When students with a disability took on the Goliaths of MIT and Harvard with regard to the accessibility of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) that they were offering through edX, many internationally thought that they would fail.

In the agreement reached with the US Federal Court however it was deemed that edX, which has over 60 university members and is teaching globally over 3,000,000 students, was required to remedy its alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Reaffirming the position of the Global Access Project (GAP), U.S. Attorney Ortiz stated:

“Critical portions of education are moving online, in tandem with the rest of our social experience, … This new, educational online world readily can, and should be, built from the outset in a way that does not discriminate against those with disabilities.”

So what will be the impact of this decision in Australia New Zealand and beyond?

Many Australian universities are scrambling to join the MOOC gravy train and use it as a means of promoting their universities globally. Universal design of curriculum and accessibility will now need to be at the core of all of these efforts if they are wanting to reach into the US market.

Furthermore the success of Americans with disabilities may give courage and strength to the arm of Australian advocacy groups to invoke the law under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and Disability Education Standards 2005.  These Australian laws, in the same manner as the ADA, determine the legal right of all students to education regardless of disability.  Being blind, having dyslexia or being Deaf or hard of hearing should no longer be a barrier to accessing education, employment and life opportunities.  Universities, TAFE’s and private colleges collectively need to take heed of this US decision and design, deliver and assess their courses in a manner that students reliant on assistive technologies can seamlessly engage with the full learning experience.

GAP has witnessed widespread positive impact for institutions which have taken accessibility seriously.  Issues surrounding student retention are core for the whole sector and measures put in place to improve access and engagement for students with a disability have the potential to assist all students. At GAP we believe that:

Having a disability does not mean that a student is academically disabled – nor should it mean that they are to be handicapped by lack of access to the learning environment.

Assistive technologies, universal design of curriculum and conversions of inaccessible materials are the three pillars for access. It is up to all universities, TAFE’s and colleges to ensure that all three are implemented.

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A free toolkit on developing accessible online learning is available for download here.

GAP is also available for consultancy on universal design of curriculum, assistive technologies and access solutions for all students. It also provides solutions for making inaccessible learning materials accessible.