While web-based materials can be very useful, their format often makes them inaccessible to students with vision, hearing, or motor limitations. Faculty members are obligated by the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide these students with accessible course materials.

Legal Resources

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjugated to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Section 508, an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requires that electronic and information technology that is developed, used, or purchased by a federal government agency be accessible to people with disabilities.

University of Pittsburgh Resources

The Office of Disability Resources and Services is available to help faculty with specific student issues and recommendations.

The Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education:

  • Offers closed caption decoders and assistive listening devices to the University community at no cost
  • Installs and supports display devices in classrooms and lecture halls that open and display captioned content
  • Installs (within 24 hours) assistive listening devices at the request of an instructor, student, or Disability Services
  • Provides copies of Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 for loan
  • Assists faculty and students with the creation of captions for instructional videos
  • Licenses and supports streaming media applications that feature captioning

Accessibility Compliance Tools

The Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE) is a free web accessibility told by WebAIM. It uses icons to indicate inaccessible material on a web page.

Additional Resources

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is committed to assisting people with vision loss and has many resources on its website regarding accessibility and assistive technologies.

Automatic Sync Technologies is one of several fee-based companies that provide video captioning and transcription services to educational institutions.

Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI) is a provider of online training for accessible information technology. The website contains informational resources and webinars.

Georgia Tech Research on Accessible Distance Education (GRADE), a research project at the Georgia Tech Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA), provides an online tutorial on accessibility. It includes ten modules with guidelines for faculty members seeking to make Word, Excel, Flash, and other file types accessible to people with disabilities.

The Division of Information Technology (DoIT) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers resources for learning about accessibility including a tutorial, Web Accessibility 101.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an organization that coordinates global development of Web standards. In particular, review How to Meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM) is a collaborative initiative between Utah State University and the Center for Persons with Disabilities and a leader in web accessibility. Videos of students with visual, hearing, and motor disabilities demonstrate various assistive technologies.

Web Development Resources for Accessibility

Some useful tips from Pitt Online about making your online materials accessible.

University Web Content

University Web sites should comply with guidelines set by WCAG 2.0 or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The text describing these guidelines is technical and extensive but certainly worthwhile reading for administrators responsible for creating and maintaining University Web content. As a first step, there are a number of accessibility tools that can be used to identify areas of Web pages that may need attention. These tools help to validate code and check for broad categories of typical troublesome errors. However, no tool is better than having an individual with low vision or hearing impairment use the site to determine what areas are problematic for them.

The WAVE tool can be used to can help you evaluate the accessibility of your web content.

The W3C Markup Validation Service tool can be used to validate the language (such as HTML) used in creating the Web site. (Validation is the process of checking a Web document against the grammar it claims to be using.)

How to make PDF content accessible

Read WebAIM guide to PDF accessibility for details.

Always convert PDF to digital text using Acrobat’s Optical Character Recognition. Read CIDDE’s Gabe McMorland’s blog post on whether or not your PDF course materials are accessible.

When creating your own PDF materials from MS Word or PowerPoint, you can improve accessibility before saving as a PDF. Make sure to save them in a way that preserves important data such as styles, formatting, and alt-text that you’ve added to images. WebAIM has detailed information on how to properly save as PDF.

Read WebAIM’s information on how to make accessible Word documents.

Be aware that PDFs created from PowerPoint usually need further cleanup and editing in Acrobat Pro in order to be fully accessible to screen reading software. We strongly recommend that you spend the time making the PDF version of slides accessible in acrobat Pro. You can use Adobe Acrobat Pro Action Wizard to create a standard process for checking and repairing accessibility issues with PDF documents. This might be a big help with student workers, temps, or just standardizing a process across your department.

Suggested Disability Statement for Pitt Syllabi

Pitt strongly recommends faculty use the following statement on any Pitt syllabus:

Disability Statement:
If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services (DRS), 140 William Pitt Union, (412) 648-7890, drsrecep@pitt.edu, (412)228-5347 for P3 ASL users, as early as possible in the term. DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.