ECAR Study of the Technology Needs of Students with Disabilities, 2020


To help instructors better meet the needs of students with disabilities, institutions can:

  • Educate faculty on the technology barriers students with disabilities face and the benefits of incorporating Universal Design for Learning principles via professional development opportunities. Encourage faculty to set content such as lecture notes and presentation slides "free" by posting these resources on the LMS.1  Provide training on lecture-capture platforms, and share information about how online assignment submission and testing can benefit students, irrespective of whether they have a disability or, if they do, whether they choose to disclose it.
  • Invest in LMS accessibility applications and emphasize these as a key access feature in faculty orientations and workshops. Products such as Blackboard Ally, which offer LMS accessibility score reports for instructors and alternate file formats for students, can be integrated into some LMS platforms to help faculty improve access to their courses.
  • Advise instructors in the early stages of course development so they keep student access in mind. Partner with technology accessibility staff and disability services offices to recommend the selection of materials that are text-to-speech compatible. Offer faculty support in captioning videos, formatting files appropriately, and following WCAG 2.0 AA in designing online content. Such steps can lower or eliminate barriers to learning that any student might have, making the need for individual accommodations—and the disclosure of a disability—less necessary.
  • Improve faculty skills in using mobile technologies in classrooms as learning tools by increasing and incentivizing training and professional development for faculty. Classroom bans on technology decrease a student's choice in how they can take notes or engage in learning. Bans on mobile technology also eliminate opportunities for students to use their devices in class for active learning. Device bans essentially "out" students with accommodations who use their devices in their courses, decreasing their confidentiality and privacy.
  • Train students and faculty on how best to use the technology required in their course. One of the best ways to ensure that students have the skills to use the technology on their campus and for their courses is for instructors to model the use of the technology for them. Instructors need to consider that many students need this additional direction and informal training to successfully use technology for their courses.

To make their courses more accessible for not only students with disabilities but for all students, faculty can:

  • Adopt new habits in the development of course content to make online materials more accessible. Use accessible templates, headings, style features, and suitable fonts and colors when creating documents, LMS pages, and online assignments. Follow accessibility guidelines to appropriately label hyperlinks and add alt tags to images. These are basic steps to add to the course-planning routine that can instantly increase student access to online materials.
  • Leverage the institutionally provided LMS and design a user-friendly space for students. Use the programmed templates and modules to develop a consistent and organized layout, keep due dates and links current, and take advantage of the gradebook feature to improve the user experience. Check LMS content against accessibility guidelines and checklists, and make adjustments as needed to ensure content is available to all students.2 
  • Make course materials more accessible by creating different formats. Start small by using a "plus one" approach, i.e., developing one alternate version of existing course content3  and sharing that content online so students can access anytime. When selecting e-textbooks, look for those that have audio/read-aloud options, to provide students with an alternative to print.
  • Use multiple means such as video, visuals, and multimedia to present information in the classroom. Many students told us that being able to watch a video related to course content increases their engagement and comprehension. Instructors should seek to increase use of captioned videos in class to break up lectures, offer alternatives to the lecture note-taking process for learning, and give students additional/alternative means of knowledge acquisition.
  • Incorporate the use of in-class technology for note-taking, learning activities, quizzes, and assignments, to increase student engagement. Students with disabilities told us that engagement and interactivity in the classroom are paramount for their learning, and many suggested using mobile technologies to support this type of experience. They also wanted their instructors to allow devices to help them take notes and engage with course materials while in class. By ending tech bans in the classroom, this approach also facilitates the use of an active-learning classroom for all students.


  1. Tobin, "Taking IT Way beyond Accessibility."

  2. See the following: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0; Quality Matters, Course Design Rubric Standards; "Best Practices for Ensuring Accessibility in Courses with Online Components," worksheet by Kirsten T. Behling, in Tobin and Behling, Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone; and "Improve Accessibility with the Accessibility Checker," Microsoft Office.

  3. Tobin and Behling, Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone.