The added value for many students taking part in e-learning is the flexibility and control that they can have over their learning. If they are given choices and support, materials delivered in this way can be adapted to suit learning preferences, for example by reading text with synthesised computer voices, or changing background colours and fonts and using magnification.
Access to e-learning, with the digitisation of texts, can be an important element of day-to-day study for visually impaired students, especially those who are dependent on screen reading software. Extra time may be required to learn to use the software. Poorly produced software can be effectively inaccessible to such students.
The ability to work at home in one's own time is also valuable to students with mobility and dexterity difficulties, who may have had adaptations made to their computer input and output systems.
Software programs to aid accessibility include on-screen keyboards with switch access, predictive software programs, and voice or speech recognition systems with macros. Hardware devices include key guards to improve typing accuracy, single switches, track balls, and other specially designed items such as head or eye pointing systems, some of which are described in Assistive technologies.
If typing quickly is difficult then asynchronous methods of communication may be preferred, such as e-mailing or posting to a discussion forum. It is important to encourage peer-to-peer collaboration and to maintain good contact with students to avoid feelings of isolation.
Deaf students whose first language is BSL may have problems with the written English needed for e-mails and conference discussions, but that does not mean they should be curtailed, merely adapted using clear and concise language.
When the location for online learning is in a general access area it is possible to inadvertently introduce physical barriers, not just technical ones. Simple solutions, such as raising the height of a computer table, can enable a person using a wheelchair to reach the keyboard. A supportive, height-adjustable chair allows a student with a back condition to sit more comfortably. Other equipment can make a great difference: easy-to-reach front loading printers, computers with raised buttons, or a casing that has the connections, controls and drive slots located at the front.
Skills For Access is a comprehensive resource on issues relating to multimedia, e-learning and accessibility.
ALERT (Accessibility in Learning Environments and Related Technologies) has subject-related guidelines for improving the accessibility of online learning, for use by academic and academic related staff.
Return to SENDA? Implementing accessibility for disabled students in virtual learning environments in UK further and higher education Dunn, Sarah, City University (2003).
The BBC site My Web My Way shows users how to make websites more accessible by changing their own browser, computer, keyboard or mouse settings.