Access to Internet-Based Instruction for People with Disabilities

Access to Internet-Based Instruction for People with Disabilities

Sheryl Burgstahler (University of Washington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-878289-74-2.ch007
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Abstract

Internet-based instruction promises to make learning accessible to almost everyone, everywhere, at any time. Internet use, however, raises a number of issues. One of them is equitable access. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 requires that those making programs and services available to the public provide the same programs and services to people with disabilities that they provide to people without disabilities. Increased access is commonly given as a key justification for offering educational programs through a distance learning format. For the most part, when this argument is made, proponents are focusing on students unable to participate because of geography. Rarely is the argument made for students unable to participate because of disabilities. Providing access to students with disabilities can be considered from several angles. Making assurances that individuals with disabilities can participate in distance learning courses is an ethical issue (Woodbury, 1998); some say it is just the right thing to do. It can also be seen as a legal issue. The ADA requires that people with disabilities be provided equal access to public programs and services. According to this law, no otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities shall, solely by reason of their disabilities, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in these programs. When people think of the ADA they often think of elevators in buildings, reserved spaces in parking lots, and lifts on buses. However, the ADA accessibility requirements also apply to educational opportunities, and more specifically, to programs offered on the Internet. As the United States Department of Justice clarifies: Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well (ADA, 1997).

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