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Accessible Online Learning Community Group

Accessibility is often provided through accommodations. Schools are legally obligated to provide accommodations to enrolled students with identified disabilities, based on their needs—sign language interpreters in lectures for deaf students, digital copies of textbooks for students who are blind or have reading difficulties, extended time on exams for students who need more time due to cognitive or physical disabilities.

With online learning, the obligations are less clear—for example, with MOOCs, where students around the world are taking courses but are not enrolled at the sponsoring school or organization. Also, accommodations are not well established—sign language interpreters and note takers are typically accommodations for the physical classroom. How does an organization ensure they are meeting obligations and giving online students the support they need participate fully and to be successful?

Providers of online learning are best off delivering courses that are accessible out-of-the-box, without the need for special accommodations. And many of the features that provide an accessible experience for people with disabilities benefit all learners. For example, lecture transcripts are an excellent tool for study and review. However, without deliberate attention to the technologies, standards, and guidelines that comprise the Web Platform, accessibility may be difficult to achieve, and learners with disabilities may be left behind.

The activities of the Accessible Online Learning W3C Community Group take place at the intersection of accessibility and online learning. We focus on reviewing current W3C resources and technologies to ensure the requirements for accessible online learning experiences are considered. We also identify areas where additional resources and technologies are needed to ensure full participation of people with disabilities in online learning experiences.

This group will not publish Specifications.

Note: Community Groups are proposed and run by the community. Although W3C hosts these conversations, the groups do not necessarily represent the views of the W3C Membership or staff.

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Access Learn Update, August 2017

It’s been a while since our last post, and since then we’ve welcomed a few new members to the group. So it’s time we shared an update of what we’ve been doing.

As a reminder, AccessLearn’s initial focus has been to:

  1. identify information gaps that exist in the intersection of accessibility and online learning,
  2. review the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) website to understand how well it provides information that could address those knowledge gaps
  3. based on the first two steps, make recommendations for improving the WAI site’s coverage of accessibility applied to online learning.

We’ve now completed Steps 1 and 2, and created some draft recommendations for addressing the knowledge gaps. These recommendations vary from providing new content, adding examples that are relevant to online learning, to better signposting of existing content.

The next step is for the AccessLearn Community Group to review and comment on these recommendations, before we shape them into a draft report to share with W3C’s Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG).

So, we invite all group members to review the recommended actions, and add your comments. You can do so by adding comments directly in the Google Sheet, or via the group email list.

If you’d prefer to wait until the recommendations are formulated into a more readable report, that’s okay. We plan to circulate that in early September.

The group chairs, Mary and Dave, will be presenting AccessLearn’s work at the Accessing Higher Ground conference in Colorado in November this year. We’ll also be using the opportunity to gather feedback on what the group should focus on next. If you plan to attend AHG, we look forward to seeing you there!

AccessLearn update, January 2017

Happy New Year!  The Accessible Online Learning (AccessLearn) Community Group co-chairs, Mary and Dave, would like to start the new year with a review of the work our group has conducted to date — and a proposal for next steps.

Since starting in the Spring of 2015, AccessLearn has conducted the following work:

  • A call for participation, resulting in 86 participants 
  • Two Surveys: An Initial AccessLearn Survey identified topics and key challenges (technical, organisational, other) in creating accessible online learning experiences. A subsequent survey identified two work streams.
  • Workstream 1: Began an analysis of existing WAI documents and a list to identify what exists, what needs additional information, and what is lacking in guidance or resources focused on accessibility and online learning. 
  • Workstream 2: Formed a 21 item list of accessibility information gaps that exist in the online learning community and associated stakeholders.

While neither workstream was fully completed, we propose bringing the work streams back together for the entire group to move forward. We have gathered detail from 2 documents that came out of each workstream to form a combined spreadsheet mapping W3C Resources and Gaps Related to Online Learning.

Our next work as a group will be to build out this document so that we have as complete a list as possible of W3C accessibility web pages and a mapping to the accessible online learning information gaps we’d previously identified. We’ll classify each information gap using one of the following categories:

  1. Information is not present on the WAI web site
  2. Information is hard to find
  3. Information is hard to apply to online learning
  4. Information is hard to find and hard to apply

The purpose of this work is to establish what needs to happen next to address each information gaps and to ensure that WAI can best serve the accessibility knowledge needs of people working in online learning. We’ll be working closely with the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG) in this effort.

We’ve provided more details of the upcoming work, including a link to the document, in an email that was sent to list members. If you’re currently in AccessLearn, we encourage you to pitch in to finish this work; if you’re not a member and are interested in joining, please follow the instructions to sign up. We’d love to have your help!

Our goal is to have contributions by 1 March 2017, when we plan to check in again and send a progress update.

AccessLearn Group update, May 2016

The evidence of our work is generally found in the group email discussions, or on the group’s wiki. But, after a year of existence, it seemed like a good time for a short update here, just so you know that the group is keeping busy!

Our mission is to explore how to support the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative in providing resources and guidance for people who want to provide accessible, quality online learning experiences for learners and instructors with disabilities.

That’s a broad remit for a community group that relies on unspecified commitments of volunteer time. For the group to be successful we need to target achievable and meaningful objectives.

So in our first year we ran an online survey to gather some information from group members on issues such as the relevance of current W3C accessibility specifications, and key challenges to creating and delivering accessible online learning. A summary of the survey findings is available on the wiki.

Following group discussion and a further survey, we have agreed on two parallel work streams:

  1. Work stream 1: Gap Analysis of current WAI resources. This will look at current WAI resources from the perspective of accessible online learning, to understand what’s there and what might be missing.
  2. Work stream 2: Documenting what the online learning community needs. This is a more blue-sky activity, profiling the “online learning community” and trying to identify what information different stakeholder groups in that community need.

We’re now in the process of organizing how each workstream will operate, and the best way to convey output to the relevant WAI Working Groups so that it has positive impact.

We’ll make sure to document progress and output via email and on the wiki, so you can keep track on what we’re doing. And if you’d like to get involved, please join us!

Call for Participation in Accessible Online Learning Community Group

The Accessible Online Learning Community Group has been launched:


Accessibility is often provided through accommodations. Schools are legally obligated to provide accommodations to enrolled students with identified disabilities, based on their needs—sign language interpreters in lectures for deaf students, digital copies of textbooks for students who are blind or have reading difficulties, extended time on exams for students who need more time due to cognitive or physical disabilities.

With online learning, the obligations are less clear—for example, with MOOCs, where students around the world are taking courses but are not enrolled at the sponsoring school or organization. Also, accommodations are not well established—sign language interpreters and note takers are typically accommodations for the physical classroom. How does an organization ensure they are meeting obligations and giving online students the support they need participate fully and to be successful?

Providers of online learning are best off delivering courses that are accessible out-of-the-box, without the need for special accommodations. And many of the features that provide an accessible experience for people with disabilities benefit all learners. For example, lecture transcripts are an excellent tool for study and review. However, without deliberate attention to the technologies, standards, and guidelines that comprise the Web Platform, accessibility may be difficult to achieve, and learners with disabilities may be left behind.

The activities of the Accessible Online Learning W3C Community Group take place at the intersection of accessibility and online learning. We focus on reviewing current W3C resources and technologies to ensure the requirements for accessible online learning experiences are considered. We also identify areas where additional resources and technologies are needed to ensure full participation of people with disabilities in online learning experiences.


In order to join the group, you will need a W3C account. Please note, however, that W3C Membership is not required to join a Community Group.

This is a community initiative. This group was originally proposed on 2015-04-10 by Sarah Horton. The following people supported its creation: Sarah Horton, Trisha Salas, Armony ALTINIER, Sarven Capadisli, Matt Obee, Dónal Fitzpatrick. W3C’s hosting of this group does not imply endorsement of the activities.

The group must now choose a chair. Read more about how to get started in a new group and good practice for running a group.

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If you believe that there is an issue with this group that requires the attention of the W3C staff, please email us at site-comments@w3.org

Thank you,
W3C Community Development Team