Section 508 & Universal Design

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessible technology interferes with an individual’s ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily.

Purpose of 508 – Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage the development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.

Academic Institutions & 508

Academic Institutions are required to ensure that students, faculty, staff, and visitors have access to information and services that are comparable to access available to others.

Online Curb Cuts

  • In one of those strange confluences, 508 compliance and Best Practices in online teaching come together through utilizing Universal Design
  • Using Universal Design allows instructional design to respond democratically and legally to the widest number of learners and learning styles
  • Following UD principles build in redundancies that support best practices in online course delivery

Universal Design Principles

  • Download this Universal Design checklist to assist you with UD practices/compliance
  • Equitable Use
  • The design of your course is user-friendly to people with diverse abilities. It is accessible and fair to all.
  • An example would be to build in due dates that reflect the fact that many distance learners can only do the majority of course work on the weekends. 

Flexibility in Use

  • Your design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  • An example would be providing lecture notes or transcripts as well as a recorded or podcast lecture.


Providing information in multiple formats aids all learners 

Simple and Intuitive

  • The design and structure of your course is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  • In all aspects of the course, use consistent terminology, illustrations, and processes.
  • In your use of technology, simpler is always better. Some of our students are still on dial-up, many have antiquated computers.
  • If you use special software, be sure the software gives clear, intuitive directions and does what it says it will do.

Perceptible Information


This is particularly important

  • If you use multimedia
  • If you use websites
  • It is required by law

This Means:

  • Captions are provided for videos, alternative assignments are available when video or visual information is presented, texts always accompany audio material.
  • All websites used are 508 compliant and Alt tags are used or there is a text alternative for images.

Universal Design Principles 5 & 6

  • You are available at times when students can reach you.
  • If students can’t come to campus, let them know you can make phone or Skype appointments or will respond immediately to email.
  • You solicit feedback from students passively through assignments, exams and quizzes, student evaluations, and/or actively through surveys, midterm evaluation, etc. and incorporate it into your design and content next time, thereby creating incremental improvement.