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eLearning's Marisha Marks gives presentation on Universal Design Print E-mail
Accessible documents and universal design ensure that all learners can engage with content without having to wait for accommodations or suffer the stigma of self-identifying disabilities.

Marisha Marks of CPE’s eLearning team recently presented to a group of faculty and staff representing Disability Services, the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, and University Communications on best practices for creating accessible documents.

In a continued collaboration with Kelsey Hall and Joshua Pearson of the Assistive Technologies Center, Marks covered topics  such as alternative text for images, Optical Character Recognition for PDF files and using styles for ease of navigation in MS Word documents and PowerPoint presentations.

UMass Amherst distance learning programs would all benefit from our campus leadership endorsing action plans that ensure better compliance and reduce our exposure to potential violation. 11% of undergraduates have a documented disability; 60-80% of those students choose to not self-disclose. 5% of graduate students have a documented disability.

Universal design is inclusive design. We should demonstrate the high value we place on diversity, equality, and access in the offerings of our online campus.

Since the inception of fully online teaching and learning at UMass Amherst in 2001, we have developed a vast catalogue of course offerings with haphazard attention paid to issues of access. We have work to do.

eLearning at CPE is currently modeling a proactive approach that encourages compliance for accessibility during the development of new online courses. Solutions can be costly (like closed captioning or transcription services) but we feel there is opportunity for consortium licensing via UMassOnline with collective agreement.

Marks emphasized the importance of accessibility, saying “Online courses are uniquely positioned to reach a diverse student population. Universal Design helps all students learn from the first day in their course without waiting for accommodations or the stigma of identifying disabilities. We can cast a wider net and help students with differing learning preferences and needs demonstrate completion of learning objectives through multiple means or representation, action and engagement.”

For assistance in making your online course accessible, please review eLearning’s Universal Design resource guide.

eLearning offers a monthly how-to webinar on Universal Design. The next one is scheduled for September 26th at 2:00 pm. To register, email the team at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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