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An international peer-reviewed journal

Online Learning: Designing for All Users

Cindy Poore-Pariseau

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 5, Issue 4, August 2010, pp. 147 - 156

Article Contents


The number of postsecondary students in the United States (U.S.) enrolling in online learning environments is growing at a faster rate than those enrolling in traditional “on ground” environments. While the overall U.S. postsecondary student population in 2007-2008 grew at a rate of 1.2%, the growth rate for online enrollments was 17% (Allen & Seaman, 2009). Among those enrolling at increasing rates in online learning environments are disabled students. As the rate of growth among disabled students grows, so does the need to insure that the courses in which they enroll are accessible.

Accessibility can be defined as the ability for one to effectively access or utilize a product, service, or facility with or without accommodations. Online accessibility

involves the ability to use online content without vision, without hearing, without pointing or manipulation, and without speech by persons with cognitive limitations, with language disabilities, with low vision and limited or no hearing, and with alternative languages. (Vanderheiden, Harkins, & Barnicle as quoted by Schwartz, 2004, p. 1)

As the number of people with disabilities grows, so will the importance of ensuring that this population has access to all modes of learning, including online learning. In the year 2000, one in every five Americans over the age of 16 reported having a disability, and the numbers are increasing every year (Web-Based Education Commission, 2000). This increase is due, in part, to earlier identification of disabilities and increased support in the kindergarten through twelfth grades, as well as older populations returning to school with age-related disabilities. The Web-Based Education Commission (2000) predicts that the population of disabled college students will increase by 22% as high school graduates enter college. This increase will include the number of people with disabilities who enroll in online learning courses, and the number of those who are impacted by online accessibility laws and guidelines. The increase in numbers will also affect how disability-related laws and guidelines are implemented by institutions of higher education.

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