How Can OER Enhance Accessibility? 

We can go beyond conversations about universal design by creating policies, applying best practices and collaborating within our communities to ensure open education is more inclusive. One way to act is to communicate how OER can be leveraged to benefit those with diverse abilities. Here are a few important points to emphasize:

  • It is more common for OER to be shared in formats that can be adapted for accessibility, unlike proprietary publisher content where editable files are notably difficult to obtain.
  • Permissions granted by an open license remove legal barriers to adapting and customizing OER, making it possible to create learning environments that are more flexible and robust for all students.
  • OER offer the opportunity for instructors to curate materials authored by a diverse set of individuals, including those who identify as disabled. This will allow instructors to normalize and reduce stigma, while also sharing viewpoints that have historically been marginalized.
  • Unlike commercially published materials, OER that are adapted to meet accessibility requirements can be retained and freely shared with communities, reducing duplicative work at and across institutions.
  • OER adoption can reduce costs. While this benefits all students, it can be especially beneficial for students with disabilities, who may face additional financial pressures.

What is Accessibility?

The 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report lists 12.8% of the U.S. population estimated to be living with a disability. The World Report on Disability estimated that 15%—more than a billion people—are estimated to live with some form of disability worldwide. There have been several cases, grievances, and settlements among academic institutions that failed to comply with the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Cases generally regarded a lack of considerations such as captioning and lack of access to traditional course materials for students with diverse abilities. With over 40 million people with disabilities in the United States, accessibility should always be considered when using, evaluating, or editing an open educational resource. 

What Should I Consider for Accessibility? 

There are various content types that may appear in diverse instructional materials. Accessibility issues may be more tied to the content type than the delivery technology. For example, if an image has pedagogical content, it must have accompanying alternate text, whether it appears in a PowerPoint presentation, on a website, or as an element in a Learning Management System. A video needs captioning whether it is a display on a web page, within a PowerPoint, or in a chapter of an electronic textbook.

Major content types include:

  • Print – e.g., textbooks, supplemental material, learning modules, web pages, library reference materials
  • Video – e.g., video products in various media, YouTube videos, video clips
  • Audio – recorded lectures, broadcasts, audio clips
  • Interactive forms – homework assignments, take-home exams
  • Images – photos, drawings, charts, timelines
  • Dynamic models – computer-generated molecule models, morphing battlefields, etc.

Content types are incorporated in different delivery vehicles or instructional materials. Listed below are specific considerations that need to be addressed in order to assure their accessibility.

  • The accessibility of interfaces and other components that sit between the student and the content
  • The accessibility of the content
  • The degree to which the content and the interface work together properly to preserve accessibility. A publisher could provide content that is accessible, but the delivery software might be problematic (e.g., a poor user interface), or the software could be accessible but the content might not be (e.g., lacking alt text).

Where Can I Find Additional Resources on Accessible OER?

Open educational advocates are making strides to produce and circulate resources to make inclusive and equitable content. OER Content Creators can make use of BCcampus’s Open Education Accessibility Toolkit  to adapt existing OER. The Floe Project has created a set of open technical tools and offers an Inclusive Learning Design Handbook that includes guidance not just on text resources, but also tests, games, and simulations. The Library Publishing Coalition membership identified accessibility as a key issue in library publishing ethics in 2017 and included it in the 2018 Ethical Framework. The LPC Ethical framework refers to many formats and types of publications, which may include OER.

Accessible Learning for UT

Campus information for UTC on accessible information, materials, and technology

Campus information for UTK on the accessibility of learning materials

Campus information for UTM on accessibility tools and resources

A comprehensive and interactive resource on OER and accessibility

A complete OER Accessibility Toolkit

For further questions on OER and accessibility, contact your campus OER specialist!

Material on this page was adapted from SPARC’s OER and Accessibility: Working Toward Inclusive Learning page under a Creative Commons Attribution License. Additional material was adapted from Affordable Learning Georgia’s page Open Resources/MERLOT, and The University of California’s OER and Accessibility page.