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Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Created for a faculty inquiry group project on UDL.

Accessibility and OER

Open Educational Resources (OER) can increase efficiency when materials are published under a license that permits the creation of derivative works (all Creative Commons licenses that do not contain the NoDerivaties (ND) condition allow this). OER can be translated into other languages and transformed into alternate formats–such as for display on mobile devices–more easily than materials published under all rights reserved copyright. MIT OpenCourseWare uses the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license (BY-NC-SA). Nearly 800 MIT OCW courses have been translated into other languages, all without needing to ask permission from the copyright holder.

Bookshare is the world’s largest accessible online library for persons with print disabilities. Bookshare was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Education aimed at creating the first accessible versions of open digital textbooks. U.S. Copyright law permits some authorized entities to make accessible copies of books–and permits particular authorized disabled persons to access these vetted versions. This access is incredibly important, but the exception is limited, and does not apply for users outside of the United States. Open textbooks are low hanging fruit if they are released under a license that permits the creation of derivative works, because these can be more easily converted into accessible formats, such as audio and Braille refresh. No extra permissions costs have to be incurred or royalties paid for these adaptations to take place.


Research Related to Accessibility of OER

From 2010-2011, the College Open Textbooks Collaborative contracted with Virtual Ability, Inc to develop a process for reviewing college-level open textbooks regarding accessibility.  The criteria used for the reviews were drawn from US accessibility legal requirement expressed in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and international accessibility guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Accessibility criteria for open texts can be grouped under the acronym POUR (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust). The attached report is a good summary of how 60 online open texts, web and pdf, were reviewed for accessibility ad what main challenges remain.

Are there other good examples to share that may inform our work in this area, whether we are developers or adopters?  Either way, advocates!

Example of an Accessible Open Text

Blind students should not be excluded from physics (or any) courses because of inaccessible textbooks. A good example of a text that is OER and designed to support students with disabilities in acquiring the necessary content, knowledge, and skills is "Accessible Physics Concepts for Blind Students."

The modules in this text present physics concepts in a format that blind students can read using accessibility tools. These modules are intended to supplement and not to replace the physics textbook.


Access to OER is growing, but, not for all. Not only do the online educational materials need to be freely available and with permission to use, OER need to be designed so individuals with disabilities can use them for their teaching and learning. The California State University (CSU), MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching), Open Courseware Consortium (OCWC),  the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and Flexible Learning for Open Education (FLOE) have partnered together on a joint mission to enable the community of accessible technology experts, advocates, and users to build an online community and collection of OER that may improve universal learning by facilitating the contribution and sharing of accessible technology information, expertise, and accessible online teaching and learning materials.

To advance their mission of accessibility and OER, MERLOT created an accessible, online community website by leveraging their open educational services,