Module 1, Lesson 2:  How are certain disabilities impacted by online learning?

The issues that students with disabilities may encounter when accessing online content depend on the type of disability (or disabilities) they happen to possess.  The following table summarizes barriers most common to specific disability categories.  


Disability category

  Potential Barriers




People who are blind

  • Software will not interact with a screenreader (i.e. key information on the screen will not be verbalized)

  • PDFs formatted as images without proper tagging structure. so the screen reader just says "image"

  • Images do not have alternate text attached to them, so the screen reader just says "image"

  • Hyperlinks are not given descriptive labels (i.e. just saying "click here").


  low vision 


People with low vision

  • Webpages cluttered with too much content make it difficult for screen magnifiers to locate specific information.

  • Inconsistent page layouts also can create confusion.



People who are deaf

  • Audio is not paired with a transcript.

  • Video is not paired with captioning.

  • Online class discussions are not paired with a text equivalent.

hard of hearing  


People who are hard-of-hearing

  • Audio is not paired with a transcript.

  • Video is not paired with captioning.

  • Online class discussions are not paired with a text equivalent.


mobility impairment  


People with mobility impairments 

  • Time limits in quizzes or chat discussions may not be sufficient for students using alternative input systems like on-screen keyboards.

  • Online forms not fillable using voice recognition software


cognitive impairments



People with cognitive impairments

  • Webpages cluttered with too much content can be overwhelming.

  • Inconsistent page layouts also can create confusion.



The following video (shared with permission from Portland Community College) is a very thorough overview of the barriers students with disabilities may face, and reminds us that there's a person on the other end of cyberspace who's seeking information we want to give.  


Next:  Module 1, Lesson 3: What technologies are used by students with disabilities when accessing online materials?

Back to Module 1 menu: Defining online accessibility and why it's important