTECH537 – End Of Course | Virtual School Meanderings — August 14, 2017 @ 8:01 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: