The purpose of this online resource is to:

  • Describe accessibility and apply the guiding principles within the context of higher education
  • Emphasize the importance of designing and creating accessible courses and instructional content
  • Present various frameworks to support the accessible course design process
  • Synthesize current research to provide authentic examples of accessible course design across academic disciplines
  • Provide tangible and manageable suggestions for incorporating accessibility into any classroom
  • Highlight resources available on Lafayette’s campus to support accessibility in course design



As a higher education institution, Lafayette College is legally obligated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to create instructional accommodations for students with documented disabilities (“What is ADA?,” n.d.). Creating accessible instructional materials requires that all learners, regardless of any cognitive, mental or physical disability, are able to effectively use and understand these materials to make contextual connections to course content. Providing accommodations is important considering the numbers of students in higher education diagnosed with learning disabilities, reported in 2011 to be 11.1% by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (“NCES Fast Facts”, n.d.).  Further, while most students with diagnosed learning disabilities would have received instructional modifications in high school, just 17% of students will receive some level of accommodations in the higher education classroom (Krupnick, 2014). There are many reasons for such a low rate of accommodation in higher education, including (but not limited to) social stigma surrounding these disabilities and cost barriers to receive an official diagnosis. Therefore, creating accessible materials is an important and inclusive pedagogical practice.

Ensuring access to class materials is a critical goal for instructors throughout course design, not only because it is legally mandated for those students who hold official documentation, but also to ensure that the needs of all students are met, without requiring additional responsive action throughout the duration of a course (“ADA Compliance,” n.d.). Specifically, by purposefully designing accessible instruction for all learners, there will be less of a need to create additional, just-in-time accommodations for documented cases of student disability (“ADA Compliance,” n.d.). For example, recording and posting captioned lectures is useful not only for students with disabilities and students who may miss class(es), but also for all students as a tool to review and reinforce course material.  

While it might be impossible to foresee every possible student disability and related accommodations, there are many simple strategies that instructors may consider utilizing in order to improve accessibility of existing course materials and instructional strategies. For specific guidance on how to accomplish this, see the additional resource pages below:


Accessibility. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2018, from www.merriam-webster.com 

ADA Compliance for Online Course Design. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2018, from er.educause.edu 

Krupnick, M. (2014, February 13). Colleges respond to growing ranks of learning disabled. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from hechingerreport.org 

The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics). (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2018, from nces.ed.gov 

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2018, from adata.org